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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Doris Tanguay at the William Skinner Mfg. Co. - Part 2

Holyoke in the 1950s, Image Museum website

This is a continuation of our interview with Mrs. Doris Tanguay, who worked in the office of the William Skinner Manufacturing Company of Holyoke, Massachusetts, producer of silk textiles.  She worked there from 1939 through it's closing in 1961 when it was bought by another company.  See part one of the interview here.
World War II brought new challenges to the workforce at Skinner Manufacturing Company.

We all had quotas.  If you did war work, they gave you a quota for every month, so you had to keep track of everything.  Every month, the officer manager had to go to Springfield to the war office to get our quota for the next month.
And then of course, we sold bonds.  One of the girls, the girl that paid the bills, every Friday she would walk through the mill and give people their bonds, you know, when they had a bond paid up.  It didn’t take long.  I guess they were, like, $18 for a $25 bond at that time, something like that.  So she got to go through the mill every Friday and deliver the bonds that they would make out.
Photo supplied by Mrs. Tanguay; photographer unknown at this time.
After the war, Holyoke had a victory parade.  [Points to photograph]  That’s High Street in Holyoke.  You can see the name of some of the stores there.  Skinner’s had a float in it, and [her friend and co-worker] Rhoda was the bride on the float.  She’s got bright red hair, and with the white wedding gown, she was beautiful.  I’d been after her to give me the picture, because I want to give Wistariahurst a copy.  That would be great for them to put in that room where all the weddings gowns are, I think.
You know, when Pearl Harbor happened, we were very friendly with the Japanese.  They used to come, once a year the Japanese would come and they’d bring us presents, and they used to send us Christmas cards that were on silk.  And they screen printed on the silk.  I had saved some I gave to Wistariahurst.  What did I—I guess I gave that to Wistariahurst.  Last time they came, which was sort of ironic, they gave us all a silk American flag.  That was just maybe six months before Pearl Harbor.

But the minute that happened, the government, they didn’t seize it, but they put a stop on all silk, because we had to use it from them on for parachutes.  We couldn’t use it for anything else, and you had to give a report to the government, you know, how many pounds you had and so forth.  So, of course, that was coming to an end, the silk inventory they had, but in the meantime, the salesmen from DuPont came in with this new yard called nylon, which replaced the silk, and we made parachutes—parachute cloth, out of the nylon when the silk ran out.
Of course, we had that—we called it “tackle twill.”  It was originally made for Notre Dame football players.  They were always ripping their clothes.  So we had this cloth that was called tackle twill.  It was satin on one side, and cotton on the other side.  Very strong.  In fact, they made raincoats out of it, too, because they would put that stuff on that made it waterproof.  We sold a lot of that cloth for uniforms during the war. 
We used to have little guardhouses on the bank of the canal, right on the corner of the office, and we had guards with guns.  Three shifts, and we had a walk-in vault in our office.  When the guards left and the others came in, they would have to bring their guns in and put them in the vault, and the new ones coming on would come in and get the guns, and so forth. 
During the war, we lost a lot of our young men, you know, got drafted.  But they would write letters back to the company, and they would give us the letters to read and answer them.  So we were writing to soldiers.
Before my husband went overseas—we were married during the war—if he came home, my boss would say, “Go on, go on home.  Take the day off.” 

