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  • Writer's pictureRochelle Gridley

Pantagraph's Man on the Street Interviews -- Thawville

The Pantagraph Man on the Street reporter gave the citizens of Central Illinois a forum where their opinion was requested. These interviews were just one way the Pantagraph gave voice to the ordinary man and woman during the Depression. At a time when Americans felt powerless, the Pantagraph made them feel important for just a little while. (The photographs here are all from the Pantagraph Negative Collection and are owned by the McLean County Museum of History. You can explore this collection of 36,000+ photos by following the link from the website!!!) One reason I love the "man on the street interviews" is because the people were usually interviewed where they worked, and these pictures give us a wonderful view of the interior of businesses.

On this date the reporter asked citizens of Thawville, Ford County -- Can a woman be happy in a marriage if she gives up a good paying job to marry? What if that job paid her more than her husband could make?

Mrs. Glen Woodward, one of two women interviewed, thought that success in the marriage would result from the woman making up her mind to be satisfied with the money her husband would bring to the marriage. She had no hope for the marriage if the woman did not resolve to live on her husband's salary. Mrs. Woodward was employed as a grocery clerk, but didn't suggest that the new wife could continue working. Mr. Woodward (and iceman and trucker) was also interviewed. He said, if the new bride was truly in love, she would be happy leaving her job and taking up the job she was meant for -- being a wife and mother. Mrs. Woodward is sitting in the grocery store where she worked and is surrounded by cardboard boxes as well as all the foodstuffs available in Thawville. We can't be sure why she did not take her own advice, except that it was the Depression after all.

Mrs. Elmer Lehnert was manager of a creamery. She said that she and her husband were happily managing on less money than they had in the past. A new bride could do the same, with the right attitude. Although Mrs. Lehnert worked in a creamery, she is photographed in a dry goods store (note the variety of the goods for sale). I wonder whether she was the manager of a co-operative creamery -- co-operative creameries and dairies helped farmers find a good price for their produce and saved them money on processing and storage. Co-operatives were becoming more common in the 30s.

George Pearson, photographed in his shoe repair shop was also the mayor of Thawville. He was skeptical of success. Once a woman had been her own boss and spent her own money, Mr. Pearson doubted her ability to adapt to being dependent --"to have all her freedom swept away with one little ceremony, to have to depend on someone other than herself, would tend to make her discontented." Even this man recognized that marriage represents a loss of freedom -- for the woman.

H.W. Ruedger, grain elevator manager, said: "Of course a woman in those circumstances could be happy. A woman's place is in the home and they all know it. . . . In my opinion the ultimate end of a woman is marriage, a home and a family. That's what they were meant for." Mr. Ruedger was speaking from his own experience -- he was married, and the couple lived on his salary alone. He is seated in the grain elevator office.

The Thawville Illinois Central Railroad agent, V.E. Harper, was another optimist. His own wife had been making close to his salary before their marriage, and their life had been very contented together.

The opinions of the people of Thawville seem to reflect the conventional ideas of the time -- that women should live within the means of her husband -- even though the two women who were interviewed were both employed outside the home, which seems contradictory. I, for one, am happy that the options for women have changed to a very considerable degree from those in the thirties.

If you want to find photos from small towns in or near McLean County in the PNC, just enter the name of the town or the county in the search bar. You may find a relative there!!

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