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Oral history interview conducted by Diane Esses

March 20, 1989

Call number: 1995.005.005

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0:00

IDA POLLACK: Ida Pollack.

DIANE ESSES: And you were born in Brooklyn, right?

IDA POLLACK: Born in Brooklyn.

DIANE ESSES: But you grew up --

IDA POLLACK: In the Bronx.

DIANE ESSES: Uh-huh. And, um, tell me a little bit about your school. You went to high school in the Bronx?

IDA POLLACK: I went to Evander Childs High School, in the Bronx.

DIANE ESSES: Uh-huh. What kind of -- what high school?

IDA POLLACK: Evander Childs.

DIANE ESSES: What kind of high school is that?

IDA POLLACK: Academic.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm?

IDA POLLACK: Yeah.

DIANE ESSES: So, it's a private --

IDA POLLACK: No.

DIANE ESSES: Oh.

IDA POLLACK: It was a public -- a city school.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Okay. Um. How many kids in your family?

IDA POLLACK: I have -- how many kids do I have?

DIANE ESSES: No. How many brothers and sisters did you have? Did you have?

IDA POLLACK: Oh! I was -- I had two sisters and a brother.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. And what did your father do?

IDA POLLACK: My father was a, ah, leather goods worker. He was worked in a factory, on shoes.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. And your mother?

1:00

IDA POLLACK: My mother was just a housewife.

DIANE ESSES: Just?

IDA POLLACK: Well, in those days, yeah. She was a -- a mother and a housewife.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. And are your parents born in America?

IDA POLLACK: No. My father came from Poland, and my mother came from Lithuania.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. And are you Jewish?

IDA POLLACK: Yes.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Did you grow up with a traditional sense religiously?

IDA POLLACK: No. Uh -- secularly. I -- my father was anti-religious.

DIANE ESSES: Uh-huh. Was he part of some political movement?

IDA POLLACK: Yeah, he was a socialist-oriented, and we moved in circles that were Jewish, but non-religious.

DIANE ESSES: Like what? What kind of -- ?

IDA POLLACK: Well, IWO, which was the International Workers Order.

[Interview interrupted.]

DIANE ESSES: Um --

2:00

IDA POLLACK: We -- it was a left-oriented environment that I grew up.

DIANE ESSES: Uh-huh. What exactly is the IWO?

IDA POLLACK: International Workers Order.

DIANE ESSES: Uh-huh. And what did you do? What --

IDA POLLACK: It was -- that was a fraternal organization, but it had a lot of activities. Cultural.

DIANE ESSES: Uh-huh.

IDA POLLACK: It had insurance benefits, it had burial, and, you know, like, ah, much like the, um, Workmen's Circle.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: Except that its orientation was political.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Um. What was I going to ask you? What -- were you part of -- were you active in the IWO yourself?

IDA POLLACK: I was a child at the time, but I was active, even as a very young person, in -- oh, let's see. I grew up in an area that was called the Coops. It was a cooperative set of housing, and it had a lot of, um, activities, for 3:00adults and children.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Where is that, exactly, in the Bronx?

IDA POLLACK: In Allerton Avenue, Bronx Park East.

DIANE ESSES: What neighborhood would you say that was?

IDA POLLACK: East Bronx. Northeast Bronx, I think.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: I think it was North. I'm not sure. So, I was involved, and my father was political, and, ah, I was exposed to, ah, a different way of looking at the world and events.

DIANE ESSES: What way was that?

IDA POLLACK: Well -- for peace. For equality. For, um, um, the social needs of people, the economic needs.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: That kind of thing.

DIANE ESSES: And your mother? Was she also involved politically?

4:00

IDA POLLACK: No. My mother -- my mother stayed home. She really was not involved in anything.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: But was not actively opposed to anything.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Were you encouraged to be political, yourself?

IDA POLLACK: Well, the whole -- my whole house environment was one of political interest.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: You know, so, it was like osmosis, you know. [laughter] It was there. My father was, ah -- my father thought like that, and it was in the household. All our literature was that kind of literature. And I went to a Jewish school. Not Hebrew, but Jewish.

DIANE ESSES: You mean Yiddish?

IDA POLLACK: Yiddish. My brothers and sisters. My brother and sisters went, and I went, and that too was -- that was an IWO shule. See, it was a school sponsored by --

DIANE ESSES: IWO shule?

IDA POLLACK: Yeah.

DIANE ESSES: Uh-huh. Shule means school.

5:00

IDA POLLACK: That's right. And I went -- we all graduated. I went after school every day. And there, we, we, we also got a political orientation. We learned Jewish history from a point of view other than the Bible. You know, it was Jewish history of, ah, ah, the Jews who came from Eastern Europe. From Russia, then Poland, Lithuania, Latvia. Where all our parents came from.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: And the history of Jews in America, and other -- and working people in America.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: So.

DIANE ESSES: You mean all kinds of working people?

IDA POLLACK: All kinds of working people. Right.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Did you have a synagogue that you went to, or -- ?

IDA POLLACK: No. No.

6:00

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. But you have a -- but this was your center for cultural --

IDA POLLACK: That's right. And we had a lot of activities around there. We had, ah, a dramatic group, and we had concerts, and we had -- we had a fun time. Even though it was -- and we learned the language. We learned history, reading, writing, philosophy, a little bit. We sang. You know. It was -- it was a good -- it was a good place for kids. [laughter]

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Usually I hear the opposite about Jewish schools.

IDA POLLACK: Yeah, because, probably religious schools.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: No, like I said, my father was anti-religious. Really anti-religious. All kinds. [laughter]

DIANE ESSES: Um -- so what did you do after you graduated from high school?

IDA POLLACK: See -- how old was I? Well, I -- I went to college for one year.

DIANE ESSES: What college?

IDA POLLACK: Brooklyn.

7:00

DIANE ESSES: Brooklyn College. You lived in the Bronx?

IDA POLLACK: I lived in the Bronx.

DIANE ESSES: But you commuted all the way -- all the way to Brooklyn.

IDA POLLACK: By subway.

DIANE ESSES: Why is that? Why'd you choose Brooklyn?

IDA POLLACK: I don't remember why we chose Brooklyn, but I was with a group of friends, and we all went together. And, ah -- I think there was pressure at home. I was unhappy. I was growing up. I was a teenager.

DIANE ESSES: Pressure?

IDA POLLACK: From my father.

DIANE ESSES: To do what?

IDA POLLACK: Ah -- to do what? Well, I think it was my -- my social life, that was beginning to cause -- such as it was -- to cause problems at home, and, um, I dropped out of s -- I dropped out of college, and I decided, uh, I was going to go to work. I don't know where I was going to go, but --

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: -- I was going to go to work. And this was in 1930 -- when did I graduate? 19 -- I was sixteen. I was born in '22. It was 1938.