The Skinner employees would occasionally socialize with the management and Skinner family at non-work functions.
Image Museum website.
Mrs. Doris Tanguay:  Joe Skinner [son of the founder], I remember when he died very well [1946], because they asked some of us in the office to go up at the church to help.  You know, we put—they had certain pews that were reserved for people.  The reason I remember it is because Bill Skinner’s [grandson of the founder] wife, they later were divorced, she was working with us in the church and walking up and down in the aisles with a cigarette, smoking.  And I thought that was awful, because my father, who I told you worked at the church, he was the sexton, he said that Joe Skinner hated smoking.  He came to church one day when some workmen were putting in one of the stained glass windows, and one of them was smoking, and he fired him on the spot.  The minute he saw him, that was it.  And here they are smoking in the church at his funeral!
He [William Hubbard, grandson of founder?] had two daughters.  One was married to a guy from England, Tibbets.  But they were divorced.  In the later years, he bought her a house up at Wyckoff Park.  I don’t know if she’s still there or not.  Her married name was Tibbets.  I often wondered who ended up with their house at 90 North Pleasant Street, because his wife Dorothy was in the nursing home for many years.  She lived much longer than he.
He had another daughter, and we went to her wedding.  Everybody in the office was invited to the wedding at Fisher’s Island.  That was really something.  We had to go to New London, and it was during the war, and take a boat and go over to the island.  When we got to the island, we were met with cars from the—there was an Army station over there.  He had an in with them, because we had all these Army guys driving us around in the cars.  We couldn’t go to the church, because the church was too small for all the family and for guests, so we just were invited to the house.  So they would drive us around the island sightseeing to kill the time ‘til it was time to go to the house.  But we had a great time that day with all these guys from the Army.  You know, we were all young girls.
And we were all so worried about what we were going to wear.  And we all got new dresses, and before we got to New London, one of the girls drove.  We went to a side road, and we changed our clothes.  Put our new dresses on, because we didn’t want to be all wrinkled when we got there.
So then when we got there, people came in boats.  They were in shorts and bare feet.  Some other women came with furs.  It was in August.
And the champagne, they were spilling it all over.  We were walking in champagne on the floor.  It was really funny, because we were so fussy, and then when we saw what the other people were wearing, we felt we were okay.  Because a lot of them just came in boats.
And he had three boats, because he [William Hubbard] bought boats for each of his daughters, but I guess they weren’t as keen as he was on it.  Then they got married, of course, and left.  But he was so crazy about his boats, and his wife was scared.  She never went on one, the boats.  She didn’t want any part of the boats.
He [William Hubbard] was a nephew.  He was married to Dorothy.  She was a White, you know, from White & Wyckoff.  Dorothy.  She was very nice, too.  They were all so common.  Of course, I got stories from both ends.  At the church, they had this red carpet that they put down the middle aisle for the bride to walk on, you know, with her train and everything.  And every time there was a wedding, they would roll that carpet up and bring it down to the office, because we had these big vats.  When silk came from Japan, it had all this gummy stuff on it.  It was raw silk, and it had to be soaked before they used it.  So they had all these big vats.  So they would wash that red carpet in one of those vats and get it ready to go back.  Well, sometimes, they would put it on a little truck that would bring it up.  But if Bill Skinner [grandson of the founder] was around and he knew it was ready, he’d put it over his shoulder and he’d walk right up Appleton Street with it.  You know, he didn’t need to do that.  They were so common.  Really nice. 
Sometimes, somebody would have a party at their house.  I can remember one especially.  One of the young fellows that worked in our office lived in Northampton near the state hospital.  He had a garden.  One year when the corn was ready, they said they were going to have a party for the corn.  They were Polish, and his mother-in-law lived with him and she made all this great Polish food.  And we all went to his house for this party.  Bill Skinner had a convertible.  Bill Podolak [phonetic] was the name of the guy.  He had two small kids, and they were excited about the convertible.  So Bill says, “Hop in, we’ll go for a ride.”  He was there, you know, just as common as any of us.  It was really—and I think everybody that worked there really loved it.
Do you remember the Skinner Coffeehouse?  They tore that down a year or so ago.  I think it was Belle Skinner, back before my time.  [See this previous essay on Belle Skinner.]  They used to have a lot of young girls that left home and came to work.  They had a lot more women than men, of course, in there.  So Belle Skinner wanted a place for these girls where they would be safe.  So the Skinner Coffeehouse was built for these girls that were working in the mills.  And then when they didn’t use that anymore, they used it for community activities.  In fact, my husband told me he learned to dance there.
Then later on when they started having old age places, that was like the first one in South Holyoke, where they had things for the elderly.  It was a great place.  They had a lot of programs for children.  But then they tore it down.
Before they gave Wistariahurst to Holyoke, to the city, Stewart Kilborne’s [grandson of the founder] wife came to visit and she invited us, the girls, all of us girls for lunch at Wistariahurst and a tour before they turned the house over.  So we all went up for lunch and we got a tour of the house. 
Wistariahurst, Holyoke, Mass. - JT Lynch photo
My son is a musician, and Wistariahurst had this music room.  Dr. Hammond’s wife used to be in charge of it.  They had a piano in there that Napoleon gave Josephine.  They had a lot of original instruments, even from Africa.  The whole room was so filled with all kinds of—Will Skinner [son of the founder] used to travel the world buying silk.  He would pick these things up, and they gave that whole room, lock, stock and barrel, to Yale.  You know, most all the boys graduated from Yale.  But my son never got to see that room, but he would have been fascinated by it.  Now they have little concerts and stuff in there.
We had a big Christmas party in the Roger Smith [Roger Smith Hotel, Maple Street, Holyoke].  We always had a Christmas party.  We had something to do with the union.  We had a party, and Mr. Hubbard didn’t come to the Christmas parties, but he came to this union party.  No, he did come to the Christmas—oh, we used to have Christmas parties just for the office at—what was the name of it?  You know, it was like a zeppelin up on Route 5 going to Northampton?

1947 advertisement in "Valley Players" program, Holyoke, Mass.
DT:  Toto’s, yeah!  We used to have our Christmas parties there, and I used to love to dance with Mr. Hubbard [grandson of the founder], because he took dancing lessons in New York.  And he was a big man, and he was so easy to follow, because he almost lifted you up.  And he would always buy us—there’s a drink that they set on fire when they bring it to you. 
He always insisted he buy us that drink.  We looked forward to it.  Yeah, Toto’s, we had our Christmas party there. 

And then there was Don Purrington, who lived over in South Hadley on Woodbridge Street.  He used to, every year when the corn was ready, he would have a party at his house.  We’d have a corn roast, and that was always a big time too. 

