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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mary Price Adamson, April 19, 1976. Interview G-0001. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Life in Greenwich Village during the Great Depression

Adamson describes the excitement and romanticism of living in New York City during the Great Depression. Though everyone was financially strapped, the young people there managed to maintain an active social life, though political awareness remained undeveloped.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mary Price Adamson, April 19, 1976. Interview G-0001. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

MARY FREDERICKSON:
I was wondering if you could sort of describe what it was like to be in New York, not from the job perspective or economic perspective, but from a social or cultural or political perspective. I have a sense that a lot of young people like you and your sisters who were living there at that time sort of enjoyed a . . . there was a certain atmosphere about living in New York or in the Village at that time. Am I being too romantic about it?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
No. If it's romantic, it's the same sort of romanticism that I have. The Village was an interesting place to live at that time, particularly for young people. It was a place that one could get around in easily. I didn't hesitate to go anywhere in New York day or night by myself. I was in entirely different circumstances. I happened to have two friends from the University of North Carolina who were sharing an apartment over in the Washington Square area. It was very nice for me to have that kind of built-in friendship. I was beginning to know other people too.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
These were people you had known at Chapel Hill?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
That's right. They had been in the university at the same time I was there-Edna Fussell, who was from Rose Hill, North Carolina and Virginia Payne, who was from Tennessee, who later became my very good friend when I moved to Washington. I'll tell you about my long association; I'm still friends with Virginia Payne and her husband. I knew him before they were married, and so forth. Anyhow, they were good friends. Then I had a friend from Greensboro High School. [telephone interruption]. Here we go again. What were we saying?
MARY FREDERICKSON:
You were saying that you had a friend also from Greensboro you had known in high school.
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
Oh, a high school friend who had married the rabbi in Greensboro, and he went to work in Brooklyn. So they lived out in Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, and I saw quite a bit of them. She is still a friend of mine also. She's now living in Greensboro.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
O.K. So you had this sort of network. . . .
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
I had some contact. I was not isolated, and knowing a few people, and Mildred and Branson knew people. Margaret Shook, of course, and her husband were living there. I knew people around.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you begin to meet new people, sort of building from your southern friends out to meet new people?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
Yes, that's right, uh hub.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you meet any of the people who were with the YWCA in New York or with the Women's Trade Union League?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
No, I did not. This was my own fault. I was not social conscious enough to know about looking for them, so I didn't get acquainted at all with them until at a later age in that very important part of my life, which I will talk about. Through sister Teeny I became acquainted with the Trade Union movement.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What kinds of things did you and your friends do in New York at that time?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
I managed somehow or another, even with my very low income, to go to almost everything on Broadway that I wanted to see. There was a way of going at the last minute and to Gray's on Time Square and getting tickets at a very cut-rate price, the ones that were left over, not sold. So I managed, as I say, to go to the theater. Then otherwise, it was simply a socialite. Hope Sterling was interested in going to the symphony concerts, and it was a great thing. It was when Toscanini was conducting. We would go, and again, get the cheapest seats to sit at the top balcony at Carnegie Hall. It was a great new experience for me; I was fascinated with it.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What was the lifestyle that people had? Were people sort of holding to social traditions that they had known in Greensboro or in Chapel Hill, or did any of the people you were around begin to sort of live in a looser, freer sort of way?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
No, you're very minded that this was in the height of the Depression. We were all managing to get along and having whatever fun we could. That also was a prohibition era, so that was one reason that there was a lot of drinking going around. There was a bathtub gin era because that was the only way people could finance a social life, by going across to New Jersey and buying some big A, and then make some bathtub gin, and have a party, and invite people in.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
But that you would do, the friends you were with?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
Yes, yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
So that was a fairly common thing.
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
Uh huh, uh huh. I never made bathtub gin. (Laughter)