This interview was conducted by Camille Prouty on October 20, 2007 in Devine, TX. as part of Palo Alto College’s History 1302 – Fall 2007 class.
Francis Mata Prouty, my grandmother was born on May 11, 1932 in San Antonio TX, where she lived with her parents Monico and Isabell Mata along with her 4 sisters Ambrosia, Gomizinda, Maria, and Isabell. She grew up in San Antonio during The Great Depression which had started right before she was born in 1929.She went to school until she dropped out in the 5th grade and began working at the age 12. Several years later at the age of 19 she married Manuel Prouty and became Francis Prouty and started working as a front desk clerk at the St. Anthony’s Hotel in San Antonio.. Shortly after being married and having their first child Henry, they moved to Chicago ILL where they raised 3 more children Esther, Alex, and Manuel Jr. Francis’s husband Manuel fought in the Korean War for 2 years while Francis became a stay at home mom for her 4 children. All 4 of her children graduated from high school and even though neither of them made it to college they were all blessed with good jobs. When Francis’s children married and began their own families Manuel and her decided to move back to Texas in a town 30 miles south of San Antonio named Devine along with 2 of their children and their families while the other 2 stayed to raise their families in Chicago. She has stayed living there for 18 years now.
What was it like growing up during the Great Depression?
It was hard and sad at times. I remember there was a helping aid that supplied us with flour, powdered milk, beans and such things as those. But the only way we could get that help was if we had stamps. It didnt matter if we had all the money in the world, we had to have those stamps. Im sure that things would of been alot easier if my dad was around to help us, my mom had to do everything by herself.
How did the Great Depression affect your life?
I think it would have been easier than it was when we were growing up. I didnt have much of a childhood that I could really enjoy like many kids today. Everything was very scarce like food, clothes, and shoes.
Was it labeled The Great Depression back then?
Yes, it was the same term we used, it has always been known as The Great Depression.
Why did you quit school at such an early age?
I needed to help my mother since my dad past away when I was two years old, my mom was a single mother working and she needed our help. Times were hard and we needed all the extra money we could get.
What kind of job did you have as a child?
I worked in laundry washing, pressing, and ironing mens shirts and folding them. I did this throughout my childhood and teenage years.
How did you feel about having a job at such a young age?
There wasnt much that I could do about it, I had no choice. I would have rathered been playing outside with my friends or my sisters. I also would have loved to be at school reading a book. My mom needed help so I didnt complain. I knew it was to take care of our family.
If you could have stayed in school, what would you have wanted to be and why?
My dream was to become a designer for clothes. I would have loved to make a career from that, but now as an older women I sew some of my clothes so I guess you could say I do some kind of designing for myself and Im happy with that.
What was your first real job as an adult?
When I got married and moved to San Antonio I worked as a hotel front desk clerk, but other then that my husband did most of the working and I bacame a stay at home wife and mother.
What were holidays like back then?
Well we celebrated holidays, it just was nothing like it is today. We would get with some friends not much family and sit outside in the front of the house and cook tamales. Back then we couldnt eat the tamales until the next day which was twelve at night. It was just a tradition like the one today that we cant open presents till after twelve. We didnt give or get big presents just little things like fruits like apples and oranges or sweets like candies. But we didnt mind, we never expected much because we could not afford it but we were never mad about that, just grateful for each other.
How did you celebrate birthdays?
My mother could never really do much for us but she would always make each of us a little cake. It was never a big birthday party like we have today. If we did recieve presents it was just little things like fruit or candy. My mom would sometimes sew us clothes or socks and give them as presents.
When you got sick, what methods did you use to get better?
We couldnt afford to go to the doctor but she was good at a lot of old fashion remedies. She would give us tea, most of the time it was chamomile tea for our stomach aches. When we had headachs my mom would put little beans on the outside of our heads and I guess with all the faith we had it really worked and our headachs went away.
What did you use for medication?
We never recieved medication like from the doctor. Just mainly the old fashion remedies that my mom was good at.
How would you get food for the family to eat?
We would buy our food from the store and we also had fruit trees in the back that had plums and peaches. An average dinner for us was potatoes, beans, and water. Every once in awhile we would eat chicken. When it came to getting water we had a neighbor across the street when I was little that had a water well. We would go to her house in the back and she would let us get water when we needed it, atleast until the city started providing us with our own water.
