Part of the ongoing series The History of Neighborhood House: From 1918 to the occupation in 1972
By Maria Garcia
The Maids’ Class
During the 1930’s a maids’ training program came to Neighborhood House. It was established under the Adult Education Department at San Diego State University. This portion of the paper was very difficult to write in the 1970’s when I was doing my first research on Neighborhood House. My first reaction was to jump up and feel anger that these women had been put in such a class. I have had to evaluate my biases and try to put myself in the place of young girls and women of the 1930’s who needed employment. I also reviewed pictures of their graduation to try and understand their point of view and sense of accomplishment.
The class was four months long and the young women were taught child care, formal table setting, simple first aid and some cooking. These classes opened doors for these women. Families needed the additional income that these women working would bring. After completing the class they went to work for wealthy families in the greater San Diego community. The women who administered the operation of Neighborhood House had the necessary contacts to help these women become quickly employed.
Today, there would be a great deal of criticism of taking these young women and teaching them to be maids; the pictures of the time however show how proud these girls when they graduated. The San Diego Union reported the graduation like this: “Following the presentation of the diplomas, there was a short program of Mexican music and dances, after which tea was served by the maids.” The Altrusa Club which still exists today, provided the funds for the reception and for a portion of the operation cost.
Members of the Junior League sponsored an art class at Neighborhood House in the 1930’s. The children attending the Neighborhood House summer program had the opportunity to paint as well as model with clay. The most popular class was the outdoor drawing class.
Neighborhood House ran a summer camp at Camp Dehesa for the children in the neighborhood. Several of the people I have been interviewing have remembered attending summer camp. Research on the camp turned up a rare reference to mothers being included in the summer camp week. It stands to reason that some mothers would be more comfortable if the went along with their child to camp. I am also sure that the additional supervision was welcomed by the camp counselor.
It is also possible that the mothers only went to camp with the girls and not with the boys since not one of the boys remembers the mothers being invited. I am taken aback by the picture of the little girl in her panties which is so at odds with the cultural norm of modesty for Mexican girls, especially in the 1930’s. This may have been a posed picture or simply what was worn at the all-girls camp when it was hot. This remains as another unanswered question.
Prior articles in the series here.