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A short history of paternal remembrances of educational experiences

An interview with Bob and Virginia Weisgerber
  • Their thoughts on school during the depression years
  • Their memories of the depression itself
By Paul J. Weisgerber

Abstract: As one grows older time and distance will separate us from our feelings and attitudes about our passage through history. This is an interview with two people who lived through the Great Depression years. Their recollections and attitudes about certain aspects are strong and vivid. It matters not whether these things were good or bad. Some memories are written deeper in our brains than others. This writer discovered where certain attitudes of his own stemmed from while conducting this interview.

Both Robert H. Weisgerber and Virginia D. Weisgerber (nee Dwenger) were born in 1920. They both attended Catholic grade school.

Virginia (Anna)

Virginia Ester Dwenger started her grade school years in Greensburg, Indiana. She does not remember the name of the school, but this is understandable. It was a tumultuous time for my mother. My grandfather had lost his job with the industry in and around Greensburg. Mother and her older sister Margaret were left with relatives while Joseph Dwenger and his wife Adelaide went to Cincinnati to seek work. The year was 1927. Joe Dwenger found a job in a steel mill in northern Kentucky and the family was settled in Newport, Kentucky. Virginia was enrolled in school at Immaculate Conception school in Newport, Ky. Later they moved to Clifton, Kentucky and Virginia continued school in St. Vincent De Paul school. Life was good. My grandfather purchased a small house for the family to live in. When she was in the 6th grade Joe lost his job with the Newport Rolling Mill and as a result the family could no longer pay the mortgage on their house. It was lost. They found a new place to live in Cincinnati on Southern Avenue in Mt. Auburn. Joe was out of any steady work during the rest of this time. Virginia was enrolled in Holy Name school for 7th and 8th grades. She graduated Holy Name and attended Our Lady of Angels High School in St. Bernard until 11th grade. She transferred to Hughes High School for 12th grade and graduated from Hughes in 1938.

At this same time Robert Henry Weisgerber attended St. George School in Cincinnati, Ohio. His home life was more stable. His father Emil had a good job as a bookbinder for the American Book Co. a binder of textbooks. He attended St. George from 1st to 8th grades.

My father related an anecdote about 4th grade during this interview. In fourth grade the class would participate often in spelling bees. The format was as follows. The class would line up in the front of the room and the first child would be given a word to spell. If he or she succeeded they would remain in place. If they failed then the person to their left moved over to their right. As this plays out the best spellers are on the rightmost (the teacher’s left) or the head of the line and worst spellers are on the left (teacher’s right). One day while Bob was participating in this exercise his classmate Fred Cianciola missed his word. The teacher, Sister Mary Somebody, instructed my father to move to Fred’s right moving him up the line towards the “best” end. Fred protested in earnest that even though he had made a mistake Bob should not move up the line because he wore funny clothes. This made a deep impression on Bob for him to recall this single instance from grade school.

My grandmother used to make clothes for her children. Everyone was frugal and financially conservative during this time. The Weisgerber family was no exception. My grandmother had only two sons so she made clothes for them with material recovered from old suites that my grandfather no longer wore. They had button-fly pants and other features that were out-of-date and funny looking in Fred’s mind. Robert had not thought about it one minute until this day. He remembered it for the next 74 years.

Virginia related several general impressions about those years. “If we were poor we didn’t know it.” she said. During the depression years they ate okay. They had potatoes and vegetables, not a lot of meat, but some and bread. She remembers her sister Margaret, who was two years older than she, baking bread when they were school age. As in most families who were just getting by in those years the older siblings assumed some of the babysitting chores in addition to useful skills such as cooking. She also admitted to being “a yacker” in school and occasionally getting in trouble for that activity, but she had never been beaten for talking out of turn in school. She related an example of what she meant. She says that she did not always believe something just because she was told in was true by the teacher. When she was in the 4th grade Sister Mary Somebody was teaching religion to the class. She said that the Feast of the Holy Family was a tribute to the Blessed Virgin Mary. My mother chimed in with the fact that it could not be a tribute to the Blessed Virgin because Mary was only one third of the group. Virginia does not remember all the fine details but does recall staying after school to write something two or three hundred times.

In grade school they both wore a uniform. In High School at O.L.A my mother wore a uniform. At Hughes High School uniforms were not required. My mother expressed the fact that she never liked uniforms on herself or her children.

Virginia is unsure of all the subjects that she took in high school but she knows that at Our Lady of Angels she took 2 sciences. They were taught chemistry and general science. Later on at Hughes she took physics and failed it. She had four English courses, two History courses, Algebra and Geometry along with physical education, Latin and French. O.L.A as well as St. George High School were for girls only. In addition to the normal 4-year course of study they also offered a 2-year program that my mother refers to as a “commercial course” through high school. The girls were taught typing and shorthand stenography and other skills that would be useful in an office work environment. These were traditional female jobs in the workplace.

Robert enrolled in Hughes High School in Cincinnati after attending St. George because he could walk to school. The family lived on Rochelle Street in Mt. Auburn and Hughes is on Clifton Ave. The parochial boy’s high school for that district was Roger Bacon in St. Bernard. In the Catholic school system the children were educated together through the 8th grade. In high school boys and girls were separated. The time is 1934. It was a time when everyone examined all expenditures very carefully. Not only could the family save the tuition payment by sending their son to public school, but also they would save the carfare to St. Bernard on a daily basis. Regardless of the cost savings it was a hard decision, because within the Catholic community the attitude was one of sinfulness if your child was not enrolled in Catholic high school. Nevertheless the decision was made and Robert went to Hughes High School where he was graduated in 1938.

During the spring of 1937 Virginia’s younger brother Bob was graduated from Holy Name school. Bob Dwenger was not the best student. When he was graduated a note was placed on his report card that said, “Promoted to Trade School.” This was a “slap in the face” to young Bob and was intensely felt by my mother. With Joe’s blessing she left O.L.A. to go to Hughes High School with her younger brother. Virginia was graduated from Hughes High School in 1938.

This paper was originally written as an assignment for a class I took while working on an M. Ed. late in my life. In retrospect I am happy for the assignment. It got Mom and Dad talking about things we had not talked about previously.

I found this while looking for other things. It talks a bit about my mom and dad’s childhood years and has glimpses of life then. It was almost a hundred years ago now.