Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Deans in Cincinnati: The Dirty Thirties

The Pendleton Years

My Aunts, Dorothy and Clara Dean, probably during the 1930s

The 1930 Census shows  Frank and Clara and their four children still living in the 8th Ward of Hamilton County, 1111 Pendleton Street,  where they had moved the year before, where they were paying $20 per month rent.  Frank is now driving a cab for a living. 

1111 Pendleton Street, Present Day (Photo by Author 6/2012)
On one of those floors the Dean Family of Six Live

Pendleton Street is in Over-the-Rhine but also classified as an area all in its own – “Pendleton.” 

My Grandparents owned a “radio set” on Pendleton, which was one of the questions on the 1930 Census.  The family probably listened to popular shows, like The Shadow, big band musical programs, the old-time soap-opera-like serials, and of course the Fireside Chats of President Roosevelt.

My father, Raymond, was age 10, probably a student at St. Paul’s, even though he teased me that he’d attended St. George when I was enrolled there.  He said some of the nuns who taught him were still teaching there and they remembered him and they would take it out on me.  I’m still not sure if he ever was a student at St. George. 

Living across the street from the Catholic school, I can’t believe the children would not be enrolled there.  I can only imagine my grandmother’s security in living mere steps away from a Catholic church.  I remember her walking to St. George some weekdays as well as Sundays when she lived in the apartment at Hughes Corner.  She was actually closer to St. Monica’s then, but I guess she’d gone to St. George long enough when she lived down the hill on Clifton Avenue at Warner Street, next to the Prosit, that she considered St. George her home parish.

St. Paul's Catholic, Over-the-Rhine, 1910 ~

“St. Paulus Schule,” across the street from 1111 Pendleton, home of Frank
and Clara in 1933 and their four children.  (Photo by Author, 6/2012)

Republical Herbert Hoover had won the 1928 election over Democrat candidate Al Smith, and within seven months after Hoover took office came the stock market crash and ensuing Great Depression.  The president initially believed the depression was just a slight economic downturn, but quickly twelve million Americans became unemployed and businesses all over the country declared bankruptcy.  Though President Hoover tried to boost the economy with tax cuts to people too poor to even pay taxes and government loans to businesses which were afraid they couldn’t repay the loans, the country continued to sink financially. 

In the 1932 election, the country overwhelmingly elected Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who would institute the “New Deal” programs which put many people back to work and gave the country a much needed morale boost, but the depression continued until the World War II.

In Ohio, by 1933, more than forty percent of factory workers and sixty-seven percent of construction workers were unemployed. In 1932, Ohio's unemployment rate for all residents reached 37.3 percent. Industrial workers who retained their jobs usually faced reduced hours and wages. These people had a difficult time supporting their families. Many of Ohio's city residents moved to the countryside, where they hoped to grow enough food to feed their families. ~ http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/time_period.php?rec=6

No one on my Dean side of the family moved to the country to grow their own food, except for the Deans from Tennessee and later Kentucky who’d always been farmers. 

Frank, however, was a city dweller, and in 1933, he is working as a “paperhanger.”  The family still resides on Pendleton Street, where they remain for the next three years.  Who would want to give up $20 per month rent during times such as these?

My father Raymond was now 13, Norbert 11, Dorothy 9, and Clara 6 years old.

My father did not continue school after the eighth grade.  He went to work, his first jobs shining shoes and selling newspapers on the street corners.  The Depression was in full swing and practically devouring people, stealing their dreams, forcing them to watch their children go hungry, robbing them of their self-worth.

Grandma told me my Dad helped buy food during those hungry times with the small amounts of money he made.  Grandfather Frank was not a permanent fixture in the home and not a stable provider.

These were the lean years, when one head of cabbage was all you had and it might have to last a week, according to my Grandma, as she remembered those poor times.

Amidst the Depression climate of severe need, unemployment, and poverty, Prohibition continues and makes criminals of those intent on making, selling, and buying liquor.  Organized crime increases in power.  The passion for wealth from corruption extends to law enforcement officials.

