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Interview with Winslow H. Hartford

Hartford, Winslow H.
White, Jane
Date of Interview: 
Depressions 1929; Social change; Boston, MA; Charlotte, NC; Environmental science
Winslow Hartford discusses obtaining his advanced degrees during the Great Depression in Boston. Living in Charlotte for nine years and teaching at Belmont Abbey College, Mr. Hartford points out changes he has seen in society that revolve around general perceptions of family and neighbors. He also discussed some things he feels Charlotte is doing right as the city continues to grow.
Charlotte; Boston; 1920s - 1980
Interview Setting: 
Interviewed as part of the WSOC-TV Oral History Project. Interviews conducted at either the downtown public library or the Midtown Shopping Mall.
WSOC-TV Oral History Project
Collection Description: 
The Oral History Project of 1979, headed by Dr. Edward Perzel, was an effort to gather and preserve spoken recollections. Interviews were conducted with older citizens, primarily over the age of 65, who were encouraged to share their memories and stories.
Interview Audio: 
JW: --here and, and how you feel you've been of history of Charlotte?
WH: Well this is not going to be history of Charlotte because it should be obvious from my accent, I'm not a native.
JW: Uh-hum.
WH: I was born in Newton, Massachusetts, in 1910 and went to school in, in Newton public schools and went to college in and around Boston. And I got my bachelor's degree from Boston University in 1928 and my doctorate from MIT in 1933. And consequently I was just getting in to the, to my professional career probably the worst time in the history of the United States. I was lucky, I was one of the few people who got a job in professional work at that time. But spending five years in Boston as a, as a student during the Depression years, from 1929 to 1934, there are a lot of memories and a lot of things that I think might be, might be useful. Because, I think I came out of the Depression with a much different impression of it, than we see put forward to people today. It was a time of, it was a time of suffering there is no doubt about it. It was great economic hardship, but I think that the, in all probability, the morals and the sense of service among individual people at the time of the Depression was higher than it has ever been at any time in my lifetime, certainly.
JW: Uh-hum.
WH: It was an area where you, as one of many young people growing up in the Depression with very little opportunity to earn any of the money that we needed to earn, to, to work our way through college. It was, we made out some how or other, but young people have got to have their social activities and so on. And rather obviously, we could not rely on, on, on commercial activities at that time. Because even the, even the price, even the price of, of a movie which was twenty-five cents was something we didn't have. Most of us had maybe two or three dollars, at the very outside to spend on recreation for a month. And the, under these conditions, well, it, it was, young people found and made their own, their own recreation. We would, we would gather at, we would gather at a friends house with, or my house a dozen of us, those of us who had musical instruments would bring them. And the music was pretty bad, but, but it was, it was entertainment for ourselves. And we could, we all participated, we'd get a bag, of day old donuts from the bakery, and make a pot of coffee and that would be it. And if, if it was before the, of course, before World War II, before the age of what I call the great dispersion of, of the American family. People who grew up in Boston, their, their families were all, all in the area. They were nearby, people, people knew their neighbors. Today in, in Charlotte or many other cities in the United States, my neighbors have their own interest. They are, they are mobile with the automobile. They do not look, do not look their entertainment and their friendships with the people next door. They have their friends across town, and a, and it's a quite different. Quite different picture.
JW: And don't you think the way, companies transfer people now, that they don't have the so called roots quote, non quote?
WH: I think this, I think this is a very, I think this is very serious. I think that the person who probably pointed out that first and best was William Whyte, in this book "The Organization Man", which must have been, published fifteen or eighteen years ago. In which he did an analysis of the career man, in a large corporation. And I think the two that he grew on most heavily were General Electric and IBM. And the, to him, to him, there was a complete, there was an absolute conspiracy, if you will, on the part of management to see to it that the corporation was the only permanent thing in the, in the, in the career man's life. And this I am quite sure, came had it's roots in, in World War II. When management for, for a period of four year became management by the military. With a complete military organization, which the individual was completely, completely, completely reduced to nothing and is yours not to question why. And in doing this, I think we embarked on something which is, which is stifled the dignity and creativity of our individual citizens. And to get back just for a moment to the Depression why I feel that, the thing that happened with neighbors, is if the man down the street lost his job and he, and there was no, no place that he could go for assistance, there was-- this family did not lack for food. Neighbors, neighbors brought it in, and, and they continued to do this. And each one of them assumed a little bit of the responsibility for their, their, for the neighbor. And this, just to me, is what really, is what religion is all about and what, what living is all about. Because I think that, I think it's a very, very, it's something we have, we have lost. And what we get today unfortunately, is that a despite the fact that much good came out of Washington during the early Roosevelt years, one of the things that they did was to perpetuate in, in peoples' minds that the idea that the Depression was utterly and completely a time of horror.
JW: Uh-hum.
WH: And, and so from that day to this, all we have to do is even mention the thought of a business recession, and everybody goes into a panic. And consequently, we, we push the button. We start more government spending, and, and our inflation, our inflation, which is our main problem today just, goes, goes sky high. And of course, inflation is particularly bitter on the person who is, who is retired, because in most cases his, his income is essentially fixed, and so every time, every time inflation goes up 10 percent, we get a ten percent cut in salary. And while your pace of life does tend to slow down as you get older, I can assure you that mine isn't slowing down at the rate of ten percent a year.