8:00

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. And your parents didn't want you to have a social life? Was that it?

IDA POLLACK: Well, no. But, you know, there are problems when kids start to go out, and it's not like it is today. I guess they were a little more, ah, concerned, perhaps, and, um -- if I came home late -- there was tension in my house anyway, and that added to the tension, and the tension came from the family relationship. My mother and father, primarily. It was not a placid home life.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. And how was going to work going to solve that?

IDA POLLACK: Well, I thought I'd be more independent.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: You know? But I was very young, and very unskilled.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: And -- very into, ah, changing the world, let's say. So, I took a 9:00job with some friends.

DIANE ESSES: Sorry [inaudible] that.

IDA POLLACK: No, I mean, ah, because that's where my activities, um -- that's where a lot of my time went.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: Almost all of my time.

DIANE ESSES: The Young Communist League?

IDA POLLACK: And then -- the Young Communist League. And it was a combination of political life and social life.

DIANE ESSES: What did you do -- what kind of things did you do there?

IDA POLLACK: Well --

DIANE ESSES: What was the Young Communist League, exactly?

IDA POLLACK: It was an organization that believed in socialism, and that proselytized for socialism.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: And that involved itself in day to day problems --

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: -- that concerned people in their jobs, in the community.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: For peace in the world, for -- against many government, ah, decisions.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Is that something that you feel now that you have to keep quiet?

IDA POLLACK: No, I just wondered whether, ah -- no. Not really, because I'm 10:00still involved. [laughter] So. What's the difference? So. Where were we at?

DIANE ESSES: You were telling me you --

IDA POLLACK: Yeah. We took a job. A few of us took a job in a factory that didn't have a union, and our intent was to organize it. And it was a dreadful place. And we -- we didn't quite survive it. [laughter]

DIANE ESSES: What happened?

IDA POLLACK: Well, we were well along, trying to convince the people that they needed to be organized, and to have a union. And, ah, we got laid off.

DIANE ESSES: Because of that?

IDA POLLACK: Because of that. Well, we're pretty sure because of that. However, the union did come in not too many -- not too long after that, after we were gone.

11:00

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Where was the factory?

IDA POLLACK: It was called Fuld and Company, and it was --

DIANE ESSES: Say it again?

IDA POLLACK: Fuld. F-U-L-D. And it was a greeting card factory.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: I don't know where it was, but it was in Manhattan.

DIANE ESSES: I mean, what borough? Okay.

IDA POLLACK: Manhattan.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: And, ah, they used to do, um, they had a section of the factory doing piecework, and those people just -- because they got paid by the piece -- they just never even went to the bathroom. They hardly ate lunch. They just were at their machine all the time. But they were also refugees, and they were very frightened. And, ah, resisted, you know, becoming organized. But I -- I understand that, ah, not too long after we left, the union got in.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. So, they finished the work that you started?

IDA POLLACK: I guess so.

DIANE ESSES: Or someone did.

IDA POLLACK: Someone does, usually.

12:00

DIANE ESSES: And then what did you do?

IDA POLLACK: Then what did I do? Don't remember. How old could I have been then? I got married at nineteen, and I left college at about seventeen, I guess. Because I graduated high school at sixteen. So, there was --

DIANE ESSES: You graduated young.

IDA POLLACK: Yeah.

DIANE ESSES: Did you skip?

IDA POLLACK: Yeah. At that -- in those days, they used to skip you a half a semest -- they didn't have whole semesters. No. They didn't have whole years. They had semesters. Maybe that was why -- that was one of my problems, why I didn't stick out college at the time, because I was really young.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: So. And then I think I met my husband when I was about eighteen, and he was also in the YCL.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: And, ah, we got married when I was nineteen. And then the War broke 13:00out. We got married 1941, and the War broke out in 1942, I think, wasn't it? Second World War. I think so. And we knew that, ah, in short order, he would be called. And it was a year and a half after we were married that he, ah, was called to the service. And I felt an obligation to participate in this particular war effort.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: Because it was a war against Hitler.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: And a war against fascism.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: Ordinarily, I don't support war.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. But this was a special case.

IDA POLLACK: I think so, right. So, I don't remember how I heard about the Navy Yard, but they were asking women --

DIANE ESSES: And you were working at this time?

IDA POLLACK: No, I was -- yes! Oh, I forgot about my, ah, my department store. [laughter] Yeah --

DIANE ESSES: You worked in a --

IDA POLLACK: I -- I worked as a salesperson in Gimbel's, and while I was there, 14:00Gimbel's went on strike. It was the first time that the department stores went on strike for a five-day week, five days a week work. And a five cents an hour increase.

DIANE ESSES: You were working six days?

IDA POLLACK: Every -- yeah. We worked six days. And I, at that time, was what they called a contingent worker. I was part time. I filled in when any department that they needed somebody. So, they promised those of us who did that full-time jobs if we would cross the picket line. And I don't know about how many others did, but instead, I joined the picket line. And I got a full-time job anyway, because we won.

DIANE ESSES: So, you were working full time Gimbel's --

15:00

IDA POLLACK: Gimbel's. Right.

DIANE ESSES: -- five days a week --

IDA POLLACK: That's right.

DIANE ESSES: -- before the Navy Yard.

IDA POLLACK: No. Yes. Before the Navy Yard, while I was married. Gee, I forgot about that. Right. And then when he went to the service, I went to them -- to the Navy Yard.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. So, do you remember how you heard about the Navy Yard, and --

IDA POLLACK: I don't remember. You know? I really don't remember how we heard about it. Syl -- this -- I'm going to ask somebody. Syl might know. This person I told you, I didn't think she could make it. Well, Lucy might remember. Did she remember? No. I don't remember.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Okay.

IDA POLLACK: But we went down, bunch of us who were friends.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. So, you knew that wom -- they were taking women?

IDA POLLACK: Yeah. We knew they were taking women.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. You went down --

IDA POLLACK: And --

DIANE ESSES: Friends from the YC -- YW --

16:00

IDA POLLACK: Yeah. We all ah, --

DIANE ESSES: YCL?

IDA POLLACK: Well, I don't know -- I don't remember, exactly, how I became friends with Lucy. But the -- this other girl -- two other women -- Syl and somebody else. I don't remember who else. We went down together. And I think we just filled out an application. We had to file an application someplace. And, ah, I think we had -- we were given a choice of what we wanted to be or do. And I can't tell you why, but I chose welding.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Do you have any idea why?

IDA POLLACK: No. [laughter] Not at all.

DIANE ESSES: Did you even know what it was?

IDA POLLACK: I... think so. Yeah. But I -- I don't know why I chose welding. And we were hired. And we were -- we had six weeks of a training period.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Which was how long before the War?

