Archive ID: MC-2-10c

Helen and Eric Brokop oral history interview

Date Created: 1991-07-24

Donor: Southeast Chicago Historical Society

Media Type: Oral History

Language: English


The Brokop family was a German family who originally hailed from multiethnic Warsaw and then emigrated to Chicago. They first lived in South Chicago and then on the East Side. The mother did housekeeping for a doctor in South Chicago and for a University of Chicago professor. Helen described how Hyde Park, where University of Chicago is located, was very “classy” and “we were very poor at the time.” But their mother sometimes brought them with, given the lack of childcare, and her siblings would help teach the professor’s children German. In this oral history with siblings Helen and Eric Brokop, Helen related, “Well, we lost our mother when we were real little. I was only six years old. I remember the night she died. At that time, they didn’t protect children from things like that. I was in the same bedroom with her. She died during the night. She had a congested heart. And all the neighbors and everybody came in. But they didn’t protect children from shocks like that. There was no counseling for trauma or anything like that. That was it. She died, and you accepted it.” Helen also explains some of the difficulties married women faced in retaining paid employment in earlier years. Helen noted, “Women didn’t go to work. Married women didn’t … In fact that was a rule at many places. As soon as they got married, they had to quit. My sister in law worked at General Mills [on the Calumet River], which was a big company, and that was even in 1939, 1940. And as soon as she got married, she was supposed to quit. Well, at that time, they already had workmen’s compensation. And so she went to the comp board, and said she wanted to work, but the company wouldn’t let her. And so she collected compensation on those grounds. And then she became pregnant during that year, and they said, ” Well you couldn’t go to work now if you wanted to.” She said, “Well, you find me a job, and I’ll go to work.” Well, of course, there was nowhere that you would find a job for a pregnant woman. Nowhere. They wouldn’t hire ‘em, wouldn’t hire any married women hardly at all. There were places that hired ’em, but I know my sister worked at EJ&E railroad, and her sister-in-law was secretly married for about 10 years and just never told them at work that she was married, because they wouldn’t keep her if she was married.”

Rights Policy:

Materials posted on this site have been donated to the Southeast Chicago Historical Society and Museum for public use. If there are any questions or concerns about materials posted, please contact us. Some of the materials on this site are protected under Creative Commons licensing. For information on use and reproduction, please see the following Rights Policy.


Contact us with any inquiries.


Community Life   Home Labor   Mill/Paid Labor   Other   Women’s Experiences   1980 - Present (Deindustrialization)   East Side   South Chicago   European Descent   Oral History