Sunday, June 17, 2012

Census Sunday: Mary Morrison Slade

This week I looked for my father’s paternal grandmother Mary Morrison Slade in the 1940 Census.  Even though she died when I was 8, I have no memory of her.  She was probably extremely debilitated by dementia and therefore my parents kept me from her.  My dad told that even as a young man he often had to break a date to go look for his grandmother when she wandered and got lost. 

In 1940 Mary Effie Morrison Slade, a widow aged 61, was living at 416 Randolph Street 
near downtown Portsmouth, Virginia.  This was the same house where she lived in 1935, which tells me she had moved there between 1930 and 1935. Maybe the move was driven by finances because the house she rented in 1930, just a street away, was $20 a month. The “new” house, which rented for $11 a month, was next door to her sister Effie and her husband Henry Hanrahan.  Isn’t it funny that she and her sister both had the name “Effie”?

Click to enlarge

Grandma Slade, born in Tennessee, had completed 5 years of school.  During her married life, she was always the wife of a farmer, but now she was a working woman employed in the government-sponsored WPA sewing project.  The specific job appears to be “Iron lady,” but the handwriting is unclear.  Her statement that she was unemployed for 65 weeks prior to March 1940 contradicts the statement that she worked 52 weeks in 1939 earning $780. She claimed no other source of income.

from New Deal Network
This is NOT where Mary Slade worked, but it is a typical
sewing project factory or workroom.

The Work Project Administration (WPA) was part of the New Deal effort to put people to work.  The sewing project was specifically designed for women who were considered unemployed heads of household either because they were widowed, abandoned, or disabled.  The sewing project was the lowest paid position, but women received training in using sewing machines.  They made clothing, bedding, and supplies for hospitals and orphanages.  Grandma Slade is the first ancestor I’ve found who was employed under the New Deal. 

Living with my great-grandmother were her 2 daughters, Margaret (32) and Mary (30).  Margaret is listed as married with a correction indicating she was divorced or in the process, but she is listed as Slade, not Turner, her married name.  She worked as a cuffer for a hosiery mill, earning $312 in 26 weeks in 1939.  Mary was not working nor was she seeking work; instead, she was taking care of the house.  Mary completed 7 years of school while Margaret completed one year of high school. 
Click to enlarge
The 1940 census has told me more about my great-grandmother than I ever knew before.  We have no pictures of anyone from that side of the family beyond my grandparents.  Pity.

©2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. Can you imagine how hard those women had to work? It's amazing what you can learn from the census.

    1. The 1940 Census is a fantastic document full of interesting questions.

  2. I really enjoy all this history. Every time I read these posts, I remember how much I want to dig into my own family's history. Your posts are inspiring!

  3. Wow, you found out a lot, Wendy. That is so sad that she had dementia. I wish that rent was still $11 per month. Interesting about the sewing factory. I like the idea that people were able to work and learn new things, and helped to support themselves.

    The part about your aunt working as a cuffer in a hosiery mill reminds me of a story that I heard awhile back.

    Lars was on a foreign fisheries boat on Alaskan waters. One day, the Coast Guard boarded the boat, seeking out the immigration status of those on board. They asked everybody for their ID, and where they were from.

    When they got to Lars, the Coast Guard guy asked, "Sir, where are you from?"

    Lars replied, "Seattle."

    "And, what did you do in Seattle?"

    "I worked as a diesel fitter for a pantyhose factory."

    "A diesel fitter? What is that? What did you actually do?"

    "My job was very important. I put the newly made pantyhose over the top of my head to check for size, and then would tell my boss, yes, dese will fit her!"

    That joke is easier say than to write out, lol!

    Kathy M.

    1. OK, that does it -- you can't visit me because we'd get kicked out of any restaurant we'd go to for lunch - why? making too much of a disturbance laughing.

  4. Wow Wendy! That was an amazing amount of information you gleaned from the 1940 census! I found my great-grandfather in the 1940 census. He was engaged in public emergency work and was seeking employment. He worked as a vegetable peddler from a private truck.

    Okay, so that story by Kathy was too funny!...and I can say that knowing I have several ancestors named Lars. :)

    1. The name Lars doesn't figure into too may jokes, does it? But with your ancestry stretching from Sweden to Brazil, the chances are good you'll hear a lot of familiar names in jokes. HA!

  5. Yeah, that repeated Effie name is odd. I've often thought about asking Rosie if she had pictures that we could copy.