Kathryn Allen, November 13, 2018


Kathryn Allen, November 13, 2018


Great Depression
Dundee, Illinois
Works Progress Administration
Soil testing
World War II
German prisoners of War
Japanese Internment
Air Force
G.I. Bill
Cooperative Extension Program
Creation of Israel
Korean War
University of Illinois
Long Island
Special Education


Kathryn, or Kathy, Allen (née Clark) was born in rural Illinois in 1929. As a child, she lived through the Great Depression and experienced the rural home front’s response to World War II. An agricultural specialist, her father worked as a soil tester in northern Illinois. Because of his work, she witnessed the transformation of Midwestern agriculture that occurred during and after the Depression. After World War II, when her father joined the faculty of Southern Illinois University, she and her family moved to the southern part of the state. After the Korean War, she and her husband Bill moved to the diverse community of Glen Cove, Long Island, where she worked as a school librarian for several decades. She moved to Cooperstown later in life.

As a result of the Great Depression, the number of farms in the Midwest decreased and the sizes of those farms increased. Wealthy individuals bought up land that less affluent people had lost. This farm consolidation, which continued through the rest of the twentieth century, transformed the nature of agriculture. Kathy’s life changed as a child as her father’s occupation shifted in response to these trends and the increasing professionalization of agriculture.

Kathy reflects on how both her life and the communities in which she lived changed in response to national events in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, primarily. Her father is a particularly important figure in the interview, and she discusses how his work shaped her worldview. She remembers experiencing strict violin lessons provided by the Works Progress Administration, witnessing Nazi prisoners of war work in fields in her heavily German-American community, and discussing the formation of Israel in her college housing. She discusses her feelings on the ways children learn by doing, gender roles during World War II, America’s place on the world stage, and the nature of Midwestern character.

The interview took place one week after the 2018 midterm elections, to which she briefly alludes. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and sentence structure. Long stretches of speech have been broken into paragraphs.


Emma Bresnan


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




Cooperstown Graduate Program, Cooperstown, NY


28.8 MB
7.9 MB
3024 × 4032 pixels






Long Island
Cooperstown, NY


Emma Bresnan


Kathryn Allen


Browdy Mountain Rd
Cooperstown, New York


KA = Kathryn Allen
EB = Emma Bresnan

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]
This is the November 13th, 2018 interview of Kathryn Allen by Emma Bresnan for the Cooperstown Graduate Program's Research and Fieldwork course, recorded at her home in Cooperstown. So, could you tell me a little bit about where you grew up?

Where I grew up? I'm a Midwesterner, and if you're a Midwesterner you never lose it. I've spent probably 40, 60 years of my life in New York, but I'm still a Midwesterner. Maybe it's a frame of mind. It's an attitude of life. It's how you do things, but it never leaves you. I grew up in Illinois. The first part of my life was in northern Illinois in an area that would be considered now a suburb of Chicago, but it was nothing but a rural area at that particular time. Very small town, very huge school district, but still only, say, 200 people in the high school, because there weren't many people who lived there. It was a farming area.

[TRACK 1, 1:14]
What was the name of the town?

Dundee, Illinois. It's in an area of rich farmland. However, due to the time at which I was born, I was born in 1929, and I have been told at times that I was the unwanted child, because just right after I was born the crash came and that led into the Depression. This affected our family and it affected everyone in the nation. It certainly affected our small community, and there are ways in which we coped with this. My father had always been in the field of agriculture. He grew up in farmland in Carthage, Illinois, which is near the Mississippi. And after, I'd say in 1916, he learned to fly an airplane on the Texas border, then proceeded to be a pilot in World War I, [then] returned to complete and get his master's degree in agriculture. And there were a series of problems, because the agricultural depression hit the farmer in 1921, and that was a depressed time for them.

[TRACK 1, 2:33]
Eventually, he became a high school teacher of agriculture in Dundee, Illinois. That's the important job in a school district, because it's a twelve-month job. You have ten months of teaching and then three months in which you supervise farm programs and so forth, other students and families that are in your community. Well, 1929, when the depression hit, it was disastrous for much of the nation. As a teacher, he took a seventy percent cut in pay, because the people had no money to pay taxes. And as we know, school districts are supported by local taxes. Even with that, he had a job, until he made the fatal mistake of looking once at the financial reports of the school district and noticed a slight discrepancy. The result of this was the superintendent of schools and the principal were brought up on charges for having absconded with money and lost it in the market. The result of this is my father was fired.

[TRACK 1, 3:52]
I talked to my brother about this. He was 12 when this happened. I was five or six. To me, these are my recollections of what happened. I think, for my mother, number one, they lost their house. They could not make the payments on the house. This must have been a terrible blow to my mother. We moved from there to the second floor of a house in town that had three rooms: a living room, a kitchen, and one bedroom. And with the three children: my brother, my sister, myself, we slept on an unheated glassed-in porch on the second floor. I thought it was wonderful, because I thought I was Robinson Crusoe living in the trees. I can't imagine what this meant to my parents. My brother was much more aware of the tremendous financial situation our family was in. And so, from that, my memories of the Depression are different than his.

