Education: Heritage Discovery Center

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Primary Source: Oral History Interviews

Working in an Ethnic Community

Ms. Banda talks about her family's changing careers

When you come to the Johnstown Heritage Discovery Center you will see videotaped oral histories of Johnstown residents talking about their immigrant parents and grandparents. The Generations Theater is only able to show brief portions from those interviews. Below are other excerpts from the interview transcripts.

A tragic mill accident claims a family member

Grammaphone icon - denotes an audio recording transcript…I had an uncle that I, of course, didn't know because he was killed at the Cambria Iron Works when he was 17 in 1917. And my father always told us that "If my brother Joe hadn't died, I wouldn't have had a college education."

… I have the papers of the settlement …from my Uncle Joe's death between my grandparents and the iron works, and it's like $2,000, and they signed the paper within two weeks of his death, and I would think that was very difficult.

…The hurt is there--and if--my grandmother prayed a lot, she probably prayed a lot more because her son was killed in a terrible disaster, where the body was completely crushed. And I'm sure she didn't see any body. So she didn't talk about it.

My father did, mostly reminiscing, you know? Like, "Gee, my brother, Joe, my brother Joe," but my grandma didn't talk about that, and my grandfather died when I was two, so I don't really remember him.

I'm sure there were no safety measures [at the time my uncle was killed].

Organizing a union

Grammaphone icon - denotes an audio recording transcriptMy father in 1930 or '31 was part of the group that was forming the steelworkers organizational union. I'm not sure that that's the name, and I do have the card that he carried. Because he would tell us about the Pinkertons that would come in, and ride horses right through the house, because they were going to crash any--crush any strike that was going to start.

The life of the immigrant wasn't a--it wasn't a great life. I mean people want to say, "Oh, how terrific it was." It wasn't. They fought for everything that they got, and my father helped start the union, was very proud of his union organization. I mean like "Wow! We did this in spite of everything."

…In retrospect it was kind of strange. We used to tease my daddy that he was a Bethlehem man, because his allegiance was to Bethlehem Steel, and even though he started that union, he knew that if it were not for Bethlehem Steel, he would not have been able to rise, to better his life. And to give his children more, so he did have a loyalty to Bethlehem.

...I'd say 20 years after he helped start the union, he was asked to be a supervisor at Bethlehem, and he had to give up his union card. And he told me that he was worried that they were going to ask him to give up being a Democrat. And he would not have done that. He could give up the union card, but not give up being a Democrat. And so, you know, we're Democrats.

A: The Pinkertons would have been the police force for the owners of the steel mills. You know? And I keep thinking of Carnegie and the Mellons and those people. They could afford their own policemen, and I mean these little immigrants that were making $22 a day, what could they afford? You know, so-- Twenty-two dollars a week, excuse me. These immigrants who were making $22 a week could afford nothing. I mean except to take care of their family, and so when they band together, that's what made them strong.

And I think, too, only in America could that have happened. Where you have a group of Polish people and a group of Slovak people and a group of Hungarians and a group of Irish, all working together, and they get together, and they form this union against oppression really. Also, though, I'm going to agree with my brother that I think that maybe they were handed a little help too from the heads of the steelworkers.


"Bettering yourself"

Grammaphone icon - denotes an audio recording transcriptI was the first, and I don't know if there were many more girls or women from Minersville to go to college. That was just unheard of. And that he would spend his money to send a daughter to college was like--was just completely different, because then you're really going to move up. You know, you're not going to marry the guy next door. You're not going to belong to the Slovak church. You're not going to be one of us.

I have--I'm very fortunate that my father was smart enough to marry a feisty Russian, you know? Because the Slovaks are very very calm, good natured, conciliatory people. And the Russians weren't. I mean my mother was feisty.

She would teach you how to be polite, but get your point across. And she is the one that said, "You will be educated. You will go to school." When my grandmother, the Russian grandmother's husband died. My grandfather died when my grandmother must have been in her late 40's maybe. She remarried. I have an uncle who graduated from Yale from that family. It's the Kushma family. Although now it's Kushman, but they were coal miners, they just raised themselves up.

…My mother's greatest accomplishment was that she became a floor lady in the Penn Traffic, and that was a department store. And was very prim and very proper, and she was elevating herself, and--but she knew that in order to quote, unquote, "be somebody", you had to be educated.

And first she tried with my sister who was four years older than I, she wanted Delores to be a librarian, and my sister was tired of school. So she became a secretary. Me, I had my choice. My father said, "You could be a nurse. You could be a teacher. You could be a secretary."

Well I didn't want to be a secretary. I didn't want--a nurse--I became a teacher. And fortunately I liked it. It was something I really enjoyed doing. But it was my mother who prodded that. My father told me that I could not go. He was not going to pay for me to go to college. And what he said was "Oh, all you're going to do is get married anyway."

There was a scholarship exam to a Catholic school called Mt. Aloysius Junior College, and then it was an all-girls school. I asked my dad, "If I won the scholarship, $100, will you let me go?" And he said, "Oh, yes. Go ahead, but you're not going to win."

So I won, and I called him from school, and said, "Daddy, I won." And he was a man of his word, so he couldn't go back on his word, and it was difficult, because it was a private school. And the girls that came were from New York, and from Massachusetts and from--I remember the Kerrs from Kentucky, who were really prominent. And here I was from Minersville. And my dad was working in the steel mill, and he was paying the money for me to go to this junior college so that I could transfer to Indiana.

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