Originally published in the Emmitsburg Dispatch
Republished in the Emmitsburg News-Journal
The Women of Main Street. This sounds lewd, doesn't
it? I can assure you, or very nearly assure you, there
was nothing lewd about these women. In fact they didn't
even think of themselves as women--They were
"ladies." That is not a point to be argued by
me. The women I write about were all good citizens of
Emmitsburg and went about their womanly duties in much
the same way as did each of their neighbors with few
variations: cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, tending
What did these women look like? How did they dress? I
shan't try to describe their faces nor their bodies. I
couldn't if I wanted to. But I can describe their
clothing, which very nearly was generic. Women all over
America wore "the housewife costume" while
going about their womanly duties at home.
The daily costume was a house dress, the term so
common that it rated an entry in the Unabridged Webster
Dictionary of the 40's. The dresses were made of printed
cotton fabric, with perhaps a touch of rick rack or bias
tape here and there to perk them up. They were
short-sleeved, self-belted and were worn below the
knees. Some of the dresses were sewn at home, others
were bought ready-made, probably at Houck's, a family
clothing store on the northeast corner of the square.
Over these dresses was a washed, starched and ironed
apron, a clean one every day. On their feet women wore
either black or brown tied shoes, oxfords, with either
white ankle sox, or lisle stockings. (Lisle was a kind
of strong cotton thread.) Nylon, a relatively new kind
of synthetic thread was being used for parachutes in the
How do I know this? I know it, because I became a ‘house
wife’ in 1940 when I came to Emmitsburg.
You might ask, "Why didn't we housewives wear
slacks?" Such attire was not common and did not
become common until after the war. The women who worked
in defense plants did wear pants and finally after the
war, nearly all women wore slacks, except in Emmitsburg
where, for a short while, there was a law prohibiting
women from appearing on the street in slacks. Wow! I
wonder whose idea that was?
Housework wasn't the only job that the women of Main
Street had. Some of the women had babies and others were
providing care of another kind, seeing to the needs of
an elderly parent or other relatives who for one reason
or another needed extra attention.
Among the women who had children were Charlotte
Eyster, Margaret Wilhide and Tess Stinson. Charlotte had
two babies in 1940, Georgie and Susie. A "stop
in" visit to Charlotte would always find her in one
or another baby tending modes, and she might say,
"Help me with my homework" and then she would
hand over diapers that had been dried outside on the
clothes line and needed to be folded. No disposable
Margaret's baby was a bit younger. Tommy, I believe
was born in 1941 and he was the darling of the
neighbors, and I might be invited to "come in and
see the cute tricks"of Margaret's baby.
The woman that I got to know best in 1940 was Tess
Stinson whose husband was Dr. Stinson, the only dentist
in town. Tess was just a great person, with a marvelous
sense of humor. She was kept busy with five children,
four girls and a boy. Her rapport with her children was
to be envied.
Tess had done many things for me as I was trying to
settle in to living in Emmitsburg and I decided that I
must try to repay her. I invited her and Oscar for a
chicken dinner. Chicken was a treat in those days. (Oh
for the time when chicken was scarce and not thought to
be good for you.) I cooked the chicken --one hour--two
hours--it never did become edible. It was just plain too
old and tough. We pretended that the main meal was over
and went immediately to dessert. Tess and I had a good
laugh about my first effort at entertaining in
Edith Nunnemaker was another kind of caregiver. I
never got to know her very well, in fact I was
intimidated by her tall stately manner, her precision in
walking step by step with a basket on her arm. She was
caring for her brother, Guy, who I believe had suffered
an injury in World War 1. Although I was never privy, as
others had been, to a showing of the contents of Miss
Edith's cedar chest, I was told that in that chest was
"her hope" of marriage as evidenced by her
trousseau. I hope that she didn't care that I knew this.
It made me very sad since I was in Emmitsburg because
my "dream" had come true.
In a gloomy looking house built of cement blocks was
the Rowe sisters, Carrie, Elizabeth and another whose
name I either didn't know, or have forgotten. Elizabeth
was a nurse, and that is about all I knew of them,
except for their love of their brother Chick's children,
a boy and a girl. I was never in their house but would
speak with them at the grocery store or at the Post
Across the street from the Rowe's was the home of Mr.
Shuff, who had once been a funeral director. His
daughter "Miss Ruth," (many of the unmarried
women were spoken of or addressed as "Miss.")
cared for him. She was also the organist for the
Lutheran Church. "Dar", Ruth's sister and her
husband. Bill lived in the same house. Bill ran a little
'A&P’ grocery store near the bank.
I have previously written of Ruth, also Miss Ruth
Gililean and her little notions shop. She too, was a
part of a group of sisters who lived together. I had an
excuse to frequent her shop since I both sewed and
knitted, and so got to know those women fairly well.
There was Carrie, who was a bit naive, Ruth outgoing and
helpful and Rhoda who had been a nurse overseas during
the first World War.
"Tude", I believe she was called, was a
sweet, frail looking black woman who lived in the west
end of town and literally served other women. I mostly
saw her when she was helping at a tea or a luncheon. She
then was dressed in black and wore a white apron. She
walked to the stores to shop, and carried her groceries
in a basket on her arm. When she was working for others,
she came in and went out the back door.
She wasn't allowed to do otherwise. (I often wondered
how much she was paid.) All of the above women lived in
the west end of town In 1943 John and I moved out to the
Esso gas station, and then Just a few months later we
moved again, to a house known as Minnie Eichelberger's
house, owned by the Emmitsburg Water Company.