[TRACK 1, 5:01]
I seem to remember that there was a great deal of pulling together of people in the community. I was the smallest person in the class. We had one class per grade level, even though we had a huge area that we drew for population of the school, and we had to line up by size. I was the smallest one in the class, always, and I had to stand next to a girl named Shirley Smith. I came home to my mother and I said, “I don't like to have to stand next to Shirley Smith. She smells.” Well, my mother went to work on that. The Smiths were living in an abandoned barn. They had no running water. The result of this is my mother went and pressured the school board so that every Saturday, the gymnasium and the locker rooms and the showers were open to people in the area who had no running water, so once a week they could at least get clean. I don't seem to remember much more than that.

[TRACK 1, 6:10]
There was another group of people. I don't know who owned the land, but we all had land down by the river. We had a small town that had hills on either side, with a river in the center, the Fox River. Not much of a river, because if you got your knees wet, that was about it. But at any rate, we would go down every night and hoe with our hoes and rakes and we all worked there, as kids. Afterwards, when we were finished with that, we'd go swimming. So for us, I don't remember thinking that that was work. But as I think about it later on, the produce that came from that, once again working with the school system, on Saturdays—we went up there as kids, we nibbed beans, we peeled something or other, whatever was needed—but there was communal canning done by the entire community, and the food was then divided up and sent home with different families, if they worked there. This is a way in which we were able to meet the needs of, say, Shirley Smith, living in a barn with no heat—and that's no fun in northern Illinois in the wintertime.

[TRACK 1, 7:19]
I remember that the churches also had a big role to play. Dundee was a tiny town, but they had one small industry and that was the Haeger Potteries. We had a lot of clay in the area. They basically were known as something that made not artistic pottery at that point, but the pots that you plant things in, so that actually was something that was functioning in the town. The Haegers were in our church. We had a weekly dinner at church. They provided the main part of the meal, and I can remember the big farm families coming in with five, six kids and bringing in four deviled eggs. They would either have turkey or you would have ham or some sort of beef, and I realize now that was their way of providing one solid good meal, with probably leftovers that were taken home. I didn't think much about it. We were just doing things. Didn't seem to bother us that no one appeared to have anything.

[TRACK 1, 8:31]
There was one other thing, and I'm thinking back. This community that I grew up in was very heavily German. German was spoken practically at [the] home of all my friends. [It] was not spoken on the street, because, in that era, you wanted to become an American, and so you spoke your broken English, maybe, on the street, but in walking to school and picking up friends, I heard nothing but German in the home.

[TRACK 1, 9:02]
And so, the WPA [Works Progress Administration] probably did a good thing. This would have been in the middle of the [19]30s, after [President Franklin Delano] Roosevelt had begun some of his programs to help in the Depression. A man named Mr. Graning—tall, patrician German man—was sent out to this little, wee community. What was his job? He was to give free violin lessons. Well, I don't know. By the time these programs came into existence, it had to be middle thirties. I don't know where my parents found it, but they found 13 dollars. That bought a cardboard case, a violin, and a bow, and he gave free violin lessons. We had our violin lessons in the basement of the school in the boiler room after school was over—because of course, by noon they were turning off the heat in the building, because no one had enough money to buy a lot of heat. So at least we were warm. I never told my parents what it was like to be with Mr. Graning. As an adult, I think back on him. He must have been [an] incredibly unhappy man, although I think the WPA probably thought they were doing a good thing by placing him in a community that was heavily German. So, he should have had some relationship with the people in the community. I only knew him as a person who gave me violin lessons. He hit me repeatedly, screamed at me, yelled at me because I was not holding the violin correctly. I was not getting the intonation absolutely correct. Because in the violin, the bottom two strings are wrapped in something, so even one little difference in the coil made a difference in what the sound was. I would sit there and quietly cry through every one of the lessons with tears streaming down my face. [I] never, ever told my parents. There's no way I could, because they had somehow or other made an enormous sacrifice to find thirteen dollars in that day and age.

[TRACK 1, 11:29]
I learned to play violin. One of the things I learned from him is something I've had the rest of my life. His comment was that people [who] played the piano were kind of ridiculous, because you just sat and you pushed down on keys and the note came out. As he told me over and over again, you have to create the note on the violin, and you have to know what it's going to sound like. So he made me know what a third sounded like, what an augmented fourth sounded like, what a fifth [sounded like]. [Sings a fifth] is a fifth to this day. You know what it's going to be like before you play it. Over the years, I have sung in whatever was needed in a choir. Church choirs, school choirs, whatever it was. Because I could read music, I started out as a fifth grader singing alto in the church choir. Then, I subsequently went to tenors when that was needed, et cetera et cetera. But everywhere I've been, they've always said, "Well let me sit by you because if we have an entrance, you seem to know what the right tone is." And I tell them, "Well it's a third," or, "It's a fourth." "Well I don't know what you're talking about." I learned that from Mr. Graning. I learned to play violin. I don't know what happened to him. I did continue with lessons later on, in the forties, when, of course, the WPA was not providing people at the time. But it was something that was done, because in a very small community school such as we had, we had no art. We didn't have anything, because you couldn't even pay regular teachers, so you certainly weren't having what they considered a frill.

