1950: Welcome to Postwar America

Sorry. I didn’t make it until 1951. I got there as fast as I could, but my parents were married in 1949. So, my arrival was, so to speak, out of my hands. I do hope I am around to view my 11-year old self in the Census of 1960, but, my departure will, for the most part, out of my hands. Or so I now suppose. Alas, I cannot read the mind of God. Probably better that way. Surprise me, right?

The Census of 1950, however, is now available. If you have access to Ancestry or probably some other service, you can poke around. I couldn’t wait. Not everybody grew up in South Philly, West Philly and Penn Wynne. Still, Lots of friends, Romans and countrymen to keep tabs on.

If anything, Penn Wynne seems even weirder now that when I started looking into it. My family moved in in late 1959, so curiosity got the better of me. I figured, as a kid, that everyone living there in 1960 had always been there. Not a chance. In a very limited sample, representative of nothing other than my own experience (maybe I was weird, like a few of my Prisontation classmates seemed to think), I’d say no more that 15 to 20 percent of my immediate neighbors (Harrogate and adjacent Henley Roads) present in 1960 had been there in 1950. Almost a complete turnover. That really surprises me, because I think the continuity from 1960 to 1970 will turn out to be a lot more impressive. Yeah, people moved, but more often than not, they stayed. Which is why I assumed the interval from 1950 to 1960 was equally stable. That I had seen first hand. But it wasn’t always so.

In fact, my impression was that something similar happened between 1940 and 1950. And more uncertainly, between 1930 and 1940. A lot of Penn Wynne had yet to go up in 1930 (our home was built in 1929), so the comparisons are inexact. But you do get a few interesting insights. From the 1930s through the 1950s, the people there seem to have been almost all white collar–in sales, office work, teaching, an occasional college professor (La Salle), even a former New York Giant, Harry Haines. Nice man. There were even some people labelled “servants!”

Harry “Hinkey” Haines, Penn Wynne guy

By 1960, you could see a few blue-collar people: heavy machinery operator; township truck driver; or in our case, people barely removed from blue collar employment. And, yeah, the names seem a bit less WASPish. In 1954, my favorite Catholic parish had joined Christ West Hope Presbyterian Church, which had been central to Penn Wynne since it was built out of a converted maintenance facility and warehouse for Meloney and McWillians, the builders and developers. There were three Eyetalians on one block–which elicited concern from one of their neighbors. One of them was even in a bowling league and wore a satin Jersey. Yup. There goes the neighborhood.

The other interesting thing was that between 1930 and 1960, a group of people who were “renters” in 1930 had become “owners.” In practice this meant that, in the opening days of the Depression, the builders had to be landlords if they wanted to put people into homes. By 1960, those days were long over. You smell signs of prosperity? Mobility? I do. As I said in a previous post, I thought part of the problem there was some sort of status seeking from the Philly emigrants–the wealthier ones. Place may not have been a melting pot, but it was certainly a blender. Not too many of us realized in the late 1960s was something relatively new, and not at all characteristic of America even a generation before. The funny thing is I think a guy like Richard Nixon knew just how fragile and easily divisible the whole concoction was. You remember, “Bring Us Together” Nixon? Who basically ran for President in 1968 on a strategy of driving us apart. Took 40 years, but worked. This is why we can’t have nice things in America. Places like Penn Wynne were part of the myth of our classless society. Cause we were all middle class. Right.

Well, not all of us.

My faithful readers will know I have been exploring the convoluted history of 223 Harrogate, which was seized by the Alien Property Custodian during WWII.That was my home away from West and South Philly starting in 1960. We bought the place from a family named Bridgman. And the Bridgman bought it from someone named Ruoff. Hermann Ruoff. Who was a German national at the wrong time, World War II. You will remember that Herr Ruoff was the third husband of Madeline DuPont. Yes, those DuPont. I raised the simple question, what were the DuPont doing in Penn Wynne? Truth be told, I didn’t know. And I still don’t. However, I now know a bit more. Which makes even less sense.

When the builders sold the home in 1929 “in fee simple” (ask a lawyer, but I think it means no strings attached), the buyer was a certain Effie C. Wilson. I know a bit about her now. Just enough to really wonder who she was. Who paid? Who knows?