JW: Yeah , yeah.
WH: And, no I, I think that this, businesses of Barbara, Lady Barbara Ward in her book "The Home of Man" has put the thing very beautifully because I think she says, "That what we have done, in our modern society, is we have substituted mobility for accessibility." It is important to get to the grocery store. It is important to, it is important to get to friends. It is important. But we have, we have made it a major, a major transportation problem today.
JW: Yes.
WH: We don't go to the corner store any more and bring back our groceries. I'll send the kids down to do the errands. When I, when I was six and seven and eight years old, I lived about a quarter, half a mile out of, out of the village center, and my mother sent me down every night five o'clock to, to buy a few groceries. And this, and this was a regular chore that I had.
JW: You didn't think about getting in a car and driving?
WH: No, no, well, the point is, the point is that the facilities were there. The, one of the, one of the amazing things though about Boston, where I grew up is that, some of that spirit of permanence, thank God, remains in that town. And I can go back today, we have, I have friends there we have, we have, we have reunions from scout troops. We have reunions from a young people's group that we started in our church in, in Newtonville, Massachusetts back in the 1930s. And we're, we're having, that, that has an annual reunion. And we're up to number forty-nine now and some of us, some of us go back, if, if we possibly can. And we find, I find that there are several of the boys, several of the boys and girls that I grew up with are still living in the same house that they lived in fifty and sixty years ago. It was their parents' house before them and quite possibly and maybe doubtfully but maybe when they, when they, when they pass on, why their children may move into, move into the house.
JW: How long have you lived in Charlotte?
WH: I've lived in Charlotte nine years.
JW: Have you? You've seen many of these changes in Charlotte, I mean --
WH: The thing that impresses me about Charlotte, is that, I don't know whether this is a national phenomenon or not, but I do observe in Charlotte the, a wave, if you will, of interests on the part of the civic leaders in Charlotte in the people. That they, they are beginning now to welcome the, welcome the cooperation and the assistance of people who can give it.
JW: Uh-hum.
WH: The citizens committees are being formed throughout the city and county on various, various, matters particularly those who are a little bit of, a little bit of expertise in one area or another is, is required. Such committees as the ones on energy conservation and on solid waste utilization, hazardous waste disposal, things of that kind ,which are and people, ordinary people are being or not politically of no political affiliations are being appointed to these committees. And the, when matters of public concern are coming, are coming up, there are public hearings. And I remember the one on the outer belt some years back, and there were twelve--, over 1200 people in Oven's Auditorium for a, for a road hearing. Now in the city the size of Charlotte. that is, that is a fantastic turnout, and, and it could only I think, I think the, in speaking about the city, I think one of the best things that ever happened in the city was the revamping of the city council, and the creation of district representation. Because we have now begun begun to say all right a neighborhood has a voice in the city council. As long as we have a faceless mask, which presumably represents the whole city, but in actual fact probably represents mostly district seven. We do not have this, we do not have this exchange of opinions, which is so essential to, to the, and as a result you get a, you get a essentially a political type of government which is, which is, which is not responsive to changes above all else. They, they say all right, you know, what's, what's good enough for Pappy is good enough for me. And that's the way it's going be and were, were not going to change to the, to the fact that we are we have an energy shortage. We are not going to change to the fact that we have environmental problems, and we have, we have, we have to respond, and I think the initiative we are now finding that Washington has become so, so encumbered with it's own bureaucracy that it does not respond properly either. It responds by the, by the procedures of bureaucracy, which are not, not really effective in doing the job. If they do succeed in doing the job, they do it very wastefully. And we need to, I think, to assume more, and I see it in Charlotte. I see it with the Fourth Ward. I see it in Dilworth. And I'm, I am, I'm. I'm delighted with my nine years in Charlotte and what has happened in Charlotte in, in nine year because I think, I think the, I think we are, we are pretty much on the right path. And I've, I teach environmental science over at Belmont Abbey College, and this is something, which I have been working in and studying in now for a good many years. And I feel that, I feel that, I think Charlotte is becoming a leader. In this business of, of showing a response to the, to the individual in small groups. The minute you think in terms of the individual in terms of large masses, groups of much over one thousand, you are, you, you find that they, they become unwieldy. They have to get an internal organization, which becomes bureaucratic and then in effect you have the individuals voice becomes lost.
JW: Um-hum. Um-hum.
WH: So these neighborhood meetings and the, and the hearings and the, and the, and the little citizens committees, and all the, all the other little groups that are in there working like crazy to make Charlotte a better place to live in are now being heard. This is where, the thing that now remains to be done is to begin to put our money where our mouth is. And while we still gotta pay taxes to Washington, begin to put more of our tax dollars in the home, even if it means digging down a little bit at the moment to sacrifice because the surest way to stop the Washington bureaucracy is to stop asking. And that's a very had thing for anybody to do. Because you are afraid that the other guy is going to get it if you don't.
JW: Well this has been very interesting, and I'm, I'm glad you came by to talk to us.
WH: Yeah, I'm not, I'm not, I'm not able, I'm not able to reminisce very much about the old days and the farm and--.
JW: Right
WH: Cleaning lanterns and things like that but--.
JW: This bit about the Depression is, is so very true.
WH: Yeah.