The Great Depression

One Worker's Life During the Depression

... This Nova Scotia native looks for a better life.

By Gene Marchand, as told to Virginia Hanley

Even before the depression started, most people did not have a great deal of money.  Wages were low, not only for manual laborers but also for professionals.  But prices were comparably low.  Many workers managed to keep their jobs but life was still hard with no holidays or vacations.  In fact, many companies required the workers to put in 7 days a week.

One such worker is Gene Marchand.  Gene spends part of every day at the Milano Senior Center reading, mostly books and magazines from their library.  Since he will be 91 in September and has spent most of his life doing manual labor, he has honestly earned this time of relaxation.  He was born on a farm in Nova Scotia in 1907. Life was hard but they always had enough to eat.  In 1924 he decided to leave the farm because the jobs around there paid only 15 cents an hour. An older brother had already moved to Buffalo, New York and he got Gene a job as a water boy for the Koppers Company - a job that paid the grand sum of 40 cents an hour.

After a few years he went to work as a construction helper for 75 cents an hour.  The company made corrugated iron and they worked 8 hours a day 7 days a week.  In a few years he transferred to Philadelphia running an overhead crane at $1.00 an hour.  During this time he lived with a Polish family and paid $10.00 a week for room and board - and it was a very good board with excellent meals.  He lived there for 7 years.

When he decided to get married, he and his wife Margaret rented a 6-room house for $24.00 a month.  They also bought a new Model T Ford for $420.00.  He often had to work a double shift, not through choice but of necessity if another worker did not show up.  In 1942 he transferred to Everett, Mass to work for Eastern Gas and Fuel.  In 1962 that plant was closed.  He was offered a transfer back to Philadelphia.  If he didn't take it, he would lose his pension and benefits.  But he had other job offers so he took a job with H. K. Porter Company and worked there for 15 years.

Although times were tough during the depression and money was always tight, there were always instances where people would help each other out and show each other little kindnesses.  For instance, when Mrs. Marchand ordered a smoked shoulder, the grocer would throw in the carrots and potatoes for a nice boiled dinner.

One pleasant memory Gene has is going to Atlantic City from Philadelphia with his wife and another couple.  The other fellow had a car with a rumble seat.  In Atlantic City they went to see Rudy Vallee at one of the casinos.  The tickets cost 75 cents for box seats and afterwards they had an excellent meal for 40 cents apiece.

Gene and his wife had two daughters, Dolores and Jean.  His wife died 3 years ago and he now lives with his daughter, Dolores Doherty, in Melrose.  His daughter, Jean Furey, lives in Wakefield.

August 6, 1998


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