[TRACK 1, 13:19]
When I think back, the other major thing that happened with me is my relationship with my father. My father, if you can imagine this, first tried to sell insurance door-to-door. It's so funny because, you know, how can you sell insurance to people that have no money and have no jobs? But he was thinking while he was doing that. What he was thinking about was what he had to offer the world, and that is knowledge of agriculture, a broad knowledge of agriculture, partly because of his inquisitive mind, his previous training, and his natural inclination. Most of the farms in northern Illinois went under financially, because the farmer could not make the payments on the land. There were still people who had money in the midst of the Depression. If I name some of these names, these are the people who bought up the farms around northern Illinois—and that would be Marshall Field of Marshall Field and Company and Field Enterprises. They produced the World Book Encyclopedia. They were the people who did that. A.B. Dick of mimeographing would be another one. Howell of Howell Metal Cabinets. Mr. McCready, I don't know what he did. Max McGraw, who was McGraw Electric—and anyone my age, if you had a toaster in your kitchen, it was a Toastmaster from McGraw electric. They are the people who acquired the land, but didn't know what to do with it. And this is spectacular land, the best land in the world when I think about. I mean, the topsoil is deep and rich. It's the center of Illinois, and it can feed the world if necessary.

[TRACK 1, 15:20]
So, my father took to the streets of Chicago and went to these people and said, "You have bought this land. I can help you do with it what you don't know." From that, he would map each one of the farms in detail, so that a person who had no knowledge of being able to read maps could see where the house was, where the barn was, where the trees were that were here, where there was a little stream here, and every draw—draw is a term used where there is a depression in the soil in the land—and the fences, and everything. From there he did the testing of the soil. He developed a lab that could handle as many as five hundred samples at a time. So we're not talking about some little rinky-dink thing where you go in with a little piece of dirt and they put a little litmus paper in a tube or something like that. It was done in batches of 10 samples apiece, controlled in the length of time that it was in. He designed all these things so that you could put a shaker—it was called a shaker—that you timed it and it would shake it for a certain number of minutes so that the soil became in contact with the liquids that you were using for the testing. And he tested for major things. Phosphorus, acidity, that sort of thing. He also was capable of changing and creating land if it was necessary, changing the drainage of a particular field so it would be more productive. My brother informs me that he knew enough about plants, because my brother spent time with him, that he could sit and look at a plant and tell you the conditions of the soil. He knew his grains, he knew his soybeans, he knew his wheat, he knew his corn well enough to know those things.

[TRACK 1, 17:21]
During this time, the remainder of the family, my sister and my brother particularly, described me as the difficult child. So I was sent off with my father, and we went off when he did the mapping of the farms. As you know, if you're doing surveying, somebody has to stand there and hold a pole that has black and white sections on it, so that he did his sightings against it. That's what I did. We spent many parts of the summer in fields together, often into the fall. I learned a lot of things from my father. One of them was that sometimes you have to obey what has been told you. I particularly remember one day when we were out doing things and he said, "Okay now, I've got to do some work now and you can, if you want to, put on your ice skates and go over and skate on the pond there. But don't go over that end, because it's shallow." Well the first thing I did, of course, was to skate right over there and stomp my foot down and go up to my knee in ice cold water. I couldn't do anything about that, because I had disobeyed. So, I lived the rest of that long day with a frozen foot and leg, and learned. I'm sure he saw my wet snow pants. And so, I learned that sometimes you have to do that.

[TRACK 1, 18:46]
My brother, in the beginning, since he was five years older than me—and he would've been starting when he was about twelve or thirteen—he was doing soil testing, which we set up in the basement of our house. 1941 comes. December, my brother was a freshman in college at the University of Illinois. I had lost my best friend. I was bereft, because I had been a partner in crime with my brother on many things, but he was gone. Before he left that winter, I remember my parents getting together and getting the gym in our elementary school, the same school that we went to, and having a party where all of the people who had graduated from high school in the year, if they were around still, [were] there to have a party. I was allowed to sit up in the balcony—there was no place to sit in the gym; you just had an upper area you could walk around on—because I was deemed too young for this. It was the last time that many of those boys saw each other, because they went off to war. Everybody went off to war.

[TRACK 1, 20:18]
Before I go into the forties, when my brother left, then, I became the person who did the soil testing. I was probably 13, because at 18 he would have gone. He would have been drafted and gone off. So, I was starting that at the same time. I learned another extremely valuable lesson from that too. I learned about the environment from my father, because he was the original environmentalist, telling you to look at the land, because it will always talk to you. It will tell you how it is, whether it's being abused, whether it's being taken care of, what it needs.

[TRACK 1, 21:07]
When it came to doing the soil testing, I learned another very valuable thing—and that was that if you do a laboratory exercise correctly, you have to rely upon what the results are. Okay, every two and a half acres of land, which was shown on the maps as a little square, my father took the soil sample. Okay, you're doing a field in there and you're doing the tests and you're doing the results and they seem to fall within a general area and you feel pretty good about that, and then all of a sudden there's one that's way off. Way off. And your first thought is, "I think I'll fudge a little bit. Maybe I'll make it a little closer to the others. No, I can't do that. Let's retest that whole area again.” So, you retest the whole area again, come up with the same results. What am I going to do with this? Well, I think I'd better put down what I see here. Then, of course, Father comes along and he's looking at the results. I said, "Father, you know there's something wrong over here. I don't know what the problem is, but this one is so off. I don't know what in the world—. What's wrong?" I think maybe he did this on purpose. He looked at me and smiled. He said, "Oh yeah, that's where the salt lick is and all the cows go over there to lick the salt. Of course, the soil around there is going to be completely different when you test it." I sometimes wonder if he did that on purpose so that you learn yourself if you have done something correctly. It is a scientific thing. You have got to trust the results. There must be a reason for it. I'm sort of glad that I never did fudge that, because you know, I would have felt bad when I found out the real reason, because it would have been completely different.