Our move was made necessary by events not of our own
making. It was a horrid house--hand fired smokey furnace
--termites-- and other things not of our liking, but
housing was scarce and we had to move.
With that move we had as our neighbors, the Harners,
Charlie and Edith. They owned the store in the square
where the Ott House is now. Mrs. Harner, like Mrs.
Frailey, spent long hours working in and for the family
Mrs. Harner was wonderful to me. I was pregnant with
our first child and needed a lot of encouragement. She
brought us lovely things to eat and encouraged me all
through my pregnancy and then after Kathy was born Mrs.
Harner became a kind of grandmother to her. Kathy 's own
grandmothers were a thousand miles away.
Another women who impressed me deeply was Adelaide
Shaughnessy, who with her husband Charlie lived in an
apartment on the second floor of Mrs. Patterson's house.
Charlie was a language professor at the Mount and
Adelaide was a belle from Chestertown. At the time I
thought them to have the most beautiful of apartments
with their antique furniture, silver and china.
Charlie didn't drive, but Adelaide had a Ford of
current vintage. She considered that car to be the only
way out of what she said was "dull
Emmitsburg," and into the social life of the
Station Wagon crowd of the Eastern Shore.
On one of the rare occasions that Adelaide parked her
car in front of the house, a run-away horse and wagon
belonging to Bill Frailev ran into Adelaide's car and
rendered it "out-of-commission." We heard her
yelling angrily and crying. John went out to check on
the commotion and when I got to the door there was
Adelaide in John's arms crying on his shoulder as he
comforted her. I think he was as surprised as I was.
Adelaide's main concern was of how she and Charlie
would get to Chestertown for the upcoming vacation. They
never ever had spent one vacation in Emmitsburg.
Adelaide was good to me, and it was partly because of
her that I occasionally played bridge with her
One of her friends of bridge, was Helen Annan, wife
of Ned Annan. They lived next door to the Andrew Eysters
who lived in Frank Weant's house. She really was
"society" at least in her opinion. She always
looked elegant, and as David Frailey wrote me recently,
she emerged from her house every day all clean and fresh
and went ----------- ? Somewhere. I can see her, in the
winter time, in a gray fur coat with matching hat,
tiptoeing around in very, very high heels. Alas she was
only a woman of Main Street, although she definitely
considered herself a LADY.
Marion Rosensteel was another bridge player of Main
Street, a very proper woman who lived with her brother,
Norman Hoke. One day as I was playing bridge at their
house, someone mentioned the exorbitant price of Capons
(a male castrated chicken). Never one for letting well
enough alone, I asked, "What is a Capon?"
Silence--Card fumbling--throat clearing-and then back to
the bidding. John enlightened me what I got home.
Two sisters lived kitty-corner from Mrs. Patterson,
Emma Jane Miller and Sarah Hoke. Someone told me that
sometime in the past these sisters had quarreled and
didn't speak to each other. They even cooked their
separate meals and ate them alone. Emma Jane was chatty,
very chatty. She was always looking for a bit of time to
talk and when she did manage to corner me I found her
conversation a bit limited. Was she lonesome? One would
have to conclude that she was indeed lonesome. Sarah,
on the other hand had something to talk about with me.
She had a grandson, born on the same day as that of my
Kathy. Sarah often stopped me on the street to tell me
about this baby boy and I have to confess that it
sounded as if he were almost as wonderful as my baby
Next to the Miller sisters were Pauline Baker and her
mother. I have previously mentioned that Pauline worked
in Frailey's store. Her mother, like other women in town
had a talent that helped enhance their income. (It might
even have been their only income.) On weekends Mrs.
Baker made and sold potato chips There were never any
potato chips lighter and crispier than hers.
And then, there was Helen D. Now where do I go and
how do I describe Helen? Helen was larger than life,
both physically and in her conversation. I truly must
confess that I was intimidated by her and exaggerated
claims about one and all. Helen lived with her mother
and both women did needlework; her mother doing
alterations, and Helen knitting and crocheting. Helen's
work was beautiful. When Miss Ruth died Helen bought the
inventory of the notion shop and moved it to her house.
Do any of you remember the telephone office? Do you
remember that it was in a private residence? all the
wires of communication in and around Emmitsburg were
housed in the Felix home. I got to know three of the
operators, Ms. Felix and Ann Thompson. I didn't know
Miss Felix very well. I did know Ann as she was a bridge
player. She was a sweet and petite woman probably in her
forties. Her husband was Chemistry teach at
Another of the operators was Miss Warthen, a most
efficient woman who once thought I was listening in on
other people's conversations. There were several
families on the same line. This was at the time I was
walking the floor with a baby that screamed and cried
for three months. I had very little time to do anything
but tend to that baby.
The telephones at that time were the crank kind . The
crank on the side of the box summoned the operator to
make the connection to the person being called.
I was reminded, not long ago that there were indeed
young women in Emmitsburg in the 40's. Loretta
Addelsburger told me that she was 14 when I came to
Emmitsburg. She also told me that I was the first
pregnant woman she had ever seen. That must have been a
treat. I had gained 35 pounds.
As I think back over all these women of Main Street,
I muse and wonder how they would feel if they knew of
the ways I have remembered them. I have tried not to be
unkind in my recordings. I know they were just women
trying to make a life in their surroundings at a
difficult time in history and I was trying to carve out
a life for myself in a place miles from home where I
knew no one except the man who had brought me to