Were your clothes bought from the store or sewed?
My mother did most of the sewing for us to have clothes but we also bought clothes from the store as well. One thing I remember is when she would sew our dresses, she always made it out of the same material which was the bags from from the tortilla flour. The flour came from a lady down the road next to the school in bags made out of different materials that were decorated with flowers. Those were always my favorite, I wish I would of kept one of them to show you. The people that my mom worked for also gave her alot of clothes and shoes for us, they were very nice and helpful.
What did both your parents do for a living?
My father died when I was two years and old and my mother worked in a factory where they made shoes. My mom worked cleaning other peoples houses. She also washed, dryed, and iron their clothes for a living.
What did you enjoy about growing up in San Antonio?
I was just a happy girl when I was little. I dont remember much about what I really enjoyed about it.
Did you ever travel and where?
My aunt lived in a little town named Midona where my father was buried and she would come and pick me and my sisters up in her car and take us to take my father flowers. It was about twenty miles away from San Antonio. I also had aunts that lived in Von Ormy. Some more of my aunts lived in El Vaye but they would only visit us once a year and bring us baskets of fruit. No where ever really far though.
What did you do for fun growing up?
When I was little we would go outside and play hide n go seek and also a little game called the onion. When I got older as a teenager there was a dance hall that we would go to on the weekends. There was also a tent on Nogalitos and Division and on Wednsday nights there would be a movie playing and I would go with my siters.
What is your earliest childhood memory?
Mostly visiting with my aunts is what I remember alot.
What were living conditions like?
When it came to food, my mom would always cook for us in the morning and afternoon. Our bathroom was an out house in the back where we would have to go to the bathroom, at night my mom always have to go with us because it was dark and scary to us and we always took our little lamp. We had a little bucket that we could sit in when it came to taking a bath and we would soap up and then pour the water over our head with a little cup and thats how we got clean. In the winter we didnt have heaters so we just bundled up in sweaters and blankets to keep warm, at night we used each others body heat since we all shared the bed. But when it came to winter it was never really cold since we lived so far south in San Antonio. Summers were hot but we didnt have air conditioners either but it was okay because we never knew what it was like not to have heaters or air conditioners anyways.
I have always talked to my grandma about things but there was alot of things that I didnt know until I interveiwed her. I was very suprised by all the stories she had and how different her childhood was from mine. I think the most important points made were how bad the Great Depression really was and to what extent people had to go to for food, water, and clothing. Another is how different it was growing up as a child back then compared to what it is today. I never really talked to her about her family before but one thing that I didnt know was that her father died when she was two years old. She never got a chance to really get to know her father. At the beginning of the interview after the first couple of questions, my grandma started to cry a little. I could see how the Great Depression and the past really affected her so strongly. Its been so many years and yet she still has emotion to be expressed. It really made me more interested to know what it really was like growing up during the Great Depression and what kind of life she lived.
All her stories really made me realize what I have and that I need to appreciate. My grandma had to drop out of school and start working at an early age. She didnt really get the chance to have a fun and exciting childhood. She had dreams and she couldnt follow them. I just tried to imagine myself in her shoes as a child and a young teenager and I honestly dont know how she did it. I just cant compare her life as a young adult to mine right now. I think this oral history project was a very creative way of finding out historical information about my grandma that I never knew. We actually didnt have to sit in class and listen to the teacher talk about other people’s past but we actually got to go out and find out for ourselves. We got to do the interview and that made it so much more interesting.
- Frances Prouty born on May 11, 1932 to Monico and Isabell Mata in San Antonio, Texas
- Moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1933 for better jobs
- Dropped out of school in the fifth grade in 1944
- Began full-time work as a hotel front desk clerk in 1951
- Moved to San Antonio, Texas in 1951 for a better life
- Married Manuel Prouty in 1951
- First child born in San Antonio couple of years after that.
- Interviewed by Camille Prouty on October 20th 2007
- Perry-Castañeda Library
Map Collection. Geographical and historical maps of continents, countries, counties, cities; maps relating to history and current news events. University of Texas Libraries.
- Cost-of-Living Calculator. The calculator uses the Consumer Price Index to do the conversions between 1913 and the present. The source for the data is the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Consumer Price Index reflects the cost of items relative to a specific year. The American Institute for Economic Research. P.O. Box 1000. Great Barrington, Massachusetts. 01230.