Mary Fraher describes their family’s early days. Our grandparents came from Ireland during the potato famine,
about 1850. They settled in the North End of Manchester where the Irish lived. Our mother’s Uncle William was here working
in Cheney Brothers and helped my grandfather get a job there. They were jack-of-all-trades-type of people, who could fix
this and that, and take care of the grounds. They worked in the machine shop at Forest and Pine Street.
Our grandfather walked all the way to the South End to work. My grandmother didn’t want to move, because there was no Catholic Church in the South End. Other Catholics wanted to work at Cheneys, but they also wanted to live near a Catholic Church. Cheney Brothers gave the land on which St. James Church was built. The grandfathers all got together with shovels and wheelbarrows, and dug the cellar for the church.
Our grandparents bought property on Cottage Street, and built a two-family house for our family.
Our Aunt Nellie O’Leary, my mother’s sister, lived upstairs with her husband and their four children, and we lived downstairs.
Mother had a lot of other relatives in the Rockville-Manchester area – cousins, aunts and uncles.
Catherine Fraher Fogarty: That’s the difference today. Families live all over.
Mary: Mother married our father, Philip Fraher, sometime after he came home from the Spanish American War. He was a painter by trade, and worked from spring until late fall. He didn’t work the rest of the year and that upset my mother, because she had to depend on her sisters’ support. Eventually, our father went to live in Hartford with relatives, and we never really knew him well. It was one of those sad things that happen in life.
About 1912 there was a dance at Thanksgiving time at Cheney Hall – the Turkey, Goose and Pig Ball. My father put my name on a raffle ticket and won the Merry Widow Doll. The doll had red hair and was dressed in black lace. We still have the doll in the family. Catherine received a Bride Doll around the same time, maybe for Christmas.
After my father left, my mother’s sister, Julia Hogan, moved in with us. She worked at Cheney Brothers and was the wage earner. That’s how mother managed to keep us all together. We all grew up in one house. It was like having three mothers, all interested in our O’Leary cousins and us. We had built-in playmates. It was the best kind of family. When someone achieved something, we all celebrated.
Catherine: We grew up as almost one family.
Mary: On Thursday night, our uncle went to visit his eleven brothers and sisters living in the North End of Hartford, where the Irish immigrants settled. The rest of the O’Learys came downstairs to eat with us. We had snowflake buns and cupcakes from the bakery. It was a big family dinner.
Catherine: We went to public school and walked home for lunch because schools didn’t have cafeterias. Mary was in the school fire in the South End.
Mary: It was 1913 and I was almost six years old. I don’t think they had kindergarten then, so I was in first grade. I wore my brand new coat to school that day. The fire alarm rang and we were told to march out of the school. When we got outside, they told us to go home. But, my coat was inside. I started to run home and I met my mother running down. I was crying about my coat. My mother took hold of me and said, “We can always get a coat but we can’t always get another little girl.” No one was killed in that fire, which was remarkable.
At the time, we didn’t know it was a fire. I don’t remember seeing smoke or flames. The alarm came after lunch and we automatically marched out. When they told us to go home, we got scared. Then I saw my mother running.
I think we went to the Lincoln School after the fire. I finished fourth grade and during the summer I got whooping cough from one of the O’Leary kids. I couldn’t return to school until October. There wasn’t room in fifth grade and they put me in sixth grade, saying if I couldn’t do the work, I would stay back. I passed and went on through to high school graduation.
Catherine: When Mary went to work, I wanted to borrow her clothes, but she said no. I can still hear my mother say, “Catherine will take good care of your clothes.” That’s how it worked with us. After we came to live together, so many people said, “Oh, I couldn’t live with my sister.” It was unbelievable to us because our mother never allowed us to argue or fight. We were brought up to agree and get along with each other.
Mary: That’s the way our mother was brought up too. She passed it along to us. There was never any jealousy between us. Catherine played on the swings at the playgrounds and I sat on the front porch reading books from the library. I liked to read adventure, mystery, and historical stories.
Catherine: I liked sports, and played tennis during high school.
Joe Quish, who worked for Woolworth’s on Main Street, asked mother if I could work there. She told him I was only fourteen, but he said it didn’t matter. I started working at the same time I started high school. By the time I finished high school, I was assistant to the bookkeeper at the store. I loved working with figures. Mary also worked at Woolworth’s, known as the ten-cent store.