IDA POLLACK: It was during, already.

DIANE ESSES: I know, but before the War, how long would the training have been?

17:00

IDA POLLACK: I don't know. I don't know if there would have been. You know? I don't know if they trained men the same way. Because this was an area set aside with booths for welding training. Maybe they did it for everybody. I don't know whether they hired that many at one time for any skill before the War, or whether people came one at a time, like you do --

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. And trained elsewhere.

IDA POLLACK: Maybe. Or knew, or had experience.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. So, when you went, were there lots of women that already worked there?

IDA POLLACK: No. We were all b -- all brand new. We went -- we must have gone down as soon as we heard about it.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: Yeah.

DIANE ESSES: So, you were the first women --

IDA POLLACK: First women in the Navy Yard, right.

DIANE ESSES: Your -- you and your friends?

IDA POLLACK: And all the other women that we met there.

DIANE ESSES: I see!

IDA POLLACK: Yeah!

DIANE ESSES: About how many were you?

IDA POLLACK: I don't remember.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: Really don't. But there were a lot of us. I mean, when I think back 18:00of the working situation, there were quite a few of us.

DIANE ESSES: So, what was the training like?

IDA POLLACK: Well, you were in a booth, and you were given, um -- you had to take a test in flat welding, and you -- and welding is, two pieces of metal are butted.

DIANE ESSES: Are -- ?

IDA POLLACK: Um --

DIANE ESSES: What's the word you used?

IDA POLLACK: Butted together. If you want to weld metal to metal, you put them together, but not exactly together. There's a, ah, bevel. You know?

DIANE ESSES: What's a bevel?

IDA POLLACK: Because what the weld does is it fuses the welding you put in with the metal. So, you have a new, really a new metal. A new seam. And, ah, you have to learn how -- well, we did flat. Then they gave us a vertical. Two pieces of metal together vertically, and it's -- it's a different way of controlling the 19:00metal, if you're welding vertically, because there's a pull of gravity pulling it down, so you have to learn how to -- it's a skill that you learn with doing, and I don't think it's a skill that anybody can't learn. It's a lot of practice.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: And then we had to do overhead. That is, you had to have two pieces of metal up above, from falling down, then. And it does fall down, and you do get burnt.

DIANE ESSES: Well, the -- what's holding the metal up vertically?

IDA POLLACK: The fusing. What's holding the metal up? Oh, they anchor it up to a --

DIANE ESSES: But it would fall? How would it fall if it's anchored?

IDA POLLACK: No, I mean the metal that you're welding.

DIANE ESSES: Uh-huh.

IDA POLLACK: You're putting metal into a seam, what's like a seam.

DIANE ESSES: Okay. Can I just --

IDA POLLACK: And it's flat. Then when it's vertical, you have to be able to control that metal as you go down, or as you go up.

DIANE ESSES: Oh, I see. So, what's -- what you're weaving in there could drop.

IDA POLLACK: Could drop, just by the pull of gravity.

20:00

DIANE ESSES: I see.

IDA POLLACK: And then abo -- up above, too, you're weaving o -- the overhead, it's called, welding. And that could drop. You know. I mean, the, the hot stuff could fall out. And then you learn how to control the heat, how much heat you need for the metal to flow without -- not too fast, not too slow, so it's not too cold and not too hot. You learn how -- there's a tendency, I'll show you. There's a tendency if you have a seam here, what they call undercut. While you're trying to fuse this plate with this plate, if you undercut the metal, you weaken it. The final seam. Because you're making an undercut under the surface of the metal. So, you have to develop the skill of, ah, fusing, but not undercutting, what they call a corner. It is a skill.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: But it's, ah, it's not too difficult to learn, and it comes with practice.

21:00

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Were you ever hurt in the course of your work?

IDA POLLACK: I was burned, yeah. Ah. When you burn down your rod, you're left with a flaming hot, ah, stub. Which you usually put in a metal can, and put in another rod, and continue -- you know, if you don't have enough.

DIANE ESSES: So, this rod is actually melted down --

IDA POLLACK: It becomes melted down, as you work.

DIANE ESSES: I see. I see. So, it grows smaller and smaller.

IDA POLLACK: That's right. Until you're left with a --

DIANE ESSES: Now I understand.

IDA POLLACK: Until you're left with a red hot -- ah -- end. I don't know if I just -- I just said it before. I don't remember. A red hot stump. Well, then when releasing the tongues, it fell down my shoe.

DIANE ESSES: Down into your shoe?

IDA POLLACK: Into -- and we wore high shoes. Metal, you know, protective shoes. I still -- well, see this? It's like a big vaccination. It almost burned through 22:00the whole foot, because 'til I got my shoe off -- [laughter]

DIANE ESSES: What pain that must have been!

IDA POLLACK: Yeah, and it took about four months or more to heal.

DIANE ESSES: Were you able -- were you able to work in that time?

IDA POLLACK: Yeah. I was able to work. I probably was off for a while. I don't remember.

DIANE ESSES: I wouldn't remember that if it happened to me either! [laughter]

IDA POLLACK: I don't remember, but I know I wasn't out as long as it took to heal.

DIANE ESSES: Uh-huh. Were you afraid to go back to work after that?

IDA POLLACK: No.

DIANE ESSES: You weren't?

IDA POLLACK: No.

DIANE ESSES: It's amazing.

IDA POLLACK: Huh?

DIANE ESSES: That's amazing!

IDA POLLACK: No, I wasn't. There were some people who were hurt badly, some women who were --

DIANE ESSES: Do you remember any accidents? Other accidents?

IDA POLLACK: Yeah. There was a woman who got killed. She fell off the ship in dry dock. Dry dock is where, ah --

DIANE ESSES: In the Brooklyn Navy Yard?

IDA POLLACK: Yeah.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: Dry dock is about eighty feet deep. It's where the ship is set up while it's being worked on. And, ah, it's quite a height. That was one thing we 23:00all had to get used to, was heights. And that, I have a little trouble. But you -- you do get used --

DIANE ESSES: You mean you were scared?

IDA POLLACK: Yeah. You do get used --

DIANE ESSES: All right. So, you said a woman was killed.

IDA POLLACK: A woman was killed. Um. What other hurts?

DIANE ESSES: How did the Navy Yard -- let's say, when you were injured. How did they deal with that?

IDA POLLACK: Well, they did. You have a sick bay, I think it's called. It was called. And they, they take care of what ails you.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Was there a doctor on the premises?

IDA POLLACK: Yeah.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: Yeah.

DIANE ESSES: And do they cover all, um -- all your health costs?

IDA POLLACK: I don't remember that.

DIANE ESSES: And what about paying for you when you weren't able to work because you were injured on the job? Were you still paid?

