I think it might be interesting to know how I was motivated to write this brief narrative. One week Carol (my granddaughter) wrote to me from Kutztown College and said she was required to write a paper (monograph) on any person she knew. I was surprised and flattered as well, when she told me I was her selection!
Hence this brief autobiography which includes most of the facts and important incidents in my life.
I was born in October 1900 – on Friday the thirteenth – the eldest of three children, in a modest little house on Memphis Street in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. Two years later my sister Jeannette was born, and a brother, Frederick, arrive soon after.
My father was 45, my mother 30, when they married. His parents were born in Germany: mother was of German-English extraction. Father was a Molder by trade and was employed in an iron foundry. Wages were meager and unbelievably low compared with today. Nevertheless, we managed to live comfortably and never suffered from lack of food or shelter, -- a very close and harmonious family. It was homecoming for any of those who suffered temporary economic misfortune.
When father was out of work, which happened frequently, we just pulled up stakes and always received a warm welcome at our Grandparent’s roomy house in Logan. They had 13 children, numerous grandchildren, and of course in-laws who had married into the family. There was plenty of room for all who came – plus three acres of ground with barn, horses, and vegetable garden.
Grandmother Jeanette Essie Kern seemed to spend most of her life in the kitchen bending over a great coal stove, where every week she created a scrumptious array of pies, cakes and other goodies – to the ecstatic delight of the whole family.
Born in 1870 in the US, Mother never inherited Grandma’s skill in culinary art. While she was excellent at taking care of her children, she displayed only casual interest in cooking and housework. Perhaps she had enough of those things before marriage. Nevertheless, she was really was “the head of the house.”
Grandfather Joseph Kern, born in 1855 in Germany, was a hatter. He worked at the Stetson Hat Company. A genial man, he loved his children and grandchildren.
Father, Frederick Knell, born in 1855 in the United States, was the epitome of carefree optimism. Nothing worried him. He passed away in his 87th year. Mother died at 77.
For myself, I do not remember much of my early life. I used to feel embarrassed because of the fact that I had to leave school in the 7th grade. But I have since learned that it is not what you were, but what you are now that counts.
The old grammar school still stands. My favorite subjects were Math and Sewing. Like the present generation still do, I might have been wiser to stress English.
Fortunately, I had lots of friends. I really enjoyed my youth. We had a “Neighbor party” at least once a week in each other’s homes. Games and singing prevailed and refreshments were largely on a “Bring-it-yourself” basis. This was while we lived in a modest home in the Feltonville section.
Fun was my middle name! Yet I could be serious when necessary. My parents had little money so I had to go to work for more income and a better wardrobe. Starting out at 13, we had to work at the law which required a minimum of 14 years in school. Then, too, I looked a little older than I really was.
My first job was as an apprentice with a fashionable and expensive milliner on Chestnum Street. Though I wanted t learn to create hats, I learned nothing there. All I did was deliver orders while acquiring a knowledge of downtown Philadelphia, --for which I received the magnificent sum of $1.00 a week. There were days when everyone – men and women – wore hats.
One of the milliners advised me to go to Strawbridge & Clothier where I would really learn millinery. So on day out on an errand, I stopped in at S & C, got a job, and never returned to the old place. I suppose they are still waiting for me! This was another $1.00 a week job.
Then came my great opportunity. A friend recommended the Bell Telephone Company at 13th and Arch Streets as a wonderful place to work. I was hired on the spot to work in the commercial office for the princely sum of $10.00 a week. I felt rich! And one week later I got a raise to $12.00! There I had a ball – could have had a date every night. After hours my boss would often take me to Whitman’s for an ice-cream soda. Now, of course, that would be a cocktail. I stayed there until 1920 when I was married.
I met my husband, Charles Raymond Cassidy, when I was only 15, at our church (Boulevard United Presbyterian). The following Christmas he gave me his first Christmas gift – A 2 pound box of Whitman’s chocolates in a mahogany red velvet-lined chest, which became my jewelry box until the hinges gave way not many years ago.
We attended church and Sunday school and both sang in the choir. Saturday nights we went to the movies. Meanwhile, with World War One taking up everyone’s time on the home front, I helped to entertain officers at the Navy League, which was not only patriotic, but I found it quite enjoyable. Charlie enlisted in the Navy and left for about one year. When he returned, he gave me an engagement ring. That was Christmas 1920. We were married on June 22, 1921. I was 20 and he was 27. The ceremony took place in my home (333E. Wyoming Avenue) at 6 PM. This was the first home my parents owned. Jeannette was maid- of- honor and Charlie’s brother, Bill, was best man. It was virtually a family affair with a few friends. Our honeymoon was spent at Atlantic City in the Traymore Hotel, now demolished.
In 1922 I became a scoutmaster for the Girl Scout troop at our church, and went camping with them one summer at Tall Trees, Media.
Soon after, things were looking up financially and we bought our own home at 333 Ashdale Street in the Lindley section. It was a pleasant row house with a beautiful porch, large living room and ample back garden – rather small but quite homey and comfortable. It was a great thrill to enjoy living in – and also under our own vine and fig tree.
Gloria was born on February 7, 1924 – her father’s birthday—in the Samaritan Hospital (now Temple University Hospital). Ten days later, the doctor himself brought her to our home. She was so beautiful – and so good – and still is! To celebrate, I suppose, we bought our first car – a brand new Maxwell (blue come off). Neither Charlie nor I knew how to drive, but being so smart (?) we soon learned. Three half-hour lessons each and we passed our tests. Not many people owned cars – mostly the rich – so we felt a bit opulent, too.
Moving from Ashdale Street, we bought and occupied 333 Longshore Street in Lawndale: a corner twin house with fields for a block at the side and back. The Reading RR station stood half a block away (Cheltenham). It was Charlie’s wish that even if snow piled six feet high he could get to town easily in 25 minutes. At that time it cost only $7 for a monthly ticket.
We lived here for 20 years. Then suddenly the Great Depression hit us as it did everybody. We re-set our B & L mortgage so that monthly payments would be smaller. Our meager bank savings were not lost: we checked out all current bills, leaving a balance of $10.00. The bank failed the following day. However, it paid 50 cents on the dollar on all deposits. Imagine – we were credited with a $20.00 balance and received a check for $10 – so broke even exactly.
Charlie lost his job and was idle for months, and then accepted a job paying about half he earned previously.
We lived modestly, and socially had lots of fun, never splurged or endeavored to enhance our image. That wasn’t too tough for almost everybody found themselves in the same boat. So we muddled through, never hungry, never too strapped. Living well within our means. As time went on, our economic status improved. Charlie changed jobs frequently, yet each move was upwards, so our income advanced.
Meanwhile, in 1935, came a welcome addition to our family, Marion Sandra Cassidy.
Our Longshore home was threatened with costly exterior improvements. The first blow was $500.00 for a sewer connection. Clearly, in the near future we envisaged compulsory spending for the paving and curbs, etc. for our side of the street, an outlay of at least $2,000, which to us seemed like a king’s ransom. So, in the spring of 1945, we moved to a charming stone twin at 333 West Durham Street in the Mt. Airy section, living there until 1958.
It was not large, but of attractive architecture, well-constructed and with many delightful features, such as an open fireplace and enclosed porch. Here we enjoyed many happy birthday celebrations and parties.
From here, Gloria was married to Robert Erskine Jones, a young lawyer, in 1947. The wedding ceremony took place in Grace Episcopal Church in Mt. Airy. The then lived nearby, on Ellet Street. Later we were blessed with two beautiful granddaughters.
Sandra married Alexander Duncan Baird in 1965 and moved to England. They had a son Named Jamie born in 1974.