[TRACK 1, 23:15]
Like so many things, and I hope the kids do this today, you get to learn things by doing. When I think of some of the things we did in that lovely era of the Depression, and when we just wandered around the fields and things around town—that area of Illinois was at the end of where one of the ice ages had occurred, so there were pockets of gravel. There were gravel pits, because that would have been the end of the glacier that had an opening where the pebbles that had been ground down dropped through and formed sand pits. Well, we used to go and hurl ourselves off the sides of those sand pits and slide down the sand. Then we’d spend the next hour trying to get out. That was pretty stupid, because we could have been engulfed with sand when we flung ourselves over it. No one knew what we were doing. We just left, you know? And then after breakfast we went off and we roamed the hillsides and did things. I can remember my first love of going into abandoned buildings. It started at that time. I'm thinking of the times that we went into barns that were abandoned or houses that were abandoned and thinking, "Oh my Lord,” you know, “these stairs are not very good." Or dropping through a floor to the basement below! We did a lot of things that maybe weren't bright, but we learned to assess the situation and eventually began to not be quite so stupid.

[TRACK 1, 24:58]
When my brother went off to war, I remember specifically, because I remember listening to the fireside chats that Roosevelt gave, because we gathered around the radio. The radio was a big thing in those days, the 15-minute programs that were before we had supper. You've got The Shadow, Little Orphan Annie, all those programs that we lived for. I remember [Roosevelt speaking]. I was sitting around the radio, and then I went out to continue to play with my friends, and we thought about, "Well what's going to happen here?" What happened was that our community completely changed. There were no men. There were no men. That is all there is to it. And it was an area where we didn't have any industry, real industry in our community. Farming was what it was. So, what are we going to do to keep these farms going?

[TRACK 1, 26:11]
My father, with his well-established business by this time in the forties, had one last [client], and his name was Mr. Schnering. He owned the Curtis Candy Company, and he had bought an enormous amount of land. Actually, part of what he bought was the former Woolworth estate outside of Chicago. That actually had an indoor polo field and had barns that I thought were the most beautiful barns I've ever seen, because the stalls for the horses were made out of pure walnut. I was internally surprised by this place. He owned an enormous amount of land, and it's interesting where his primary money came from. In the twenties, back in the early twenties, he had developed candy bars, and one of his candy bars was called Baby Ruth. He rode in on the Babe Ruth of baseball, because they thought he had created that for him. He hadn't. He had one that was called Baby Ruth and his other major one was the Butterfinger. But he wanted to be known as a producer of food, because we needed food during the war. We were sending food to other places, and so my father then took a position. First of all, he mapped all of his lands, created whatever he wanted for him. If he wanted to have a fishing pool, he created a fishing pool for him by changing the general flow of water in the area. And so, we had many acres of land that were under his supervision.

[TRACK 1, 27:57]
Okay, where are you going to grow food in the middle of the war with no men? Where are you going to get your helpers? My father went to the federal government, and that's when we began. He used German prisoners of war to work in the fields. These German prisoners of war were housed somewhere between us and Chicago. My best friend was of German descent. Paul Rauschert was his name. His nickname was Bingo. Bingo and I would go in the morning in the summertime and sit on the curb in the center of town where we had one square block that was the park and watch the convoy trucks come out bringing the German prisoners of war to work on the farmlands. In New York State here, they did that in northern New York near Oswego with the Italian prisoners of war. The really weird thing is that my friend Bingo Rauschert had two uncles who were prisoners of war. We used to sit there on the side of the curb and watch them go by until we saw his two uncles. Well, we'd wave to them. Then we'd go off and play. At the end of the day, we did the same thing for them to return.

[TRACK 1, 29:17]
But you have to think about the kind of agriculture you have in Illinois. And that was corn et cetera et cetera, but we're going to grow food. And where was most of the food grown, the kind of food that you eat at your table? Not having, as wheat or corn to go to an animal, say to make a cow, a milk cow or a cow that you'd have just for beef. Well, one of the things that America did, which we certainly are not very proud of, and many people don't know of, is that the people who were most knowledgeable in producing the kind of food to eat were the Japanese

[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]
Americans who had settled in the California areas. We took that land away from them and incarcerated those people in camps in Utah and in other areas, because they looked different. That was not lost upon me, because I know that I lived in a community that was heavily German. I was even aware that some people might have even been not totally unsympathetic to what Germany was doing. We didn't do anything with the Germans, but we did it with the Japanese Americans, because they looked different. That's a bad thing that's in our history. Well that's where my father, he contacted the federal government once again and brought in as the supervisors and the farm foremen the Japanese Americans from these camps. So as a kid going out to a farm picnic, it was kind of bizarre. Here we had the German prisoners of war, and we had these Japanese Americans, and then we had a few people that—I don't know—I guess you'd say we were sort of the norm in America. But that's what my father did during the war for the Curtis Candy Company.