The Depression stole focus away from Prohibition; the concern was more for the unemployed than for the evils of alcohol, and polls showed 78% favored repeal. As unemployment soared, Americans favored legalizing beer to help create new jobs. President Roosevelt made this his first priority after he took office. Immediately after his inauguration in March 1933 he urged Congress to modify the Volstead Act. On April 7, beer containing 3.2 percent alcohol by weight became legal for the first time in thirteen years.~ “Brother, Can You Spare a Drink,” http://www.allensedge.com/prohibition.html

Then on December 5, 1933, the Twenty-First Amendment is passed, repealing the 18th Amendment outlawing alcohol, and remains the only constitutional amendment to be repealed in its entirety. 

Prairie Dust and Heat Waves

Aside from the lawlesness and corruption associated with Prohibition and the dire poverty of the Depression, another reason for dubbing the 1930s “dirty is because of the the Dust Bowl, severe drought, and intolerable heat of the 1930s.

The Dust Storms did not contain themselves to only the Great Plains.   

On Wednesday and Thursday, May 9 and 10, 1934, the rest of the world began to know first hand about the dust storms of the Great Plains. "A gigantic cloud of dust, 1,500 miles long, 900 miles across and two miles high, buffeted and smothered almost one-third of the nation today,  a United Press story in the Hastings Tribune of May 11 reported

...States in the full path of this and other recent dust storms were Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, northern Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and portions of West Virginia and. Pennsylvania." ~Adams History.org

That same summer, followed record temperatures, including these in Ohio.

… 1934 was the hottest month ever recorded in Ohio. Many heat records were set on July 21, including 106 in Columbus, 109 in Cincinnati, and 111 in Wilmington and Hamilton…Estimates of the death toll in Ohio were about 160 dead just during the week of July 20-26. ~ Ohio History Central.org

 When the worst heat wave in Cincinnati history hit in 1934, families slept outside on the grass along Central Parkway.  Ethel McCreary, 91, lived in the West End then, when the grass was watered by automatic sprinklers. Police officers would walk the street each morning to wake the sleepy masses. “It was a regular beat for them,” Mrs. McCreary said. “They'd wake them up before the sprinklers went off.”  Sleeping outdoors — a safe adventure then — was among many ways Cincinnati residents stayed cool during the heat wave of 1934. Temperatures got as high as 108 degrees that July, and the stifling heat blanketed the Midwest and Central Plains for 10 days. Almost 1,400 people died across the country, 89 in the Cincinnati area. In a time before the modern inventions of keeping cool, the heat could take a devastating toll. ~ Erin Gibson, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Sunday, August 01, 1999

The East End Years

In 1935, my Dean grandparents had moved to 1455 Gladstone Avenue, between Columbia Parkway and Riverside Drive in the East End, about three miles miles from Pendleton.   Frank is employed as a laborer. 

Gladstone Avenue Present Day (Photo by Author 6/2012)

Gladstone Avenue was about two blocks from the river.  This would prove unfortunate for the family, as it turns out, because they were in one of the hard hit areas of the 1937 Great Flood, historically one of Cincinnati’s worst disasters.

I heard stories as a child about how families were rescued out of second-floor windows by rowboats, in bitter cold winds. 

On January 13, the rain began and continued throughout the month and into February.  In the first week, six to 12 inches of rain fell, totals never before or since equaled in the state.  

The damage stretched from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Illinois, leaving homeless one million persons and 385 dead.  Property losses reached $500 million. Federal and state resources were strained to aid recovery, as the disaster occurred during the Great Depression.

One hundred thousand people in Cincinnati were left homeless, as the flood affected the city from January 18 to February 5. The river reached its peak on January 26, at 79.9 feet…Ten percent of the city's area was flooded, the water supply was cut, and streetcar service was curtailed.

