Small family triumphs over hardship

By Brittany McLeod
February 5, 2009

Shannon Keough

Marie Kobylinski was 14 years old when a worldwide economic downturn took its devastating effects on America in 1929.

Philadelphia was a city dependent on heavy industry, plucking young children from school and forcing them into work.

It was C Street in the Kensington section of Philadelphia where Kobylinski took shelter.

A single mother of three, Blanche Dukenfield, niece of comedian W.C. Fields, became the head of household when Kobylinski’s father left at the tender age of 9.

At 14, Kobylinski went to work with her two brothers at the Wittman & Moriarty leather factory for 43 cents an hour.

She was forced to begin “continuation,” which back then was attending school for one day a week, Wednesday, to learn how to sew and cook, and work the remaining days.

Things were cheap, she said, and for fun she would attend a movie for 15 cents or go dancing for 10 cents.

Still, it was impossible for her to escape the effects of the depression.

Her mother worked two jobs, one at the Rose Silk Mill and another as a maid.

“I would get my clothes from the daughter of the woman who my mom cleaned for,” Kobylinski said. “I thought they were great.”

Though still young, Kobylinski remembers what it was like to live during the meager conditions she and her family faced.

“It was awful. It was bad. It was especially hard for us because we didn’t have my father,” Kobylinski said.

“Today is nothing like it was then. People are still working well now; we went to work for little money.”

Little money was $6 a week for a young girl making leather hat bands. Today, the federal minimum wage is $6.55 per hour.

“Everything was cheap. Bread was 5 or 6 cents. Today, I saw an ad for potatoes in the paper? $2.99 a pound! Potatoes were always cheap.”

Kobylinski says she is thankful to remember her past, and while she was young, what she can recall is certainly worth knowing.

Kobylinski eventually left Wittman & Moriarty to work at PhilCo, a television and radio building factory, for a pay increase of 10 cents.

During the depression, her passion and release became dancing and she danced until she was 90 years old.

A month away from turning 94, Kobylinski now lives in the Juniata section of Philadelphia.

Today’s economic condition cannot measure up to the likes of what Kobylinski and others endured in their formative years.

Still, there are worries about how this generation will handle the current and upcoming hardships.

Brittany McLeod

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