Mary: I worked at the candy counter. My friends would come in for candy and I never figured the ounces right. When they found out the candy ounces and the money didn’t add up, I was put in the back of the store selling nails, screws, and hammers.
Downtown, the stores were open on Thursday night. The Salvation Army Band stood in front of Woolworth’s. Quite a crowd gathered. The band would play, sing, and say a prayer.
Bernard Fogarty was in my Confirmation class. When they lined us up, boys on one side, girls on the other, he was opposite me. He had had scarlet fever, and was quarantined in his upstairs bedroom for many weeks. He had gotten fat from inactivity. I somehow managed to get the partner I wanted, John Post. Bernard grew up to be a very handsome young man and John Post became a Jesuit priest. Catherine ended up with Bernard. I never married.
I wanted to work in Hartford after high-school graduation. My mother gave me money for the trolley to go for an interview. At the Travelers Insurance Company, I had an interview, took a typing test and they offered me a job in the stenographic department as a typist at fourteen dollars a week. I thought I was in heaven. I started there in 1924. The Travelers paid half of my carfare because I was coming from Manchester. We worked Monday through Friday, and until noon on Saturday. It cost fifteen cents to take the trolley from Manchester to Hartford, so that was thirty cents a day. At the beginning of the following month, the man from payroll came with envelopes that contained your half of the $7.20 monthly carfare. That money was mine. I had all this money – a little over three dollars. We all went to lunch to celebrate. I gave the rest of the money to my mother. She gave me some for lunch, carfare, and expenses. I don’t know how much she was able to keep herself, but she managed. I was sixteen years old and helping to support our family.
We had to dress up for work. I wore a lot of woolen suits in winter and cotton skirts and blouses in summer. Our skirts were well below the knees then, and everyone wore hats and gloves to work
The typist department employed only women. I worked my way up through several departments and retired as an executive assistant. I became president of the Traveler’s Girl’s Club and the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Hartford. I was with The Travelers for forty-eight years. I had quite a career.
Aunt Nellie loved politics. My uncle gave her a crystal radio set with earphones for Christmas. Al Smith was running for the Democratic Party in 1928 and the programs didn’t come on until ten o’clock at night. She put the earphones in a bowl. I would be on one side and she on the other, listening to the convention speeches. My mother was at the foot of the stairs calling, “Yoo hoo, Mary, come down here and go to bed. You have to work tomorrow.” What a difference from today!
Catherine: When I graduated from high school in 1928, Travelers wasn’t hiring. The Depression was starting, but I was lucky enough to get a job at Cheney Brothers in the accounting department. I knew some of the Cheneys and they were a wonderful family.
Mary and I went to G. Fox on Saturday afternoons. My ambition was to get a job at Travelers so I could also have all those clothes and kid gloves. Mary had a real collection of hats.
Mary: We were both employed when the Depression came. People had trouble surviving. My uncle, who worked at the Underwood, was on short time. He had a family of six and he was not working a full week. People used up whatever savings they had.
Catherine: When the O’Leary’s joined us for supper on Thursday nights, our mother made a meatloaf from one half pound of hamburg from DeCiantis’ market, which later became DeCi’s Drive In. We believe mother and Aunt Nellie didn’t eat any meat on those nights.
When Bernard Fogarty and I were married, I was fortunate to have a white velvet wedding gown. Mary was my maid of honor and wore blue velvet. Bernard and I rented a little house on Fairview Street for thirty-six dollars a month, and later moved to Ridge Street. The houses are still there.
Years later, we moved to 281 Porter Street. My husband was only fifty-eight when he died in 1966. My son was in college. Mary was still living on Cottage Street and rented out her place to come and live with me. Even after John graduated and got married, Mary stayed.
Mary: After retirement we traveled together a lot – cruises and trips to Mexico, California, and Canada. Our last trip was through the Panama Canal and that was a thrill.
Catherine: When we went to Ireland, I kissed the Blarney Stone, but Mary was afraid if she bent over backward as you must do, she would lose her contact lenses. So she just blew a kiss to the stone.
Even here in the retirement home, we believe it’s important to stay active and keep moving, get out and meet people. We don’t miss a trick. When Mary reads, she takes the print right off the newspaper. Mary has a wonderful memory. When we play trivia with others, I just listen, but Mary knows quite a few of the answers.
Mary: Between the radio, TV and newspapers, you have to keep your mind active. Don’t just sit like a lump. Get involved.
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