[TRACK 2, 1:26]
When the war was over, there was a great flowering of education in this country, and it reached many areas, and one of the areas it reached was in what we would call the Cooperative Extension Program. So my father found that at that point, he had always had a job where he had income, but the income was not steady. It was whether he had this job, or that job, or that job. At that point my brother, who had dutifully entered the Air Force in 1941—and even then, you have to hand it to the Air Force. They were sophisticated enough in their original testing of the young men that they had. My brother was like me: very small, and they were targeting him for a tail gunner. They gave him a test and discovered that he had a deep innate fear of flying. [Laughter] Here he is, in the Air Force. But my father had been in the Air Force—flown an airplane not the Air Force, because that didn't exist in World War I. But they discovered that he had a brain, so much of his time in the service years was in an accelerated program preparing him for research in aeronautics. The Navy did the same thing. I presume the Marines did it to. I know about the Navy because they commandeered what they had for dormitories at the University of Illinois and they were still commandeering those when I went off to school. My brother was now returned into the Department of Veterans Education at the University of Illinois. My sister was there and I was there. Three of us all at once in 1946.

[TRACK 2, 3:30]
My father needed steady income. We sold our lab to the University of Illinois because they were now moving into a new phase of agriculture. Every small Cooperative Extension was now going into a different form of soil testing, and here was a lab, all ready for them. So, he sold that and joined the faculty of Southern Illinois University, which at that time was a normal school and was becoming a university. But this happened all over the country, that normal schools that normally trained teachers were broadening to be of a different area.

[TRACK 2, 4:11]
That started another phase of our life, and that's going to live in another part of the state of Illinois, which basically was completely different than central and northern Illinois. Southern Illinois is hilly and is in the foothills of the Ozarks. You could recognize that here in New York State, because we're the northern end of Appalachia, and basically, southern Illinois was a form of Appalachia. No question about it. We had a small farm, a hundred acres which my father used as a demonstration of how you can do agriculture. Therefore, we had all kinds of different projects. One year it was three thousand tomato plants. Well that was fine, until the northern Illinois farms came in, and then the market dropped. We were shipping them up to Chicago, of course. Another year it was strawberries. Another year it was chickens. Another year it was pigs, but always it was the sheep, because you can't do the same kind of farming in a hilly southern Illinois area that you do in the plains. The local farmers, people, would come in and sit on our fences along, "What are you doing now?" "Well I'm planting fields here." "Well, when are you going to harvest it?" "Well, I'm not going to. These are going to be fields that are going to be pastures for sheep. I'm not going to harvest this. I'm creating a pasture for sheep, for the food they need." Well, of course, it was beyond their comprehension. Do you want to hear about this?

[TRACK 2, 6:13]

Well, they thought my father was crazy. You have to understand, this also ties in with what the war did to people. They thought he was crazy because we took our lambs and we put them on a truck and we sent them to St. Louis, where they went to the slaughterhouses, and we didn't get the money until they had been bid upon in St. Louis, and the money was returned to us. These people had no concept of what that was. They didn't have the concept of money. There's nothing wrong with these people; they just never had this experience. This is the kind of experience that came to all kinds of people throughout our country with World War II, where they might have spent their entire life in a 30-mile radius in the hills of southern Illinois. Because we lived about five mile or seven miles from the Mississippi, as a crow flies, and it was a land of natural caves, hills. We called it the Land of the Never Never. And it was completely different than central Illinois, flat, rich soil. These people had a chance to see what the world was like. They came back changed.

[TRACK 2, 7:40]
These are the people that my father taught from 1946 on. He said they were the greatest students you could ever have. You go to college now and what do we read about? Terrible things where they're hazing somebody in a fraternity. To go to the University of Illinois in 1945 or 6 or 7, you could go if you had a place to stay. So, there was every fraternity, every sorority, there was something called independent houses. Also, every house would maybe house 50 to 70 people. The dorms were still being used by the Navy V-12 programs. So that was how you got there. You went to school if you had a place to stay. Well, this is where a world opened up to people who would have never had it before. And that was through the G.I. Bill of Rights, and it changed our country. It changed how we do agriculture.

[TRACK 2, 8:47]
On our farm down there, we had a little building across the road about the size of a double car garage, and two students were allowed to live there. It had a spigot with running water and an outhouse, but we had an outhouse too. They could be there as long as they helped out with the farm. My father used those young men to go talk to a lot of the local people around here, because they realized that they had come from the same background. Of course they thought my father wasn't very bright, because these fellows knew everything. Well, they were his students. And I think back on that. I remember them coming and up one man saying, "You know, this is really nice to have running water and a bathroom in a house. I'm going to do this for my folks." That's where we were in 1945.

[TRACK 2, 9:44]
And when I think back, the tapping of the great pool of eagerness and intelligence was one of the really, really great outcomes that came from World War II. World War II was a horrible time for some people. We were aware of it, because there were no men in our town. The other major thing that we were aware of was riding our bicycle around town and seeing the little hangings that came in the windows that had stars on them, and that meant someone was killed. And we had one woman in town, Mrs. Hemb was her name—H-E-M-B—Mrs. Hemb. And Bingo and I used to go over regularly. Well, it was kind of ridiculous because we knew we were going to get fresh cookies and milk. But we would also sit on the porch and let her talk to us about her sons. She had three gold stars in the window, because unfortunately her three sons had gone into the Navy and had been on the same ship.

