Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2018/Fall/Section 2/Cecilia Patrourtsa

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Cecilia Patrourtsa
North Carolina
ResidenceJacksonville, Florida

Overview[edit | edit source]

Cecilia Patrourtsa was a Greek-American housewife and an interviewee for the Federal Writers Project in 1939.[1]

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Patrourtsa was born in North Carolina in 1910. She had Greek parents. Patrourtsa had five siblings. Her father immigrated to the United States as a young man and later sent for his wife to join him. Sometime after Patrourtsa was born, the family moved to Jacksonville, Florida. When Patrourtsa was growing up, her father opened a candy store that remained in business through 1939 when she was interviewed for the Federal Writer's Project. Her mother was a traditional, non-English speaking homemaker – and by Patrourtsa's definition – a hard worker.[2]

Education[edit | edit source]

Patrourtsa was educated in a Greek private school in Florida for $3.50/month along with her sister, Elizabeth. Her youngest sister, Polly, attended public school. Patrourtsa and her siblings spoke English in the home to aid in their understanding of the language and believed that Greek was better to be spoken at the schools they attended.[3]

The Greek school that Patrourtsa attended was conducted in the weekday afternoons and on Saturdays. Although she believed Greek would be useful for business later in life, in 1939, she planned to send her own children to public school instead.[4]

Marriage and Family[edit | edit source]

Patrourtsa was married to George J. Poulous in 1935 at the Woman's Club in Florida. They were married by a priest. Her father gave her away. The couple honeymooned in Miami for two weeks afterward.[5]

Poulous and Patrourtsa bought a restaurant that they operated with a partner where Poulous made about $30/week. The winter months proved significantly better for business than the summer months, and the Patrourtsa family often pulled from their winter money to pay summer expenses.[6]

In 1939, Patrourtsa had two daughters – Elizabeth and Polly – named after her sisters. Patrourtsa wanted her children to go into business. In her Federal Writers Project interview, Patrourtsa predicted that she would have a third child. She believed in the Greek values of family and provision from God through hardship.[7]

Greek Immigration in the Late 1800s/Early 1900s[edit | edit source]

Migration, Incentive, and Adaptation[edit | edit source]
Greek immigrants embarking in small boat for steamer for America, Patras, Greece[8]

The reasons for Greek immigration to America were primarily economic.[9] A lack of industrial diversification and progress due to a changing government catalyzed the movement of Greeks into the U.S. in the last decade of the 19th century. Greek immigrants saw economic promise in the United States, and many had aspirations to eventually run independent businesses. During the turn of the century, many Greeks held this aspiration while they worked more menial jobs in hospitality, importing, and manufacturing.[10]

It wasn't until the last decade of the 19th century that Greek immigration to the United States could be classified as a movement. Before the end of the century, the volume of Greek immigrants living in America did not exceed 2,500.[11] However, in subsequent years, notably between 1905-1907, Greek immigration to the U.S. approximately doubled each year. In 1909, the revival of trade in the U.S. invited more immigration from Greece, the volume of which steadily increased.

The majority of Greeks traveling to the U.S. at this time came by steamship. Demographically, the immigrants were predominately male. 96% of the Greek immigrants were either unmarried men or men who had left their families behind in Greece. The immigration of entire families was rare. [12]

When in the U.S., Greeks organized themselves into colonies based on geographical proximity, and Orthodox Greek Communities centered around a church organization. The Greek Orthodox communities would hire halls for worship and eventually began to purchase church buildings to gather. It was rare for Greek Orthodox Communities to mix, although it would have lessened individual financial burdens to have one priest ministering to multiple communities.[13]

After the development of Greek churches, Greek schools began to emerge to prevent a complete severing of knowledge from Greek religion and language. In these schools, a Greek curriculum was paired with an American curriculum. The aim of the schools was to preserve Greek, Greece, and the Orthodox Church as central components to a Greek immigrant identity.[14]

Reception of Greek Immigration[edit | edit source]

Americans received Greek immigrants skeptically in the early 1900s. During World War I, English literacy tests were imposed to vet "undesirable" immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, including Greeks. The attitude toward Old World immigrants was not favorable, and negative impressions persisted in the minds of powerful political figures of the time. The stereotypes of immigrants as poor, under-fed, small and homely were prominent, and, in the minds of the politically powerful, did not constitute the ideal American citizen.[15]

Positive Effects of the Great Depression on Family[edit | edit source]

The Great Depression, although categorized as an economic era, had profound social effects on communities and families. The Great Depression created a stay-at-home culture among families, in which entertainment was sourced inside the home. Many families would stay at home and engage in activities like listening to the radio or playing games, instead of leaving the home and spending money. The recession also instigated families to cook more food at home. This stay-at-home culture persisted through the 1950s.[16]

During the Depression, while many families struggled to stay together, some families gained a new resilience and fortitude. The creation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations in the late 1930s helped to create a common, family-oriented culture in which recreational activities were arranged to encourage unity among and within families. The CIO enlisted women in campaigns and social events to unify families of different races and ethnicities. Women, apart from involvement in these unions, were establishing a growing presence in the workforce to economically provide for their families. As women sought to strengthen their families in this way, household labor also intensified.[17]

While men remained the primary breadwinner of the household, and women began to pursue work outside the home, children also took on new roles during the Depression. Boys usually worked part-time jobs outside of the home, while girls worked domestically inside the home.[18]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. “Folder 130: Stedman and Werner (Interviewers): Ceceilia Patrourtsa : Federal Writers Project Papers.” Accessed September 27, 2018. https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/03709/id/973.
  2. Ibid., 1328.
  3. Ibid., 1329-1330.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid., 1331.
  6. Ibid., 1332.
  7. Ibid., 1336.
  8. Greek immigrants embarking in small boat for steamer for America, Patras, Greece. , ca. 1910. July 11. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2003680488/.
  9. Burgess, Thomas. Greeks in America;an Account of Their Coming, Progress, Customs, Living, and Aspirations; Boston, 1913. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/yale.39002003576478.
  10. Ibid., 17-37.
  11. Fairchild, Henry Pratt. Greek Immigration to the United States. New Haven, 1911. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015001577488.
  12. Ibid., 109-112.
  13. Ibid., 54-56.
  14. Ibid., 76-77.
  15. Singer, Alan. “In 1920, Jews, Italians, Irish And Greeks Were The People From ‘Shithole’ Countries.” Huffington Post (blog), January 15, 2018. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/in-1920-jews-italians-irish-and-greeks-were-the_us_5a5c8d06e4b01ccdd48b5e1b.
  16. Cowen, Tyler. “Social Changes, Not All Bad, Accompany Recessions.” The New York Times, January 31, 2009, sec. Business Day. https://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/01/business/01view.html.
  17. "Family and Home, Impact of the Great Depression on." Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 6, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/economics/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/family-and-home-impact-great-depression
  18. Ibid.