Mary E. Wilson Autobiography – 1925

Mary E. Wilson, her father and brothers Jim and Arthur

Mary E. Wilson, her father and brothers Jim and Arthur

At last Mary sees the Statue of Liberty but she still had the ordeal of Ellis Island.



After nine days, we arrived in New York City. I could see the Statue of Liberty. We had traveled in “steerage” and, being below deck with no windows in our room, coupled with the vivid recollection of being pushed under a beer barrel as a child during World War I, I would suffer from claustrophobia for the rest of my life.

I really thought that now that we had arrived it would be routine getting off the boat and being with my Mother but another nightmare was just beginning. We were taken to Ellis Island where my brothers and father were taken to one building and I to another. I was terrified because I was told to strip. They tagged and tied our clothing and it was put on a conveyor to be sterilized.

I remember crying and a lady, who I think was Polish, took me into her arms and hugged me. She was a large woman and spoke no English but her kindness reassured me and made me feel less frightened. I stayed with her during my whole stay on Ellis Island. We were on the Island for seven hours because, as I later found out, my father had spent the $100 “landing money” while we were on the ship.

My Mother was in New York City waiting for us and when she found out what was causing the delay, she was able to borrow the money from her friend Bert Harbor, who was also a friend of the Greenhill family. He had accompanied her to New York to get us.

When we were finally allowed to leave Ellis Island, a ferry took us to New York City. I saw my Mother from the boat as we were landing and she really had changed during her years in America. The reunion was very strange for all of us. She seemed to be so stylish and different and I felt like a waif.

We drove to Bridgeport, Connecticut, where my mother had rented a flat on Hallet Street. Mother had put a couch for me on the sun porch and my brothers had their own room. I thought it was a lovely apartment but I heard my parents quarreling in their room and I truly felt miserable and uneasy.

My Mother insisted I have my hair “bobbed” because that was the style in America but I hated it and let my hair grow long again.

During the coming week, I’ll be posting letters from the fall of 1940 when Dan and Ced are working in Alaska and Lad is still in Venezuela. We’ll find out what is happening in Trumbull as well as what the older boys are up to.

Next Saturday, it will be another Tribute to Arla and on Sunday, Mary E. Wilson’s first few years in America.

If you know of someone who might be interested in American Life during the late 1930’s and early 40’s, especially during World War II, why not pass along this link so they can enjoy the stories also?

Judy Hardy


28 thoughts on “Mary E. Wilson Autobiography – 1925

  1. Patty B says:

    I am so enjoying these articles. My husbands grandmother came to America from England in 1894 through Ellis Island, I can almost see her there in a strange land and if she was fearful or excited She had her mother with her though so I am sure that alone would take some of her fear away.

  2. Interesting arrival story and I, too, hated having my hair bobbed as a girl. So, after I left home I let it grow long again.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      Mary Gilmartin – I’m glad you enjoyed the story. For me, it was a perm. I had one when I was 12 and it left me with small curls all over my head. Needless to say, I never had another !!!

  3. Mrs. P says:

    I am so glad that she felt compelled to write these stories. I am learning so many things about life and the hardships of the immigrants who came her, such endurance.

  4. I’m so glad I was introduced to you to follow this story. I find the history of our families to be fascinating.

  5. gpcox says:

    Ah, those times thru the eyes of a child; that’s where the basic truths are.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      gpcox – You are so right. Mary’s story is similar to so many others, yet she doesn’t bemoan the facts of her early life, I believe that by the time she wrote this, she had come to understand the underlying reasons and didn’t spend her time dwelling on the negatives. I really appreciate the fact that she can tell us how she was feeling and what she was thinking, without being bitter or angry about the hand she was dealt.

  6. Gallivanta says:

    How traumatic to endure an arrival like that. Looking forward to the next installment.

  7. Elephant says:

    I am so very interested in your story – if I come across someone who will enjoy your story I will alert them! You will find your followers! Your stories are so compelling!

    • jaggh53163 says:

      Elephant – Thank you for helping me spread the word of the everyday lives for families during the war. So many of those who lived through this “Slice of Life” didn’t talk about it and many generations have no idea what life was like back then.
      I appreciate your encouragement – I believe this is a story that should be told, since that generation, for the most part, didn’t share their experiences. We know so much about battles through the eyes of the soldiers, the bombing of London, the Polish Ghetto and Concentration Camps, but not very much about how the ordinary family survived during the war years. This is the story of my family, but it is also the story of everyone else who lived through this time period. The feelings and emotions are universal, no matter what country you were fighting for.

      • Elephant says:

        Universal – very true. I am amazed at what “ordinary” people went through and how they coped. Unfortunately, soldiers and most people swept up in the nightmare of war are ordinary people also. It is disturbing what we do to ourselves and what is done to us all in the name of war. I think your point of view and your story will be interesting to many people. You likely follow this blog, but if not you should take a look.

        • jaggh53163 says:

          gpcox found my blog – I think quite by accident – and we had both just started blogging. We’ve been following each other, commenting on each post and encouraging each other since then – although gpcox is growing much faster than I am.
          I find the research on those posts to be outstanding and highly recommend to anyone and everyone.

          • Elephant says:

            I do too! I have learned a great deal from him.
            Growth – well, some sites have a few devoted follower and that small group grows slowly, but they are people who read and enjoy the blog. I think it isn’t the numbers, it is the people you reach and who read and follow along (even if it is not every post). deals with the details of WWII – a big subject I was disinterested in until a few years ago. Family history is something people come to at various times in their lives – The very young don’t usually care, because someone older is keeping track of the family tree. But sometimes when people have kids, or wake up one day and wonder where they came from – they suddenly find an interest in the personalities in their family tree. My point is that you will find your audience – it won’t be everyone, but I think it will be a devoted following.

            I am the last person to give blogging advice – I have the most simple minded blog imaginable, but I do find if I look around at who looks at and likes things that I enjoy, I often discover new and wonderful blogs. My advice is if you look around, like, look and comment they will find you and enjoy your blog. I know this is ultra basic, but I don’t like big numbers without substance – it is as bad as blogging without followers.

            Keep going and they will be there soon – besides you can always re-post your early posts later for all your ultimate followers to enjoy once they have found you.

            We are having a big chat! I do have a question about your post. It has sort of been stuck in my mind. Why didn’t your family speak much about your grandmother? Stoic?

            • jaggh53163 says:

              Elephant – First – I think it was the trauma of losing someone they loved very much and who loved them – someone who had a tremendous influence on their upbringing.
              Second – Arla’s sisters, in particular, kept the details from the children to “protect them”. Whether that was the right decision or not, we may never know. Perhaps if the children had understood what was going on, it may have been different. I’m not so sure they really knew how sick she was.
              Third – I’m sure it was a painful time for Grandpa and he had promised Arla that he would take care of the family, which turned out to be a huge financial burden because of Arla’s illness. He was so wrapped up in keeping it all together that he probably didn’t want to talk to his children about her, perhaps thinking it would open up wounds that they shouldn’t have had to deal with. He certainly didn’t want to put his burden on the children. The older boys knew about the financial struggle and that’s why both Lad and Dan joined the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps – a government program to provide work for those needing it and to improve public lands).
              Fourth – I definitely think Grandpa wanted the children to have only happy memories of their Mother.
              Now you have my thoughts on the subject – and that’s all they are…. my thoughts. There isn’t anyone who could possibly contribute to your question.
              And I don’t mind long conversations !!!

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