[TRACK 2, 11:05]
I clearly remember, from the standpoint of the war, the fact that we were losing, losing, losing, losing. It wasn't just Pearl Harbor. I think it was Wake, the Battle of Wake was the first time that we actually were able to make a dent into the Japanese forces, and that began, possibly, the turn of the war. But I do remember the period of tension when we were not winning anything. And what made us win? We turned, as a nation, the entire might of this country to what we are so well-known for, which is innovation, production, and the creation of things. You could not buy a car from 1941 to 1946. You could not buy a washing machine. Well, we didn't have washing machines, first of all. I mean, well, you had a hand one, but you didn't have an automatic washing machine. You couldn't buy an icebox or a refrigerator. That you couldn't do. Because the entire efforts of the nation were for not only America, but the Allies in Europe. We were the godsend.

[TRACK 2, 12:37]
My daughter has lived in England for the last 30 years. I've had the good feeling [fortune] to go over there many times. And because I sit there with white hair, I could be sitting in a pub, and another old grizzled man will look at me and speak to me and he says, “Oh you're an American!" I said, "Yes." And he said to me, "What did you do during the war?" And it's a bond that I have found with people in England, and of course most them, and I could go on with those stories of talking to an English person and their experience in the war, and how they felt about Americans, how they felt about the B-17 when the B-17 arrived.

[TRACK 2, 13:30]
Visiting one of the great houses in Norfolk—Norfolk is a flat land. That's where the airfields are. That's where my husband was. He was also there after the Korean War. He was assigned to England and he was in Milton Hall Air Force Base. That's where they thought the Germans were going to come into England. And this young man, when I was going through the house, visiting it—Blickling Hall—he was a docent. I was talking to him in the dining room and he said, "Well in forty-five minutes I'll be up in what I call the ancestor room." It's a big long hallway where they hang all the pictures of the ancestors. He said, "I want to continue my talk with you." I met him up there in that room. And he said to me, "This is the room where I came in as an 18 year old. I came in here and I slept under that picture." It was before they removed the pictures. But it was the beginning of the war. And he said, "And I was a pilot. This was an airfield." And he said, "We had terrible airplanes. They were just thrown together." I said, "The B-24?" He said yes, "The B-24 was just—" "The Liberator Bomber?" He said it was just barely hanging together. And he said, "Then the Americans came. And when the Americans came, and we had tanks, trucks, and the airplanes." He said, "The airplanes you had, the P-51, the P-38, the B-17." He said, "That airplane could come back on two engines." He said, "You don't know what it meant to us." [He said] that when America entered the war, [it] really gave us the hope that we would be able to win this.

[TRACK 2, 15:30]
I don't know if somebody realized that we as a nation put every effort that we had into supporting that war. And it ended up on two fronts. That means an awful lot to a certain number of people. And I see this now, in a recent election we had, where so many of the people have had military time in our nation now, and have a different attitude towards our nation. It's not a sappy patriotism, but a deep respect for what we have done as a nation.

[TRACK 2, 16:16]
So during World War I, when all the men left town—

Two. World War II.

Excuse me, World War II. [Laughter] When you were doing the soil sample work, since you were taking over for your brother, was that something that was gendered?

What do you mean?

When you were doing the work that he did, was that men's work or did you not think of it that way?

Oh, no. That's the really good thing. Dundee was close enough that when we were in high school, we went and visited a plant. The plant made the DC-3. That was an airplane that had two engines reciprocating. It sat on its tail. The DC-3 was actually developed in the 1930s. It's an old warhorse. There are still DC-3s around, as an airframe. Everything else is changed. That was the Douglas Plant. We went because we were learning about what industry was like. Now, the women that I knew in town, the woman next door, oh I hero-worshipped her. She worked in this plant. These were the workers. You know of Rosie the Riveter. The jobs were taken over by women and that was the big change in life. Where in the Depression, my mother might have organized women to do something to help out on a local level, women actually went out into the workforce at that time.

[TRACK 2, 17:53]
In school, oh my gosh. Up until the war you could not have a teacher if she was married. If she was married, that was the end of her, because you were taking a job away from, quote, "a man." So that's completely different. You suddenly got the only man. Mr. Sutphen was his name—Vernon Sutphen. He was the principal of the school, and eventually he was drafted. I don't know who took over the running of the school, tell you the truth. I don't think it was a female, but by the same token, there were changes, and I was aware of these changes all over our environment, because of the absolute loss of men.

[TRACK 2, 18:42]
I had an interesting experience in our church. My father was instrumental in bringing the young man in as a minister. I was 10 when he came in and I was designated to be his babysitter, and I was his babysitter for the next 10 years, until he left and went to another church. One of the interesting things is that Wednesday nights was what he called his "real church." He met in the homes of people—and this was during the war—and he met primarily with the wives. And they questioned every single religious tenet that we would have, because of what this war was doing. And he used to come home on those nights. He said, "I am exhausted, because I am tested with every single person that's there, because they want to know, “Why?” How have we gotten into a situation [like this] and why do we treat people like this? Why does this happen? How can this fit into what we call a Christian nation? And those are still valid questions that go on at all points.