IDA POLLACK: I think so. We probably had, ah, benefits. Oh, I don't remember all 24:00of that.

DIANE ESSES: Well, you were unionized.

IDA POLLACK: No.

DIANE ESSES: No?

IDA POLLACK: We weren't unionized then. We had -- we tri -- we tried to become unionized.

DIANE ESSES: And did you?

IDA POLLACK: I think we did.

DIANE ESSES: But you don't remember those specifics?

IDA POLLACK: I don't remember. I know we had a union. We had a union hall, and we had a union, and we must have been unionized, because we fought through -- ah -- the fact that women --

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: -- were entitled to the same pay that men were, and their -- management's argument was that we really weren't doing the same work, because we weren't out on the ship, and that working in the shop made it easier.

DIANE ESSES: Why weren't you out on the ship?

IDA POLLACK: Because they had never had women on a ship before in the history of the Navy Yard, and --

DIANE ESSES: What about the woman that fell off the ship?

IDA POLLACK: Well, this was after. After we got out on the ship. But in terms of 25:00the union, it was probably because of the union that we fought -- we won that battle. So, they put us out on the ship. See? And then, ah -- because they had invented a, a new category for the women that were coming in. It was called mechanic learner.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: And the men entering the field, even though they came from civilian jobs with no mechanical background, went right into the mechanical title, which was third-class welder.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: It was about half the salary. And I don't know how long we might have remained mechanic learners, had we not fought for getting equal pay.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. So, you did, eventually, get equal pay?

IDA POLLACK: Yeah.

DIANE ESSES: What was your pay compared to the men's? Do you realize -- do --

26:00

IDA POLLACK: Well, it was --

DIANE ESSES: -- do you remember how -- ?

IDA POLLACK: Yeah. We started out with something like in the fifties. Fifty-eight cents an hour, or fifty-five cents an hour.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. And the men had how much?

IDA POLLACK: And the third-class welding rate was at a dollar, fourteen an hour.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: Then after that, it was based on experience, and, I guess, recommendation.

DIANE ESSES: Did women have -- were there still discrepancies?

IDA POLLACK: And tests. And a test.

DIANE ESSES: Were there still discrepancies, even after -- the -- when you organized?

IDA POLLACK: No. After everybody -- everybody else, at one point, got the same thing.

DIANE ESSES: Were women promoted as readily as men were?

IDA POLLACK: I doubt it.

DIANE ESSES: You doubt it?

IDA POLLACK: Yeah. I -- I think we had to wait longer. Now, I had to take a test at one point, and I don't recall whether it was for -- for a title. It must have been. And the test was that we had to -- we had to weld a section of a ship. 27:00That is, a deck plate. And then a core was cut out of our weld, and put through so many pounds of pressure. And it was not supposed to split. If the weld was solid, it had a certain amount of bend that you could -- and if you passed that, you got your first class.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Did you?

IDA POLLACK: Mm. Mm.

DIANE ESSES: So you became a first class -- ?

IDA POLLACK: We were -- yeah. I became a first-class welder.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: I was actually a very good welder. I liked it very much.

DIANE ESSES: Did that, um, threaten the men?

IDA POLLACK: No. Not m -- not -- no.

DIANE ESSES: Not that you knew?

IDA POLLACK: I don't think it threatened the men. Lots of the men -- the women 28:00that were there that were married, I think their men were in the service. Ah -- there were some unmarried women who had boyfriends that were in the Army, or the Navy, or whatever. I never remember being aware of any problem a woman had over her working.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. But I mean the men at the Navy Yard.

IDA POLLACK: Oh! That -- well -- [laughter] yes and no. We were such a novelty.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: And we never ceased being a novelty, really. I worked there for three and a half years.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: Men were always making passes at us. But I don't remem -- not -- there wasn't any hostility toward the women.

DIANE ESSES: What's a pass?

IDA POLLACK: A pass? They want to go -- they want to go out, they want a date, 29:00they want to go bed, they want to -- you know. That kind of thing.

DIANE ESSES: Were you pressured?

IDA POLLACK: Oh, sure. A lot of flirting, a lot of, ah, yeah. There was -- for instance, the Navy Yard is very big area. And if you had to walk, for any reason, from one end to the other, it was a long walk, and nobody had the c -- no woman really had the courage to walk alone, because she felt like a thousand pair of eyes [laughter] were following you, you know, wherever you went, and they probably were. Just as it would be at a construction site, I guess. That kind of --

DIANE ESSES: So, let's say you did take that lonely walk.

IDA POLLACK: Yeah.

DIANE ESSES: What kinds of remarks would men make?

IDA POLLACK: Usually f -- I don't know. Flirting remarks that guys make to girls, because we were all y -- most of us were young. You know. When you worked one to one with them, it was different. They were nice. I worked on one job, for 30:00instance. There were some bulkheads. A bulkhead is a wall, a steel wall between compartments that separate compartments on a ship. And everything had to be welded, because there was no other way of joining. It was all metal. Some bulkheads were joined by a double weld. There was somebody on one side, and somebody on the other side of the bulkhead. You couldn't see each other, because it was a wall. You know, could be as high as -- like this. And, ah, you both had to work together, and it was called twin arc. Your arc -- and it was thick metal. See, most of it was thick metal. Your -- if you -- when you -- when you 31:00start to weld, it's called an arc. And that's a hazard, by the way, that I didn't mention. The arc gives off ultraviolet, and you can get what they called a flash. You can burn the inside of your eye just by the light, if you don't be careful covering your eyes, wearing goggles, or wearing a shield. And sometimes, if welders -- and we had to fight that out. If welders, too many welders were close to each other, you could get your eyes burned by a back flash from somebody else's welding that went into your shield and came back in your eyes.

DIANE ESSES: Did that happen to anybody?

IDA POLLACK: Yeah, it happened to all of us. And it happened to the men, too. And you could go home, and that night, your eyes were like on fire. Like you had hot sand in your eyes, and there was almost no relief.

DIANE ESSES: That happened to you, yourself?

IDA POLLACK: Yeah. There were all kinds of home remedies that we used to use. 32:00We'd, um, scrape potatoes that had, um -- raw potatoes that are scraped have like a drawing effect, and we'd make plast -- you know, we'd make -- [laughter] cover our eyes, and it was supposed to draw out the heat. I don't know whether it ever did anything. But flashing was, was a big problem. Getting your eyes burned. At any rate, with this double arc, twin arc, you would have to signal each other. You know, you'd bang on the bulkhead for when you're going to start and when you're going to stop. Otherwise, you could get flash, also. And with people that you worked, if you had a big job and you worked many weeks with somebody, a real camaraderie developed, and a respect for one another. And, um, the men you worked with all the time began to accept us, and, uh, of course, the language was fierce, but we all participated. [laughter]

33:00

DIANE ESSES: What was the language?

