CGP Community Stories

Frances Butler, October 24, 1974

Title

Frances Butler, October 24, 1974

Subject

Hop pickers
Hops
Otsego County
Delaware County
Agriculture
Migrant workers
Women working

Description

An excerpt from Frances Butler's 1974 interview. Clip created for Spring 2017 Cooperstown Graduate Program Exhibition "Hop City Pickers" at the Fenimore Art Museum Research Library.

Creator

Joyce Goldberg

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

December 7,1972

Rights

Cooperstown Graduate Association

Format

audio/mp3

Language

en-US

Type

Sound

Identifier

73-0008

Coverage

Otsego County

Interviewer

Joyce Goldberg

Interviewee

Frances Butler

Location

Westville, NY

Transcription

JB: What about your mother’s family? Did they--
FB: They came from--they lived in Delaware County. They came up here in the first place--she was not very well one summer when she was 14. And the doctor recommended that she try to lead an outdoor life. So hop picking was the big thing in those days. In fact, hop picking reached a peak about 1875. And so it wasn’t quite as important after that, but still from then until 1900 there still was hop picking. My mother came up here to stay for a few weeks, I don’t know, three weeks, four weeks. And she happened to stay with Mr. and Mrs. Jewell (sp? Jewell?). And she came with her sister, who was older. And Mrs. Joel was my father’s sister. So she met my father--he was a box tender at the hop picking. You see, the hops were on poles, and they had to be pulled down from these very high poles, so the man who was the box tender pulled them down. They were on bines. And the people who were picking actually picked the small hop blossoms from the bines and put them in this box. And the hops were individually about the size of a quarter and very fluffy, so you can see how many of them it would take to fill a box which was about this high. And my mother did very well if she got one box a day. She said that Mr. Joel who was later my uncle he’d come along and say, “how many boxes?” and then he would come to her and say, “Gertie, one box?” because she could never have more than that, it was so hard to pick them. But some people picked very fast and picked three boxes a day.
JB: They were really sticky, weren’t they? I’ve heard.
FB: A little bit, yes. They often picked with gloves on. [Indistinct] Yes, they were rather sticky I think.
JB: Did the men just stay around town to pick the hops or did they sleep in the barn and pick constantly for a couple of weeks?
FB: People from the community, both men and women, would go to a farm to pick hops there. When those hops were finished picking they would go onto another farm. But that wouldn’t make enough of a workforce so they had people coming from cities generally, there were people that came from New York and Brooklyn. They would stay here for the time being and they would quite often sleep on mattresses in one large bedroom or in a large room of a house. And that’s why many houses were so large, because they did have hop pickers. This was a big operation. Before this the farmer would kill a steer for beef and generally a pig or else he had killed a pig before and he had hams and bacon. Of course they’d have to have chickens that they could kill because they couldn’t go to Cooperstown every day for meat, you see, they wouldn’t have time. They were too busy. They had to get this meat ready. And they would have corned beef and roast beef and all that sort of thing. And every day my aunt used to bake bread, she would make six loaves a day. Then she had someone working in the house that would make pies, and she’d have to have two cakes or something. And then they would have, oh, like twenty people for dinner and supper. And some of the people went home, they weren’t there for breakfast. But those who came to stay, as my mother did when she came up, would be there also. And of course they didn’t dress up when they picked hops. They wore sun bonnets--the women wore sun bonnets and of course everyone wore long cotton dresses and aprons. They wore gloves, I think rather long gloves so that they would protect their arms. [Tape stops as interviewee gets hops] These are the hops. They’ve all dried, you see, but they dried them in a kiln, and this was a building. They placed them on racks sort of with a lathe, with spaces between and then you need a fire down below. They’d have sulphur and that was a smelly business. The sulphur I suppose was to kill any insects that might have been in the hops or something like that. And they had to be dried before they were sold, and then they were baled and they were used to make whiskey, beer, I don’t know.
JB: Do you know what any of the insects looked like?
FB: Oh no, they were just tiny little things.
JB: Quite pungent [smelling the hops]. Do you do anything with them now?
FB: I was going to make a hop pillow but I probably never will, I don’t know. Why, would you like some of them?
JB: No, I was just wondering, the only thing I ever heard done with them is that you used them in beer.
FB: They made yeast for bread.
JB: How would you make yeast out of them?
FB: [Laughing] Don’t ask me, I don’t know! [Indistinct sounds]
JB: Well I was wondering more about the hops. You don’t know of any names for the little bugs, do you?
FB: No, I don’t. But in the last days there was a blight and the hops would not be saleable, so finally people gave it up. The industry was entirely gone in this area. It stayed longer in the Cobleskill area because even twenty years ago they were raising hops down there.
JB: How many weeks did this go on?
FB: I believe that it was a month or so. It was generally in the month of September, August or September.

Original Format

Cassette Tape

Duration

11:39

Bit Rate/Frequency

192 kbps

Files

Collection

Citation

Joyce Goldberg, “Frances Butler, October 24, 1974,” CGP Community Stories, accessed May 24, 2017, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/286.