[TRACK 2, 20:00]
Basically, I think people just stepped to the plate. I've been in places in England where the entire—if over six million people went to war from England, everything was done by women. And they did the farm work. And we did the same thing. It was mainly women going to the factories, and we were close enough to Chicago. Of course interestingly enough, this factory, which was making the DC-3, is the basis of O'Hare Field right now, the massive field outside of Chicago that is O'Hare Airport. I'm sure that that little building that we went to, that first factory, I'm sure isn't even there anymore, but that became O'Hare, which is kind of interesting.

[TRACK 2, 21:00]
So you're talking about—I think you would have to say it's part of the development— because I'm still in the Midwest—[of what] is to me a great sense of independence. The woman next door, she did not see her husband for four years. And you never knew where he was. Somewhere. I mean, he started [and] went all through Africa, crossed over into Italy, and ended up in the end in Germany. So he was there through the entire European campaign.

[TRACK 2, 21:30]
And, I guess—I'm trying to think. I guess one of the really major things for me is when I went to college. I met a lot of different people, obviously. And in 1948—this sticks in my mind—I was not, I would say, very politically astute at that point. But we used to think we were so smart, this group of kids. There were 20 of us in our class in this house that I lived in. We stayed up one night every month all night long just discussing things. We thought we were so cool. I will never, ever forget the discussion we had on the night that Truman capitulated in 1948. And I say it's capitulation, because I didn't know about this until, actually within the last two years. The greatest single thing that we did for Europe after the war—for America it was creating the G.I. Bill of Rights—in Europe, it was the Marshall Plan. Rebuilding Europe with good livestock to restart their farming, help to develop their development of industry, et cetera, everything from the Marshall Plan. What I did not realize [is] that politically, Truman had to make a choice between a Marshall Plan and capitulating to the people who formed Israel. And he chose the Marshall Plan. To my memory it was a discussion that night. It was when Israel was formed. And we talked to each other and we said, "Well what about the people that are living there? What what's going to happen to the people that are living there?" And I was not politically sharp at that point. But as I sit back now and think of that, what, 70 years ago, oh, what have we paid for that? But we also probably saved a good deal of Europe by doing the Marshall Plan. But, and is true in many things, it's not black and white. There are tradeoffs. You have to compromise in some ways.

[TRACK 2, 24:06]
Maybe I'm digressing. Maybe you don't even want this. But you asked something about gender. This amuses me, because I wrote to my sister a letter today. I said you were coming to interview me today. And my mother was probably my age, living in a retirement facility in Illinois, when a young person came out to interview her, and her first question was this: "I feel sorry for you, Mrs. Clark, that you had to be a young woman in an era when you were not able to do anything." And my mother drew up and she said, "Young woman!" [Laughter] "I have never been held down by any man in my life for anything I wanted to do. I had a happy marriage. I had an education. I had a career. I raised children. And young woman, I don't know what you're talking about." [Laughter].

[TRACK 2, 25:09]
When I think back, I just think it became a natural thing in the forties for people to step up and do what needed to be done. I don't think we were thinking gender. Of course I can't remember that you held a job for somebody. People didn't hold a job, because who knew who was coming home? Besides, the world had changed. What jobs were available were different. But that's an interesting—you asked me that question. I've never felt that I've been held back. I also had the same kind of a husband who recognized that I was an independent person, which is a good thing.

[TRACK 2, 25:53]
Because, let's face it, we started off with our married life by being together for six months and then he was gone for the next two and a half years. Then he came back and we made some decisions, and one of the decisions was that Korea was a police action. But you could still get killed in police actions. And Bill liked having more control over his individual destiny by being a pilot, so he stayed in the reserves. Therefore, he got to spend two years in Vietnam. What would I do if I were some lowly white person leaning on a husband to do everything. No. No. And even in the years in the reserves, he full well knew. "Kath, I'm sitting here in an Officer's lodge and lodges in Spain and you're home dealing with a handicapped kid and the other three kids. You're working harder than I am." It was the way we had a marriage, and I think my parents had the same one. My mother was fiercely independent, but also not to the point where you abdicate what is your basic responsibility, which is, you know, somebody has to cook the meals and that sort of thing. And you just do it. You don't say, "I'm being held down because of this." You go ahead and do other things. Any other questions you have?

[TRACK 2, 27:27]
Yeah, we're running low on time, but I want to talk about your experience in Long Island, and can you just tell me how you ended up moving there?

Oh yeah. I'm sorry. We've gone too long.

That's okay.

We came to Long Island. Fate has a great thing in your life. I believe in fate. I really do. Bill had his years in the Air Force in Korea, and he came back. Korea was, as I said before, a police action. There were no benefits for people. Of the four men that started with him in basic training at Greenville, Mississippi, two of them were killed in Korea. So that was 50 percent of his closest friends gone.

[TRACK 2, 28:19]
So we went back. Bill wanted to be a teacher. He always did. We went back to get our master's degree at the University of Illinois. Cost us nothing. Cost us five dollars for a student activity fee. Why? Because he had a skill. The University of Illinois had something called the Institute of Aviation, where they not only taught how to fly airplanes, but they also did psychological work on instrumentation, where an instrument should be in the cockpit. And it should therefore be in every cockpit and every airplane in the same place. And Bill came in from the Air Force. He was an excellent teacher. As he said, "When you're teaching someone to fly," and this is true of all forms of education, "you have to let that student have the sense that he could do what he needs to do.” But an airplane, you can't let them kill you. So you may have to step in once and keep yourself from spinning into the ground. Coming from the Air Force, he was qualified to give flight instruction in single engine, multi-engine, reciprocating engine, multi-engine jet, instrument flying, night navigation, you name it. He was qualified to do anything. So we went there and he became a flight instructor, and therefore he was paid by the University.