IDA POLLACK: Oh, just like today, only today it's acceptable. Then it was kind of rough, you know?

DIANE ESSES: And you all participated?

IDA POLLACK: All participated.

DIANE ESSES: Why is that?

IDA POLLACK: I don't know. It was easy, it was fun for a while. It was very descriptive. [laughter]

DIANE ESSES: Give me an example!

IDA POLLACK: Fucking thing, you know, whatever. At that time, it -- you know, it was forty years ago. We --

DIANE ESSES: Someone told me that a hammer was never asked for, only a fucking hammer.

IDA POLLACK: It was something like that, right. [laughter] Yeah. There was -- I, I found it, overall -- well, I was lonely, for one thing, and there was the negative parts of it. And there was just not knowing when it was going to be over. You just didn't know when the War would be over. Those of us who had 34:00husbands didn't know when we'd see them, or if we'd see them. And this -- this girl, this woman that I mentioned to you lost her husband while she was working in --

DIANE ESSES: Which woman?

IDA POLLACK: Syl. You didn't -- the one I said you might want to interview. Her husband was killed in the Battle of the Bulge. You know, I remember the scene when we all found out about it. You know, in the Navy Yard.

DIANE ESSES: She found out about it in the Navy Yard?

IDA POLLACK: Well, yeah. She was sent a letter by the United States government, and that said, ah, "Your husband was killed in action." So, she went down -- she lost about twenty-five pounds, I guess, in a matter of weeks. It was a very sad time. Bad time. But she stayed, for a while, anyway. So there was that 35:00uncertainty. There was very cold conditions. In the wintertime, it was terribly cold. You had to get used to that. And sometimes you couldn't.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Was the death -- did that happen often, that someone was notified, a woman was notified that her husband, her brother, her son was lost in --

IDA POLLACK: Well, it happened often. In the Navy Yard?

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: I don't know how many women were involved. We only knew about Syl. I didn't hear of anybody else.

DIANE ESSES: So, you said it was terribly cold?

IDA POLLACK: Terribly cold in the winter, and terribly hot in the summer, and I don't know which was worse. And out on the ship, both were aggravating: the cold and the -- okay. The cold and the heat. Now what else were the negative things? As far as the positive features go, we developed very nice working friendships 36:00that came from a shared -- you know, a -- everybody was there for the war effort, and everybody was doing hard work, and, ah, everybody felt for one another. Everybody understood all the problems that each were having. There was, ah, a feeling of re -- very nice friendships that developed. Now, what else could there have been? Some things are very hazy, you know. Syl remembers the first day -- she told me on the phone. She remembers, the first day that we worked there, there were reporters there. I don't remember that. And that there 37:00was a write up in the paper. I don't recall that. And she has pictures, newspaper pictures. Then, what else?

DIANE ESSES: So, it sounds like on one hand, the men were a little bit uncomfortable with you, that you --

IDA POLLACK: Yeah, well --

DIANE ESSES: -- that you felt like -- they felt like you were a novelty, and there was like teasing and flirting --

IDA POLLACK: And -- see, another thing. Some of the men, um, felt uncomfortable, because they didn't like to see women getting dirty like that, and doing hard work like that. Bothered them a little bit.

DIANE ESSES: And why do you think that is?

IDA POLLACK: Well, they felt we maybe weren't -- we shouldn't be exposed to that kind of, um, hardship. Maybe we, ah, we weren't able to take it. Let me tell you: the first time that I was out on a ship -- you have to see what a deck of a 38:00ship looks like. It's like, um, it's like a tangle of hoses, and wires, and electrical leads, and -- all over the, the deck. And, um, everything -- all the welding, and the -- there's another thing called chipping. But everything requires, uh, electrical juice. So, the, um, the power boxes were up high off the deck and you -- on platforms that you got to by climbing up what they called lightning ladders. They were little ladders with, um, a foot-wide -- and you had to go way the, way the hell up, see, and climb over the top of the machines onto a s -- to a platform. And there was the machine with the levers, and you could turn on as much juice as you needed. That's what I mean by getting used to 39:00heights. We were determined that we were going to do everything ourselves, the women. We didn't want any special favors, because they would through it up to us with less pay, see. So, I said, "I'll put my own juice on, see." And I climbed up, and I couldn't get myself over the top of the machine, so I was just like frozen, because of the height. And I came down again. And somebody put the juice on. But after a while, I got used to it. And it became like nothing. And then, while you were down below and working, somebody could go up and, in error, turn off your juice, thinking they were turning off their machine, and all of a sudden you'd have no power, and you'd have to drop everything and climb up, all the way up, and turn it back on.

DIANE ESSES: So, you were able, after a time, to feel comfortable with heights?

IDA POLLACK: With heights, yeah.

40:00

DIANE ESSES: You did?

IDA POLLACK: I got very comfortable with heights.

DIANE ESSES: After an initial terror.

IDA POLLACK: Oh, yeah. It took -- took a little while. And you really had to get over it, because in the building of the ship every day -- and Lucy was more -- although Lucy never went out on a ship. I don't know why. I think only the women who welded went out on a ship. But every day, as the ship -- as the, ah, you know, the building went on, there were new stagings set up to accommodate new levels of work. And those stagings -- had to get used to heights to be able to walk along them. It's like guys on a high, you know, high construction things. See? So, we got used to that. What else was there? Well, some of the metals we dealt with were very hazardous to our health, and we had problems with that. We 41:00had to insist on blowers. Blowers were these metal tubings attached to a suction pump, to pull away the smoke as it was generated, so that you didn't breathe it in. Because, ah, there's some metal that is covered with, ah -- while it's awaiting -- while it's stored and awaiting use, it's covered with galvanized material, which is like, ah, zinc. And when that gets hot from welding, it's toxic. It can make you c -- make you sick. So you had to have your blower close, to pull it away as you -- then some parts of the ship required stainless steel, and stainless steel also, if you welded stainless steel for too long, you could get sick to your stomach. So, there were some things that, ah, presented 42:00problems. And then parts of the ship. Some parts of the ship were inaccessible, and, and difficult. Um -- we used to call the engineers ninety-day wonders, because --

DIANE ESSES: What'd you call them?

IDA POLLACK: Ninety-day wonders. Because they took a ninety-day course, and they came up with blueprints, and never went out on the ship, and there some areas marked off on the blueprints that were inaccessible. But, ah, we had to dope out ways of getting to them. If you didn't get to them, they just never got welded, and -- could have presented a problem. Then they also had inspectors, to make sure that, ah, welders didn't, um, really sabotage the war effort. Not to -- not 43:00with intent to sabotage, but because they were -- didn't do a good job. If you had a very wide seam and they didn't feel like putting bead, upon bead, upon bead, they'd fill it up with welding rods, and then just cover the top. And some of the Liberty ships that we didn't work on, but some of the Liberty ships broke in half, for reasons of that, while they were on the seas during the War. So.

