Southern Brooklyn

Memories Of Midwood Seniors Captured On Website

Seal at World War 2 Memorial in Washington D.C. (Source: wallyg via flickr).
Seal at World War 2 Memorial in Washington D.C. (Source: wallyg via flickr)

A new project, dubbed The Listening Project: Midwood, traces the largely unrecorded history of Midwood seniors to the days of the Great Depression, World War II and beyond. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle is reporting that the project brings to life the history of Brooklyn that is otherwise lost in the face of larger historical events.

The project was put together by documentary maker and Windsor Terrace resident Dempsey Rice. Rice interviewed seniors ranging from ages 70s to 90s and captured their memories of at a time when Midwood was mainly dominated by non-Orthodox Jews, some Italian Americans and Irish Catholics. The Daily Eagle describes the history of the neighborhood’s evolution and why people move there:

As these interviews bear out, many old-time Midwood residents originally came from the rundown tenement districts of the Lower East Side and Williamsburg. Milly Barnathan recalls her early childhood on the Lower East Side: “We would look out the window and see rats in the yard. The bathrooms were in the hall, and when I had to go to the bathroom at night, I’d have to wake my mother up,” she says. When she moved to Brooklyn, she says, “Things got better.”

The project also captures what employment opportunities were like for women during the days and following World War 2:

Employment opportunities for women were limited. Simona Sperling declares, “I was always the secretarial type,” and says she had never wanted to be anything but a secretary. Her most valuable work experience, she says, came when she worked as a secretary for a lawyer and learned many valuable tools about law and business that helped her in everyday life.

A more unusual career path was taken by Stephanie Stone, who was first a “camera girl,” taking customers’ photos in nightclubs, and then a singer and pianist at the Nut Club, a tourist bar  in the West Village. During World War II, she says, “New York was wide open,” with clubs and bars open until 3 or 4 in the morning.

Interesting stuff. To visit the Listening Project’s website, you can do so by clicking here.

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  1. Such a project is of such importance. Our World War 2 veterans are passing I myself was lucky enough in the 1990s to work with a woman who trained, our airmen to fly in WW2.on, and cataclysmic event such as the Second World War, the Great Depression, even the Holocaust, are fast fading from “real history” into the books, which we know few people ever pick up.

    I must respectfully dispute the woman who says opportunities were “limited” during World War 2. As a matter of fact WW2 provided the chance for women to break out of the “you belong at home or in the secretarial pool” type of attitude. As much as men didn’t want to, it proved necessary for women to work in the munitions factories, shipyards, even the military. And they did the job. I myself was lucky enough in the 1990s to work with a woman who trained our airmen to fly in WW2. Yeah, she was flying warplanes.

    Of course, after the war, the prevailing sexism reversed the trend, but I think it left an underlying change, and I doubt if things ever went back to pre-war attitudes, at least not fully.

    For just one article on the subject, see:

  2. Sorry, i cut and paste so badly, the sentence “I myself was lucky enough in the 1990s to work with a woman who trained our airmen to fly in WW2” is misplaces

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