[START OF TRACK 3, 0:00]
All we had to do was pay the student activity fee, which was five dollars a semester. [Laughter] He got his master's degree, and then we look for a job. Well, he's not twenty-one years old coming out of college, looking for a job. He now has had four years of service and another year of getting his master's degree, so we're a little older.

[TRACK 3, 0:26]
And this is in the fifties. We looked for the areas that had the school districts that are supported by people who were interested in education. That was primarily the suburban areas: Webster Groves out of St. Louis, any one of the places outside of Chicago, it would be Shaker Heights in Cleveland, and these are the places we sent our invitation. Great Neck in New York, that's the first thing that's after you leave New York City—Queens—you're over the line from Queens. So it's the first of the suburbs on Long Island, and Great Neck, therefore, has extremely good transportation into the city, because they have the most trains, and they're direct, and it's a short distance.

[TRACK 3, 1:26]
They had a very, very strong school district. It was very interesting. They came out and contacted Bill. And we met people, actually, two principals returning from the Elementary School Principals' Association in Denver. We met them in the Palmer House in Chicago. I was to come too. I was this big [mimes pregnant stomach] with child number two. And we had an interview. It was very interesting, because they were looking for a particular type of person. They were looking for Midwest men, because they said we come with a different attitude and that's why I say the Midwest has never left us. It's always with us. Well, they offered him the job. And they said, "We will give you fifty dollars for each year that you were in service in Korea." So people say, "How come you came to Long Island?" And I said, "Well we came here for money. Two hundred dollars." [Laughter] Well, that meant that he came here for three thousand dollars a year instead of twenty-eight hundred. I had been teaching for twenty-six hundred a year. And that's how we came here.

[TRACK 3, 2:58]
Wow, what an experience that was. Because we came here, and in Great Neck, there was one house in Levittown—no, it was Levitt house but it was in—it'll come to me. It was in the community there. It was a Levitt house and in an area that was all homeowners except this one house. It was owned by a colonel in the Air Force in Japan. Whoever was the new teacher in Great Neck rented that house until they bought a house, so we rented that house. Well, first of all, it was a wonderful house, that Levitt house, for seven thousand dollars. What a wonderful house. I said to Bill, "Where have you brought me?" Because this was a whole area of homeowners, and these were people who had come from the city. And their parents would come out every weekend, and the parents were the immigrants. So, Bill goes and he joins the reserves, which is out of Mitchell Air Force Base, which is now Roosevelt Field, a big shopping center. Okay, he's gone on weekends. I'm there. I say, Bill, "Where have you brought me?" I said, "There's nobody here that speaks English." The people next door to us, when the family came out on the weekends, they spoke Greek. The people on the other side spoke Italian. The people behind us spoke Yiddish. I said, "I don't think there's anybody here on the weekends that speaks English." But I would never have anything different than that. I had a background that was not insular, but coming to Long Island was the single best thing we ever did.

[TRACK 3, 4:58]
And then when we looked for a place to buy a home, we looked for an older community that had the same distribution. Actually, it had a better economic distribution, because everybody in Levittown basically was the same, middle class. We bought a house, an older home, in Glen Cove. I love Glen Cove. It goes from subsidized housing to J.P. Morgan's estate. And our kids grew up with a diversified community economically, ethnically, and it was it was a great community.

[TRACK 3, 5:37]
When I say fate brings you places—that infant that was born after Bill accepted the job and before we came in September was a handicapped child. He looked all right physically, but mentally handicapped. There was no better place to be in this country than outside of New York if you had a handicapped child, because much of what started in New York was light-years ahead of other states. Much of what started in the city—people moved out on Long Island—was the Mill Neck School for the Deaf, the Henry Viscardi School for people with severe physical disabilities, the first of the cerebral palsy schools. Then the school that we helped build, because we went and visited all these others and figured out how they wrote their bylaws and everything, how they got organized and things. There was no better place to be than in Long Island at that time. And that's another whole phase of our life, is what we have done with a handicapped child. But that's for another whole time. But that's how we came to Long Island.

[TRACK 3, 7:05]
And now I'm in Cooperstown. Why? Because I knew that someday I needed to come back to a rural area. I cannot tell you. I live here in a house. Unfortunately, 10 days after we closed on this property, my husband died suddenly, but by the same token, 20 years later when my kids said, "Oh go for it, Mom. You and Dad were going to do this." I sit here, and I look out on farmland. And I did not realize how much that means to me. This phase of my life, albeit without my husband, has been enormously rich. I have no regrets. So, I'm sorry if I've talked too much.

[Track 3, 8:01]
Not at all. I think that's a perfect place to end. Thank you so much for your time.

Well, you know more than you want to know now.


30:00-Track 1
30:00-Track 2
08:12-Track 3

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Time Summary

Track 1, 01:14-Great Depression
Track 1, 09:02- Violin lessons
Track 1, 18:46-World War II
Track 3, 0:26- Long Island




Emma Bresnan, “Kathryn Allen, November 13, 2018,” CGP Community Stories, accessed December 3, 2022, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/370.