DIANE ESSES: When you said before, "We had to ask them to get blowers," who are we? The women, or the women and the men?

IDA POLLACK: The women and the men. Yeah. The workers.

DIANE ESSES: So -- mm-hmm -- what I was going to say before, it sounds like on one hand, the men were a little uncomfortable with you and didn't exactly know how to deal with women, but on the other hand, it sounds like in some way they accepted you as equals. Is that right?

IDA POLLACK: Eventually, they almost -- they, they did, I think.

DIANE ESSES: You did --

IDA POLLACK: Depending upon, and what work you did with them. I mean, if they 44:00knew that you were working right alongside of them and doing exactly what they were doing, there was a respect that they --

DIANE ESSES: The -- they weren't threatened by that, in that situation?

IDA POLLACK: I think they all knew it was for the War, and that's all.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: I had -- I always had -- We always had that feeling, and we had that feeling, too. That we were going to -- we were not going to be there beyond the War.

DIANE ESSES: Did -- hmm. You had the feeling you weren't going to be there beyond the War. Why is that? How did you know that?

IDA POLLACK: Well, they never had women in the Navy Yard before. We always felt and knew this was an accommodation that was -- we needed ships and war materials, and that women were asked to give their, you know, to come out of the home and go into the factory, but that after the War, they wouldn't need them anymore.

DIANE ESSES: Well, how'd you feel about that? You -- you said it was an accommodation for their purposes. I mean --

45:00

IDA POLLACK: Well, I don't know if at the time that we were working there it bothered us -- me -- too much. It bothered me when it was over, 'cause by that time, I really liked welding and wanted to stay. [laughter] It was a nice sense of accomplishment.

DIANE ESSES: Mm.

IDA POLLACK: And I would have liked to have done welding for the rest of my life, working life. I wasn't -- and noth -- no welding off a ship would be as rigorous as on a ship, because you can't turn a ship over. You know? You could work -- like, if you worked in a, in a boiler shop, the thing would be right there, boiler would be right there in front of you.

DIANE ESSES: So, did you try to -- you were laid off from the Navy Yard?

IDA POLLACK: Yeah.

DIANE ESSES: What happened?

IDA POLLACK: We were all, um -- what do they call it? Given our notices. The War 46:00was over, and that was the end of our -- our nee -- our work. We were just let go. Yeah. And we were --

DIANE ESSES: Were you surprised?

IDA POLLACK: No. We sort of all -- like, we all really expected it.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Were you disappointed?

IDA POLLACK: Yeah. I would have liked to have stayed. From there, I went -- it was a while before the end of the War until the men came home, too. So, there was a, a period in between, and I took a job in a radio factory, where I did soldering. That was a miserable place. A lot of exploitation, and -- and, ah --

DIANE ESSES: What kinds of exploitation?

IDA POLLACK: Well, it was a -- an assembly line setup kind of system, where they try to get as much as they could out of people. They had efficiency experts 47:00around all the time, who were setting up jigs, so that they could get more production.

DIANE ESSES: Setting up --

IDA POLLACK: They called them jigs. Little, little, ah, apparatuses, where you could speed up the operation you were doing, by making it simpler, really, but so that you could speed it up. Then they had a setup, we all, um, soldered different parts of a chassis. We were soldering the chassis of a -- of radios. And, ah, there was a, a rather simple operation, and next to it was a more complicated operation, and then a little more simpler, and then more complicated. And so, the one who did the more complicated always had work piled up, and under extreme pressure, because it took longer to pass it on.

[Interview interrupted.]

And as you passed, they noted the time. If you went to the bathroom and as you 48:00came back, they noted the time. And if you went too many times, you were called in and told that, ah, in excess of so many minutes off the job, they would begin to dock you. Then they'd come around with the paychecks on Friday. They'd come around somewheres around three thirty or four o'clock, and we all had to wait 'til after five to get our checks, because there were a lot of people. And we stopped that. But that wasn't -- we weren't -- the women weren't there, were not singled out, that was for the whole factory. And we told them that, ah, you pay us for every minute that we wait for the checks. You pay us overtime, or you start paying us at an early enough hour so that we can go home when we're supposed to go home. And they did.

DIANE ESSES: It -- it was unionized?

IDA POLLACK: It was unionized, yeah.

DIANE ESSES: Um -- what did you do after the soldering?

49:00

IDA POLLACK: After what?

DIANE ESSES: After that job?

IDA POLLACK: My husband came home, and I started to have babies. [laughter] And I stayed home for a number of years.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. How did that feel, after working so hard out in the world?

IDA POLLACK: Well, I tell you. My, my political activities were still with me, and so between the babies and trying to function politically, I was sometimes very overwhelmed.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: Because I had two children rather close together. I had three kids altogether.

DIANE ESSES: Did that being overwhelmed lead you to question -- lead you to 50:00questions about women's roles and what they were expected to do?

IDA POLLACK: Well, women always had a r -- yeah. Well. Because women always had a problem, aside from, um, being active in the work area and in the community area, you had, ah -- you had a household. You know? And it was really your maj -- your responsibility, almost entirely. Even with the most enlightened guys, it was still the major responsibility was the woman in the household.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: And at that time, there weren't as many enlightened guys as there are now. Now, in the circles that I moved in, they were enlightened, intellectually and ideologically. But it didn't always, em, work out. And then, 51:00also, financial problems always were there. Um --

[Interview interrupted.]

IDA POLLACK: Putting chairs away?

DIANE ESSES: What did you say?

IDA POLLACK: I'm trying to figure out what years that were -- they were. The War was over in '45. This was in about the early f -- Late 40s and early 50s, and I was very involved. We both were.

DIANE ESSES: In what, exactly?

IDA POLLACK: Well, there was a lot happening. There was always a need for peace in the world. Um. There were always um -- there was always racism, even. Very much so, at that time. Um -- and there was, um, let's see. At one point, my 52:00husband lost his job. Oh, no. I remember what happened. We left the city. Um --

DIANE ESSES: You lived in Brooklyn at the time?

IDA POLLACK: Yeah. We lived in Brooklyn. And there were some people who left the city to live in industrial areas where they could exert some ideological influence on the, ah, people in the shops and in the areas, as far as, ah, political understanding or fighting for things, you know. And we moved to Troy, NY.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: And my husband went to work in a Ford plant. He, by trade, is, um, 53:00an accountant, even though he's not a certified accountant, but that's his line of work. But he went into a Ford plant, where he became a spring bender, it's called. A very rough, hot, hard job. And I became -- [laughter] I joined the local PTA, and tried to, ah -- oh, innovate. Legislation for better schools, and better education, and that kind of thing.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: And learned a lesson in how not to go ahead of the people you work 54:00with. [laughter]

DIANE ESSES: What do you mean?

