Raising a family of 15 in the 1930s

Posted February 12, 2014 at 3:00 pm

By DALE CASTLE
Special to Northeast News
February 12, 2014

In today’s world, a family of two adults and three children is considered large but that would be a very small family back in the 1930s. Long-time Northeast resident Alice Vogt, who moved to the area in 1951, came from a family of 15 children. No twins or triplets. All single births. We all know how expensive it is to raise a family these days, but imagine raising 15 kids during the Depression of the 1930s.

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Family. Growing up in a family with 15 siblings during the Depression era, Alice Vogt learned about what really matters in life. Pictured above is Vogt’s family. Vogt is pictured third from left on the back row. Submitted photo

“It was tough, but we managed to get by,” said the 90-year-old, who lives in a lovely home on Windsor Avenue.

The Depression caused them to lose their home in Aurora, Mo., to the bank when Alice was 13 years old.

Fortunately, her father who served in WWI received a government bonus of $240 which he used, along with lumber he salvaged from a house that burned down in town, to buy 40 acres and build a chicken house. They lived in the chicken house for three years while the main house was built.

The home didn’t have modern conveniences of today’s world such as electricity or running water. The water was brought in from a well. Meals were prepared on a wood burning cook stove and heat came from a pot belly stove which her daughter, Gloria, now has in her possession. Because there were so many children, they slept several to a bed which also helped keep them warm on those cold winter nights.

Asked what the best day was of her early years on the farm, Alice said, “That’s easy. It was the day my dad bought a Maytag ringer washer with a gas motor. You had to hook a hose to the exhaust and run it outside and jump on a device to start it. That was the happiest day of my life. Before that, my mom and I used washboards to clean the clothes which could take an entire day. It was a huge help but I still had tons of dishes to wash and floors to scrub.”

Most of the family income came from the tomatoes, blackberries and strawberries they raised as cash crops. The tomatoes were taken in to Aurora to canning factories and the berries were shipped out on trains. The sorghum-cane they grew was taken into town to be made into syrup for the family’s own use. Like any farm, there were plenty of pigs, chickens, cows, cats, dogs and a team of horses for plowing the fields. The huge garden provided enough vegetables to keep her mom busy canning most of the summer.

Money was so tight in those days that summoning the town doctor to their farm for a medical problem was almost unheard of. Case in point. Alice was eight years old when she severely cut her hand while playing with scissors. Being a prideful girl, she tried to hide the fact from her grandma and treat the wound herself. She used some rags to try and stop the bleeding but as luck would have it her grandma saw the bloody strips of cloth and went looking for Alice. She found her and took her out to the smoke house. Alice didn’t shed a tear as coal oil was poured directly into the open wound and a piece of fatty meat was wrapped around it with one of the rags. She healed up nicely but still has the scar to this day.

A one-mile walk every morning after Alice did her chores took her to a tiny one-room school house called Mineral Point. Her brothers always arrived at the school an hour early in the winter to put wood in the pot belly stove so the classroom would be warm when the other kids got there. If you wanted to further your education in those days you had to pay tuition to attend high school.

The town had a picnic every Fourth of July. Her brothers always went, but nice girls didn’t go, so Alice always stayed home and picked blackberries. The berries were used to make cobbler pie to go along with the homemade ice cream her dad made for their own celebration on the farm.

Christmas was also a difficult time for the family. There weren’t any presents, but they always cut down a nice tree in the woods and the children made paper chains to decorate it.

“We were just happy to have a nice meal,” Alice said.

A few of the men and women were lucky enough to get a job during the Depression, making mattresses in town. In her early teens, Alice volunteered at the same place, quilting mattress tops to help out. She got her first real paying job at age 16 in a cap factory.

Asked if she got in much trouble growing up, one particular incident came to her mind.

“My good friend Helen and I decided to give smoking a try,” she said. “We found some newspapers and dry leaves and rolled the leaves in the newspaper to form a cigarette that was actually closer to the size of a cigar. We needed a place to smoke where we wouldn’t be seen so we decided to use the neighbor’s outhouse. We got the cigarettes burning and took a couple of puffs. It was absolutely awful so I threw the cigarette down the hole and went off to play. In a matter of minutes we saw smoke and flames. The outhouse quickly burnt down to the ground.”

The Depression was a difficult time for people, but everyone was in the same boat. Many of those from that era only have bitter memories but Alice always talks about her wonderful childhood. They didn’t have any money, but they had each other which made them rich.