Naomi (Emmie) Gregory

Reprinted from The Finest King, Voices of Newfoundland and Labrador Women
by Marian Frances White, 1992.

Gregory Naomi

(Photo credit: Shelly Smith)

 

1990 Profile. Original interview by Shelly Smith, Naomi’s niece. Born January 28, 1901 as Naomi Smith, she left home at the age of fifteen to work in St. John’s as a domestic. In 1920 she left Newfoundland to Work in Moncton, New Brunswick. Later she travelled to Boston and New York to find suitable domestic employment. It would be almost two decades before she returned to her homeland.

I left Newfoundland because I wanted to see the way people lived in another country and I wanted to make a better living for myself. When I was living at home all I knew was work, work, work and finally when I went to St. John’s to do domestic service, I did everything there was to do from shining shoes to cooking. My parents didn’t want me to leave home. They said I should stay because I had plenty to eat and drink, but I figured there was other girls that had gone away and it seemed that they were doing better.

I came to St. John’s with Gladys Drover, a girl friend of mine whose sister, Albina, was working on Springdale Street. She got a job for her and for me. Her sister was probably to an afternoon tea and someone said they needed a maid and probably this friend of theirs said, well, my maid can get you one because out around the bay, there’s lots of hard working girls.

In St. John’s at that time an awful lot was expected of you, you were a slave to people you worked for. I had to clean shoes, clean silverware, polish and clean and wash up the floors down in the basement because they had canvas there. She had a wooden table in her kitchen and that had to be so clean as a hound’s tooth. You had to scrub it with a scrubbing brush. You got one night a week out and if you wasn’t in at ten o’clock, you’d probably find the door locked on you, so you wouldn’t get in at all. Most often I wouldn’t get out until eight o’clock so that didn’t leave much time for socializing. That was the case with all young girls in the city, and there were a lot of us; that was the rules, why I don’t know. Gladys only stayed a month before she went back home, but I stuck it out regardless of how tough it was. Then one day I was going downtown and I met a friend of mine, Annie, she said she was going away up to Moncton, New Brunswick. I said you get me a job and I’ll come, too. I said I wish I was going with you now. I would have just as soon stayed in St. John’s if things had been better, but I suppose that was lotted out in my life, that I had to leave and go to some other place. Two months later I got this phone call come down to the Salvation Army Office. I didn’t know what it was about and I had to ask for a couple of hours off and that’s how I got away. I had to give two weeks notice and of course, she nearly blew her top, but I was determined to go. I had to go back to see the Salvation Officer again; terms had to be made out and they bought my ticket and made all the arrangements for me. I gave him the money and he bought my ticket. I had enough money scraped up to buy my ticket and when I went aboard the boat there were three other girls. One of them was a Salvation girl but the other two wasn’t. When we got to Halifax, a Salvation Army girl met us and took us to her home and gave u all supper. We washed and done whatever we wanted to do and then she took us to the train and bought our tickets and put us on our way to Moncton and told us not to talk to anyone on the train. Now, that would scare you, you know. I knew no one in Moncton except the girl I asked to get a job for me. She was at the station when we got there.

I didn’t like it much in Moncton and neither did Annie, so when she decided to go to Boston, I went too. Annie’s cousin in Boston got us jobs. Her boyfriend was supposed to meet her in Boston, but when we got there, he wasn’t there. We had no one in a strange country. We didn’t know no more where to go than a lost cat. We had met this woman on the train and she asked us did we have someone to meet us, and we told her yes. But when we got there, there was no one and she looked at the address Annie had and said she had to go that way and we got on the street car with her and went out to Park Street and she told us where to get off. Now, she said, don’t ask anyone directions where you’re going unless it’s a policeman and if you see a policeman and you get confused and can’t find the number, you ask the policeman. So that’s what we did and the policeman took us right to the door and Annie rang the bell. They were all strangers to me except for this one girl and the people that I went to live with were strangers to me, but they were the nicest people you ever met on earth. I wasn’t scared.

The two of us lived in the same house as the Nelsons; she did the cooking and I did the nursework, they had four children. The little boy was nine months old when I took up the work and when I left he was going to school. I had to look after him and take him out for a walk every afternoon. But now, I didn’t go out, like on the street, down among the people; I used to go in the backstreets because it was too confusing to go among people with William in the carriage. The family I worked for were fairly well-to-do; we lived around Jamaica Plains. Sometimes they’d go to Long Island or Cape Cod, and I’d go along. I was twenty-five then and I felt I was treated like one of the family. At that time Boston was a marvelous place to live, we couldn’t have a better place. On our days off we’d go to Chelsea which was the Newfoundland section of Boston. We’d go to Birmingham Church there and visit friends. Annie married and I had her to visit and I made other friends. There were the Greens from home, the Rubys and Annie Benson over in Renews and the Martins. They’re still up there, what’s not dead now. There was an awful lot of Newfoundlanders in Boston. Sometimes we’d meet in Boston Commons or Central Park. Well, heavens, that’s the one that’s not fit to go in now – then you could go in there and lie down and sleep, not so now. That was Depression time and that’s where half of the people lived. The States wasn’t like it was today, it was a nice place to live then.

Some of the young women worked in factories, but that was harder work because you had to do piece work. One woman I knew, Francis Stone, she used to bring her piece work home with her at night. If you worked in a factory you had to find a room and you had to pay your rent but working in a house, doing housework, your room and your board was looked after besides your wages, so domestics made more money than the women in the factories.

Annie didn’t like it so much in Boston either, so she went to New York, and I went with her. My sister, Ann, and my two brothers were in New York by this time. I worked in a house with three other girls. One looked after the children, there was a cook, an upstairs girls and I had to look after the dining room and wait on the table. They also had a chauffeur. The McAthens was their name; they were relations to John D. Rockefeller. They were wonderful and I liked it there a lot. I had to wear a black dress and a white apron when I was in the dining room; the other girls wore blue and white as nursemaids. When you left, you had to leave the clothes behind. I didn’t have to go to the kitchen at all. The cook passed the food in the pantry and I took it in to the dining room. That’s all I had to do, wait on tables and clean the silver. I had most every afternoon off from the time lunch was finished until supper was served. When the McAthens moved from New York out to Princeton, New Jersey, I went out there with them and I was out there for a few years and stayed until I returned to St. John’s in 1933 to see my sick mother.

If I had stayed home in Island Cove I would probably have met someone and married and lived down there all my life and I wouldn’t have known anything about no other place, so I don’t have any regrets, none at all.

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Transcribed by Wanda Garrett, April 2015

A little more about Naomi – she was the daughter of Lorenzo and Emma Ann (Dodge) Smith of Island Cove. She left Island Cove for St. John’s in 1916. As noted above she also lived in Moncton, Boston, New York and Princeton before returning to Newfoundland in 1933. She married Edward Gregory, son of Elisha and Anne Celina Noel (Hyde) Gregory on December 4, 1933 at the Wesley United Church in St. John’s. Edward and Naomi moved to Queen’s Cove. They returned to New York for a short time in 1939. Edward died in Queen’s Cove on September 9, 1979 and Naomi died at the age of 94 years on October 3, 1994 in Clarenville. They are buried in the United Church Cemetery in Queen’s Cove.

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These transcriptions may contain human errors. As always, confirm these as you would any other source material.