IDA POLLACK: Well. You know, New Yorkers had a certain sophistication, even if they're not aware of it. You go into a small town, and if you're not aware of this, ah, way you have, you antagonize people in that small town. You -- you come off as a, ah, maybe a sh -- a wise guy. Or, you know, you think you know too much, and you're too fast, and you find yourself out in left field. [laughter] And my kids went to a school that was very old and very inadequate. Physically inadequate, and, um, as far as programs for kids also. And, ah, I got onto the executive board of this PTA, and I had by that time made a number of 55:00friends in the community. And I suggested that, um, at one meeting, that, ah -- I said, "You know, I think we're missing the boat. We have a set of bylaws that makes provisions for activating so many mothers, so many different areas. And it would take the burden off somebody like our president, who many times has the full brunt of everything." Well, I was told, "Don't you like the way things are working here? We did all right before you came." And, ah, she took it as a personal affront.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: And I had to backtrack, without giving too much ground. I had to say to her, "You really shouldn't be suspicious all the time of people who have different ideas, because you don't have to accept them, you don't have to use 56:00them, but it's sometimes good to listen, because, ah, everybody gains by everybody else's thinking." But I dropped it after that, and I -- I went back to being a tea pourer. [laughter] And visiting the shut-ins, and that kind of thing. And participating in school activities, but I realized that I had stepped out too quickly and too far. You know. So, it was a tremendous learning experience for, for me. And the end result was that when we finally left town, left that city, because there was a recession, and nobody was working, and my husband had, like, three days a week work. So, we decided to go back to New York.

57:00

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. You mentioned the other night that you tried to become a welder in Troy.

IDA POLLACK: Yeah, in Troy. Right.

DIANE ESSES: Yeah. Tell me that story again?

IDA POLLACK: Well, my husband worked at a Ford plant, and he worked with a guy who was a farmer. And he couldn't make it just being a farmer, so he worked in the Ford plant also. It was a problem for the farmers when their machinery broke down, because they had to get it to town, to a welder, and his plow shaft had broken. So, my husband, kiddingly -- really kiddingly -- said that I was a welder. Well, it, it kind of -- it kind of led one thing to another, and he had a machine. He had a welding unit. And I did it. I hadn't welded in about fifteen years or more. And they couldn't get over it, see, and the guy said to my husband, "You know, you shouldn't work in the plant. You should get yourself a truck and travel around the countryside. They need you so badly, and you make 58:00your living that way." Well, of course we couldn't do that, because we were involved in political activity, see. So -- but then I said, "You know what? I'm going to call up some boiler shops." And I did. And like I said, there was such a dead silence on the other end. [laughter] This guy was stunned. And then he told me he couldn't -- I, I could have pursued it, I guess. But, I -- I didn't. It was just to see what would happen. And he said they had no facilities set up to accommodate women. They would have had to make a few little changes, but nothing serious.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: They just couldn't even think in those terms.

DIANE ESSES: Yeah, but it didn't sound like they wanted to.

IDA POLLACK: Yeah.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: They just never even thought in those terms.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: And I, ah, I had become a first-class welder. Working on boilers is a particular -- I don't know if you'd call it a skill, but it requires welding 59:00that makes for air-tight -- an air-tight weld, with no room for holes, or like that undercutting. Because a boiler has to, you know, it's going to have hot water. It's going to be heated. And it, it has to be secure. So these were boiler shops that I called, and they probably never heard of -- being in Troy, they probably never heard of -- and I'm sure, um, I don't know how old they were, but I don't know if they remembered the Second World War, but they probably never even heard of women being welders. See? [laughter] So.

DIANE ESSES: You were saying something before about going back. You were leaving Troy.

IDA POLLACK: Yeah.

DIANE ESSES: You went back to New York?

IDA POLLACK: We went back to New York. And before we -- just before we went, I 60:00got a telephone call from this president, who had taken affront. And, ah, she said, "Listen, Ida, we had a -- ah -- an executive board meeting, and, ah, we're looking for new, um, people in the -- for a new president, and your name -- you were nominated." So, I said, "You sure you know what you -- what you just did?" She said, "Yes." So, I said, "Well, maybe you know by now, but you should know that if I think something's really wrong, I'm just as apt to say so." She said, "Well, that's why we considered you." So, I guess I had -- well, I guess they had begun to trust me, after a while. So, I told her I couldn't, because we planned to go back to the ci -- to New York. But we left -- at one -- when, when 61:00that little thing happened at that meeting, and I was asked, um, don't I like things the way they're run around here, there was one woman who I was very friendly with who gathered what was going on, and who said to me, "Well, all I can say is that if they're going to call you a Communist -- " They never did, to my face, anyway. " -- then I'm one too, because I don't see anything wrong in what we had been planning to do. She and I had planned to do this, but she had never talked up. Oh, well, that, just -- I don't know if this is apropos, but my husband worked in a Ford plant there, and, ah, they had to deal with heavy smoke, because they used to anneal the springs of cars. Old ca -- the old cars 62:00used to have these flatiron springs in layers. They had to be tempered, so they were taken from a very hot furnace, of about 1600 degrees or something, and immediately immersed in an oil furnace, in oil. And that annealed them so that they were, ah, pliable, and they didn't crack. They weren't, you know. Well, he said sometimes the smoke would build up in the plant so that it looked like a wall, looked like the end of a shop. And the guys were upset by it, so they organized. They said they were going to have walk offs at a certain hour, they were going to put down their tongs, and they were going to walk off their job, and, ah, and bring that to the attention of the management. So, the hour comes, and my husband puts down his tongs and walks off his -- [laughter] the only one. 63:00No one else walked off. He took a look around, and the foreman approached him, and he said, "Where you going, Pollack?" He says, "I'm going to the head." You know, "I'm going to the bathroom." And he realized what had happened, that even though these men really wanted to do something, they weren't able to translate that into an action. So, he -- the guy said, "Oh, okay," but he knew what was happening. [laughter]

DIANE ESSES: The foreman?

IDA POLLACK: The foreman. Must have known. Cause why would he say, "Where you going, Pollack?"

DIANE ESSES: Hmm.

IDA POLLACK: So. So, when it came to discussing the problem -- after that, they did discuss the problem. Ah -- they put blowers in. They got big blowers in, to pull out some of the smoke.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: But -- the whole time there was a real -- well, the whole thing was 64:00a learning experience. We learned a lot of things about people, about militancy.

DIANE ESSES: About what?

IDA POLLACK: About militancy.

DIANE ESSES: Uh-huh. Did you continue your political activities in -- when you came back to New York?

