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  • Sara Tucker

Kate’s Diary: July 1936


Cooley family picnic, mid 1930s. Kate's two sons, Bill and Bob, are on right, wearing white shirts.

The diary of Kate Crockett Cooley records the family's life in Randolph Center, Vermont, during the years of the Great Depression. A native of Tennessee, Kate met and married Sumner when he was a successful contractor in Florida. Then came the crash. Sumner's business collapsed, and the family moved to Randolph, Vermont, where Sumner's parents and older brother lived. Sumner found work in one of Randolph's two furniture factories and the couple bought a little fixer-upper in Randolph Center, but life was tough, with Sumner often ailing and the factory frequently laying off workers. Kate's job as homemaker included tending a large garden and canning food for the winter. Here is an excerpt from the month of July. The "dormitory" was at the Aggie School (now VTC). The diary entries are interspersed with commentary by Kate's son Robert:

July 1 Emp & Helen went home. Took Mother & Father Cooley for visit.
July 4 Cloudy. All went to Randolph to celebration, S. & I came home after parade. Southwicks here. Went down for boys in late PM. All went again in evening for boxing bouts & fireworks. Good time. Rain in evening.

Father marched in the parade, wearing his Legion cap, but the high point of the celebration for me was the fireworks display at night. The mention of our neighbors, the Southwicks’ visit recalls a fact that seems quite strange to me today. We had no lock on our door, or if there was one I never saw a key for it. The door was always left unlocked, and if people came to visit and we were not at home but were expected, the guests would just come in and make themselves at home until we returned. We had no phone, so people either arranged visits several days ahead or just dropped in.

July 9 Rain. Very warm. Thunderstorm in PM. Bertha & I baked in PM. I canned 7 pts. peas & 5 pts. beet greens. Cleared & cooler in evening.

The garden was starting to produce, and Mother was busy picking and canning vegetables.

July 13 Cloudy & warm. Cleaned house some & picked & canned 24 pts. peas. Also baked 4 loaves bread.

Mother was getting ready to host the Get-together Club. The next day she cleaned and mopped the whole house and baked cookies in preparation.

July 15 Cloudy & too cold to have party on porch so had them in living room—23 grownups and 5 children. Had cubed watermelon, hot tea & cookies. Mrs. Morse spoke on her trip to Labrador. Good meeting. Everything went OK.

It must have been very crowded; I can’t imagine twenty­-eight people in our small living room. The canning went on. Mother went to Williamstown and got a permanent. Billy cut his head on a rock while swimming and had to have stitches. For several days there were no entries; the picking and canning were probably taking up too much time and leaving her tired. At the end of July there was a two-day meeting of the Farm Bureau insurance group at the Aggie School, and Mother helped serve their meals and rented out our guest room to make some extra money.

July 29 Lovely day. Worked at Dormitory from 9:30 AM until 10:00 PM. Waited tables & helped in general. Served 155 for dinner. 182 for supper. Also had 4 people here overnight. Busy time but fun.