We had lots of parties.  And then they would tell us about—you know, these old-timers would tell us about the old days.  The switchboard operator, she was there for over fifty years.  She lived up at the top of Sergeant Street, and she used to tell about the great balls they used to have at Wistariahurst when she was young.  She said they used to come down and hide in the bushes and watch the people come to the balls.  The women with all their beautiful dresses and everything.  She used to tell us all those stories.  We used to say, “Gee, we missed all that.” 

The William Skinner Manufacturing Company went out of business in 1961, bought by Indian Head Mills.  William Skinner first began operations in the 1870s.

Well, first they were going to sell to this Cheney Soap Company in New York.  But then Mr. Hubbard found out that they only wanted the name, you know, Skinner’s Silk and Satin was known all over the world.  And they were going to immediately close up the mill.  Well, they didn’t want the people to be without a job.  They wanted somebody to buy it who was going to run it.
So then Indian Head came along.  I don’t think they intended to keep us right from the very beginning, because they were going to keep Mr. Hubbard on, but he only lasted a month or so with them.  They brought somebody in to put over him and he was used to running the whole business.  We would have a great month, you know, a lot of orders.  “We’re going to have a good showing this month.”  Come the end of the month, we didn’t have a good showing; we had a loss because Indian Head owned a lot of other mills.  It was one of these companies that bought up companies that weren’t doing too well, and they would take it for the tax loss.
So they would take our profit.  I don’t know much about bookkeeping, but our profit they’d show on their books in another company.  So when we thought we had such a good month, we’d actually have a loss.  And then along the line they moved the office from Appleton Street across the canal to the mills that ran from Appleton Street over to Dwight Street.  And that entailed moving the switchboard, which was no small undertaking.  So we all said, “Oh, well, they’re going to keep us.  They’re not going to spend all this money and to do all this just to close us up.”  But, no such thing.  It wasn’t long before we saw the handwriting on the wall.
Inspecting.  Image Museum website.
Of course, Bill Skinner II was still around.  The last day that the mill was running—they knew all—it was like a big family.  All the men in the Skinner family, they would treat us like people, not, you know, now you’re a Social Security number where you work.  And he walked in the mill, he knew most of the people by first names, and he had tears streaming down his face.  The people are all crying.  It was a real sad day.
And of course, Mr. Hubbard thought he was going to stay with us, but he didn’t stay long.  They were just keeping him as a figurehead or something.  They brought their own man in.
I was there ‘til ’63.  The last day I walked through with the superintendent and we went through the sales room.  I don’t know whatever happened—there was still cloth left in the sales room where that went.  But there was a wedding gown, and he said, “You might as well take this because,” he said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen to all this stuff.”  He said, “They might just throw everything away.”
So I took the wedding gown, and I thought my niece might wear it, but it wasn’t her style and I had it wrapped up and kept it for many years.  Then I said, “Well, guess I’ll give it to Wistariahurst.”  So, they have it at Wistariahurst now.  They have one room at Wistariahurst with just bridal gowns on models all over the room.

A fire in 1980 destroyed much of what had been the Skinner plant.

Mrs. Doris Tanguay:  That took everything but the new mill.  That mill stretched from Appleton Street to Dwight Street, but at the end, the very last, that was a fairly new mill.  They saved that, and that was where the Children’s Museum went in the park.  But the other parts, well, they were the original mills.

[Mrs. Tanguay displays a colorful quilt made by her mother from Skinner fragments.]

Mrs. Doris Tanguay:  When we were kids, we had quilts that my grandmother made, one for me and one for my sister, and we used them, and we wore them out.  I wish I had them today. These were all sample pieces.  And you the back—Indian Head owned a mill up in North Adams.  They made drapery material and they started sending down to the salesroom.  I bought some of it, and this is what she used for the backing.  When you think of, you know, a lot of it’s hand-work.  It shows Indian Head as well as ours.  I just hate to part with it, but I told the kids, I said, if you do anything with that, you can always give it to Wistariahurst.
When you think of the old machine that she had.  I never even could use it.  When we were kids she [her mother] used to crochet our dresses.  I was never any good at that.

I love talking about Skinners. You know, after I left there, I went across the street to Technifax.  They were in the old American Thread building, and I worked at Technifax, and they were sold to Scott Paper, who also bought Plastic Coating over here in South Hadley. 

Then Scott Paper sold to James River.  I worked twenty years for them, but they weren’t Skinners, but they weren’t bad.  Especially the Technifax part.  I had to learn a whole new thing.  In textiles, they have all their own terminology.  And then you go in a paper mill—well, actually, it was a coating where they made film.  That’s another all new terminology.  But I was always lucky.  I always had good bosses.  I never had one that I didn’t like. 

My sincere thanks to Mrs. Doris Tanguay for sharing her memories of, and her affection for, her working years at the Skinner Manufacturing Company of Holyoke, Massachusetts.
I am interviewed here at "A Blue Million Books" blog by Amy Metz on writing, and on my cozy mystery Cadmium Yellow, Blood Red, here.




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