IDA POLLACK: Sure.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. This has been a life-long --

IDA POLLACK: It's a life-long thing. Still.

DIANE ESSES: Still? Did you ever get into trouble, or your husband for --

IDA POLLACK: For that? For political activity?

DIANE ESSES: Yeah.

IDA POLLACK: Serious trouble, no. What do you mean by tr -- I don't know what you mean by trouble.

DIANE ESSES: Well, McCarthy.

IDA POLLACK: Hmm?

DIANE ESSES: McCarthyism.

IDA POLLACK: Well -- no, except that we were under obs -- we, and the re -- all the others who left New York for areas upstate and around were known to the FBI, and they did stop us, and they did want to talk to us, but, um, we usually told 65:00them just to get lost, and they got lost. They didn't seriously bother us.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm. So, when you're -- when did you go back to work after your -- at what point did you go back to your work? How old were your children?

IDA POLLACK: Well, I went back part time -- I did interviewing, where I could regulate my hours. I did interviewing for an opinion poll groups. All kinds of studies. Health studies, financial studies. Not the commercial interview. And that was when my kids were already in school. They were already in school. So that must have been -- well, they were teenagers already. I don't know how many years later. Maybe six or seven years later, or more. Maybe ten years later.

66:00

DIANE ESSES: Were you active at all in the feminist movement of this --

IDA POLLACK: No. No.

DIANE ESSES: You didn't see that as part of your political agenda?

IDA POLLACK: I did, but, ah -- I couldn't divide my time too much. Even now, for instance, I -- I find I'm very involved in housing. Up to my, up to my ears in the housing problem. And there's a political -- another political agenda. There's Central America. There's Nicaragua, El Salvador. There's all kinds of things, and there just isn't any time to do everything. And then I have grandkids, which I like to see.

DIANE ESSES: Do you identify with the feminist movement?

IDA POLLACK: Hmm?

DIANE ESSES: Do you identify with the feminist movement?

IDA POLLACK: Yeah.

DIANE ESSES: Would you call yourself a feminist?

67:00

IDA POLLACK: Well -- I don't know if I call myself -- I know w -- I know women are very much oppressed, but I also know men are. And, ah, I think society oppresses both, and that, um, maybe the solution overall, or the partial solution -- I don't see the men as my enemy, as much as I see the government and the institutions that foster discrimination against women as the enemy, because I think men are pushed around, too. And, ah, they're pushing around -- I mean, the, the culture tells them, "Take it out on women." Which I would fight all the time. But, ah -- some things in the feminist movement. I don't think they have reached out to the very poor women. I think it's a middle-class movement, and 68:00that limits them. You know?

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: And the, ah, the poor women, I think haven't got the -- the wherewithal to be feminists.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: They have to work, they have to take care of kids. Very often they're single-parent families. They're very much abused by their men. But the whole family is very much abused. So.

DIANE ESSES: And your children, did they -- do they continue in their --

IDA POLLACK: One.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Hi, [inaudible].

DIANE ESSES: Hello.

IDA POLLACK: Ahh, I forgot your -- one is very much involved. The other two are -- they're ideologically okay, but they're not active at all. They're 69:00apolitical, really.

DIANE ESSES: What did you say?

IDA POLLACK: They're apolitical. But one is very political. Involved in housing, as -- to the same degree, you know. We, ah -- since we have a situation where we live, where we had to fight to stay there because of this conversion craze. So, it has become a whole movement in this city.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: And, ah, it's taken over our lives, really.

DIANE ESSES: Mm-hmm.

IDA POLLACK: So, we're part of the tenant -- we have a tenants' association, and, ah, it's ongoing. For a while, it was, ah -- we had a rent strike that was very rough. It went on for about a year and a half. And that -- literally, for that year and a half, none of us did anything else but be involved in that rent 70:00strike. The -- and now, it's, ah -- we can't see any other s -- way. We can't walk a -- we could never walk away from -- whatever develops will develop, but --

DIANE ESSES: Okay. Is there anything else you want to say?

IDA POLLACK: I don't think so, no.

DIANE ESSES: Okay. N --

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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Ida Pollack

Ida Pollack (1922-2016) grew up in the Bronx in a Jewish-American family. Her father was active in the International Workers Order (IWO), a Communist Party fraternal organization. Pollack was active in both the IWO shula (school) and the Young Communist League. She briefly attended Brooklyn College, but left to begin working, initially for a greeting card factory, then for Gimbels department store and eventually as a welder at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Ida Pollack (1922-2016) married in 1941 and began working at the Navy Yard shortly after her husband went into the service in 1942. During her interview, she discusses how she chose to be a welder in order to help the war effort, her training at the Navy Yard, working conditions and injuries, welding equipment, her fear of heights, and wages. Pollack remembers how her friend Sylvia [Honigsman Everitt] found out about her husbands death during their shift at the Navy Yard. Everitt was interviewed along with Pollack in 2008 (2010.003.019). During the interview, Pollack also recalls the death of another woman worker who fell into the dry dock. Pollack was laid off at the end of WWII and moved to Troy, New York for a few years where Pollack attempted to be a welder for again but had trouble because of her gender. Pollack later returned to New York City where she and her husband were very active in political organizations. Interview conducted by Diane Esses.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard oral history collection is comprised of over fifty interviews of men and women who worked in or around the Brooklyn Navy Yard, primarily during World War II. The narrators discuss growing up in New York, their work at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, their relationships with others at the Yard, gender relations and transportation to and from work. Many narrators bring up issues of ethnicity, race, and religion at the Yard or in their neighborhoods. Several people describe the launching of the USS Missouri battleship and recall in detail their daily tasks at the Yard (as welders, office workers and ship fitters). While the interviews focus primarily on experiences in and around the Yard, many narrators go on to discuss their lives after the Navy Yard, relating stories about their careers, dating and marriage, children, social activities, living conditions and the changes that took place in Manhattan and Brooklyn during their lifetimes.

Citation

Pollack, Ida, 1922-2016, Oral history interview conducted by Diane Esses, March 20, 1989, Brooklyn Navy Yard oral history collection, 1995.005.005; Brooklyn Historical Society.

People

  • Gimbel Brothers
  • International Workers Order
  • New York Naval Shipyard
  • Pollack, Ida, 1922-2016

Topics

  • Communism
  • Communists
  • Ethnicity
  • Friendship
  • Jewish Americans
  • Labor unions
  • Shipbuilding
  • Shipyards
  • Strikes
  • Uniforms
  • Welding
  • Women--Employment
  • Women's clothing
  • Work environment
  • World War, 1939-1945

Places

  • Bronx (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Troy (N.Y.)

Transcript

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Finding Aid

Brooklyn Navy Yard oral history collection