At Portsmouth, the rising river threatened to top the flood wall, erected 10 feet (3.0 m) above flood stage. City officials deliberately opened the flood gates and allowed river water to flood the business district 8 to 10 feet (3.0 m) deep, thus preventing a catastrophic breaching of the flood wall. The Ohio River eventually crested 14 feet (4.3 m) over the top of the flood wall. Among the flooded structures was Crosley Field, home field of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. Additionally, the amusement park Coney Island, Cincinnati, Ohio was submerged, causing pieces of carousel horses to float away, which were recovered as far downriver as Paducah, Kentucky[8].

View from Gladstone Avenue, 1937 Flood ~ Facebook/ Cincinnatis-East-End-Columbia-Tusculum-Linwood, with permission.  The elevation appears as an advantage here. 

East End Flood, St. Rose Church, 1937 Flood ~ 
with permission

I’m fairly sure Grandma would have gone to St. Rose Church and the children attended the school as well, while they lived on Gladstone Avenue.  Catholic school then was strict parish specific.  My father Raymond would have been 17 years old, Norb 15, Dorothy 13, Clara 10, and Frank Jr. age 6. 

Since my father only completed “grammar school,” according to his U.S. service record and my Grandma, he would have been working at age 17.  The directories usually listed everyone in the home who worked, and Raymond was not listed at his parent’s address.

The only directory listing that could have been my father is “Ray,  laborer, 2136 Hatmaker.” 
Hatmaker Street is three-tenths of a mile from the corner of Eighth and State Streets, otherwise known as Knowlton’s Corner, a major hub for city bus riders transferring to other buses in Cincinnati’s efficient web of city transportation.  I’m not sure if it’s still like this, but when I was a kid, riding the streetcars and later the buses with Grandma, Knowlton’s Corner was a popular place.

Since my father didn’t drive, he may have moved to an apartment closer to where he worked, or he didn’t want to live with his parents and was able to pay his own rent. 

Hatmaker Street was about six miles from Gladstone Avenue, a long walk, even for my father,  if indeed he was the Ray in the 1936-37 city directory.

At the time of the ’37 flood, Cincinnati and the rest of the country were eight years into the Great Depression, which officially began when the stock market crashed on October 29th, 1929.  I remember Grandma telling me the stories of the depression, how food for one meal had to be stretched for a whole week, and about the rations on such things as sugar and gasoline. 

By the time Frank, Jr., was born, the depression was bearing down hard on families.  The country saw food riots, foreign workers deported, and other workers marching against loss of jobs.

By the late 1930s, the depression was weakening, but many Americans were still poverty stricken.  Then they watched as German forces began taking over neighboring countries.  With the invasion of Poland, World War II erupted in Europe.
The real event that changed America into a nation actively at war was the attack on Pearl Harbor. This was precipitated in July 1939 when Franklin Roosevelt announced that the US would no longer trade items such as gasoline and iron to Japan who needed it for their war with China. In July 1941, the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis was created. The Japanese began occupying French Indo-China and the Philippines. All Japanese assets were frozen in the US. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor killing over 2,000 people and damaging or destroying eight battleships greatly harming the Pacific fleet. America officially entered the war and now had to fight on two fronts: Europe and the Pacific.~ http://americanhistory.about.com/od/worldwarii/a/wwiioverview.htm
And America went to war, including my father. 
The last record of my grandparents or my father, of the 1930’s decade is the 1937-1938 city directory, where Frank and Clara are still on Gladstone Avenue, Frank still a laborer, and a Ray Dean, who is also a laborer, on Hatmaker. 


  1. The St. Rose area is where we lived from 1943 to 1961.

  2. Hi, Lillian! Sorry it has taken me so long to read your comments. I'm on summer vacation LOL! I wasn't too familiar with the East End area growing up, but my Grandma told me stories about living there. I still don't know if she went to church there, or walked all the way to St. George in Corryville. Now that I think about it, it wasn't that far, but when you're a kid it seems like another state! I'm glad you responded to my blog. I'm about ready to get back to work on it.