Ms Wilson was born in 1856 and died in 1947. She came from nothing, really. At some point, her father was listed as a tobacconist, but I’d bet that was pushing it. Early on, her family owned oxen. And they weren’t growing tobacco in Pennsylvania, you know? So they farmed. She had siblings and went to school. She shows up as a “Boarder” in a Philadelphia house around 1900 and she was variously classed as a “pastry chef” or “proprietor of a tea room.” But not in 1900. This was in the 1920s. When she died in 1947, she was living in a very nice facility in Chestnut Hill, I guess a sanitarium. The property still exists, and it looks very nice. Who paid? Who knows?

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Effie Wilson took 3 trips to Germany. By ship. In quick succession? What was she doing? Who paid? Who knows? This is a pastry chef, remember. Nota DuPont.

In 1947, when Effie dies, her death certificate was signed by Mrs Madeline Ruoff. Yeah. That Madeline–as in DuPont, whose third husband, Herman Ruoff, was the owner of 223 Harrogate Road, where I lived and where Effie had purchased the home “in fee simple” in 1929. You following me?

I went through my folks’ papers and found the title history to the property. In 1947, Hermann Ruoff sold 223 Harrogate to Mr and Mrs Charles Bridgman, from whom my parents bought the home in 1959. The Bridgmans had been paying a mortgage directly to Mrs Madeline Ruoff a/k/a DuPont. Hmm. Hermann “The German” Ruoff had been acquired along the line by Madeline after a series of scandals (and I mean headline-grabbing scandals) that left her more or less estranged from Alfred and Bessie DuPont, her parents. Also, remember that Effie C. Wilson died in 1947, so the house ended up in their possession very quickly.

Let’s just say Ms DuPont-Ruoff led quite an interesting life. At one point, a servant or lady-in-waiting or something left her service complaining that she was a difficult person. This would have been around 1912., when Madeline was the respondent in a steamy divorce from her husband, the former Charles Bancroft, jr, then a Princeton student with whom she had eloped. Madeline found another squeeze, on a trip to Germany. Hi-jinks (and pregnancy) ensued. And when Madeline got back to the USA, all Hell broke lose. Use your imagination.

What about this Effie Wilson person?

I wondered, after stumbling on this, whether or not Effie Wilson, pastry cook and erstwhile owner of a tearoom in Philadelphia, could have somehow hooked up with Madeline sometime the 1910s or 1920s? And succeeded in the role as an attendant? Who also kept up 223 Harrogate Road from 1929? With her very own “servant” living there, a lady from Bermuda, which Madeline had also previously visited? And gallivanted back and forth to Germany. Maybe they met at the tearoom? Perhaps Effie served as a caretaker and courier when she wasn’t making tea and cookies. Who knows.

There are archives back East, both at Hagley Eleutherian Mills Library and at Washington and Lee University to which I have tracked Ruoff-DuPont correspondence. You know, the same way I track Lizardi family stuff all over the globe. I figure in my spare time I might as well give this branch of the DuPont–Ruoff–Wilson family a shot. After all, someone might actually want to read about all these juicy scandals closer to home. In, of all places, Penn Wynne.

Who’d have thought it? Right? Maybe Mickey Duffy. He dead.

Published by RJS El Tejano

I sarcastically call myself El Tejano because I'm from Philadelphia and live in South Texas. Not a great fit, but sometimes, economists notwithstanding, you don't get to choose. My passions are jazz, Mexican history and economics. Go figure

3 thoughts on “1950: Welcome to Postwar America

  1. I love these stories, especially with the genealogy and “house history” (a/k/a house genealogy, which now gets increasing professional study). I did a similar thing with the 1950 census, walking Mom through the “old” neighborhood in Philadelphia, going through the names of the families (with some of whom she stayed friends for decades. . . she has outlived all of them). My house? Turned out the seller was a year ahead of me in law school, and the owner before him was on the Wharton faculty when I was there. No Mickey Duffy material. 🙂

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    1. You know, we are brothers from a different Mother. Now Linda wants to go all out and do a story about Ms DuPont. I also heard from someone who said that tobacco is grown–as a wrapper–in Pennsylvania, re Ms Wilson. LOL. Now I have even more people to keep me honest.

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      1. Fun! A book about someone in a “celebrity historical” family would get attention (and perhaps connecting her to John DuPont of Newtown Square and Villanova arena name fame would get even more). Cigar tobacco is grown in Lancaster County (and a bit in some other places in Pa.) Someday we’ll figure out we are tenth cousins or something like that. 🙂

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