|Junior Punch Operator||11/16/36||Bureau of Federal Old Age Benefits|
|Junior Clerk Operator||07/01/39||Federal Security Agency|
|Junior Correction Clerk||06/16/41||Federal Security Agency|
|Assistant Group Leader||07/01/41||Federal Security Agency|
|Junior Dictating Machine Operator||12/09/42||Federal Security Agency|
|Assistant Statistical Clerk||01/19/43||Federal Security Agency|
|Statistical Clerk||07/01/44||Federal Security Agency|
|Statistical Clerk||05/02/54||Department of the Army|
|Supervisory Statistical Clerk||03/19/56||Department of the Air Force|
|Survey Statistician Trainee||10/07/57||Social Security Administration|
|Survey Statistician||11/02/58||Social Security Administration|
|Supervisory Statistician Assistant||06/19/66||Social Security Administration|
|Statistician Assistant||08/13/67||Social Security Administration|
|Social Insurance Research Analyst||12/30/79||Social Security Administration|
STEINHORN ORAL HISTORY
This is an interview with Lillie Steinhorn. The interviewer was Bob Krebs, Chief Archivist in the Historian's Office. It took place on March 14, 1996 at the Historian's Office at SSA headquarters in Baltimore. The interviewer's questions and any editorial comments appear in italics. The interview was transcribed by Bob Krebs and was edited by Bob and by Larry DeWitt, SSA Historian. Ms. Steinhorn reviewed the raw transcript and made some minor editing changes.
Q: Now Lillie, you began your Government career as a GS-1 Clerk-typist with the Civil Service Commission. In what year was that?
Steinhorn: April the 28th 1935. I reported to work at the Civil Service Commission in Washington. It was to be a two-month temporary job. It lasted three months. Then Mr. Baugh, the man I was working for called me one day at home to tell me he had a grade two job at the Resettlement Administration. So one week later I was back in Washington working at the Resettlement Administration, which was to be a two year position. If I remember correctly they were being abolished and the employees were to go to Agriculture.
Then, of course, the newspapers began to be full with the Social Security program. One day I walked over to the Social Security office to ask them if they were beginning to hire people. They said no, not yet. Within a few weeks, I received my letter from Social Security asking me if I'd like to work in Baltimore, temporary six months or longer. Since the job in Resettlement was about ready to expire, I decided to come back home, as I was living in Washington at that time. I guess it was the right thing to do, because it lasted all these years.
Q: You said you were living in Washington at the time?
Q: Did you then move to Baltimore?
Steinhorn: Then I came back home, because Baltimore is my home. I had been living in a boardinghouse in Washington. At first, I was commuting every day. There was a train called WB&A, I don't remember what the letters meant. It went from Baltimore into Washington. Once it hit the Washington suburbs it became a streetcar. Well, they went out of business so I came in on the train from Pennsylvania Station, which was better in a way because I could leave later in the morning. I remember the train left at six minutes after eight and many a time I'd be running down the steps yelling, "hold the train."
The office I was working in at that time was going to do overtime. I didn't want to be coming home late at night so that is when I moved to Washington. I shared a room and bath with another young lady. Her mother had passed away and she asked me to leave because she was bringing in her father and two young brothers to live in the one room. I managed to find another room in a boarding house, which I thought was the best thing in the world for me. Helped me grow up a little bit.
We were all women at first, and then we became co-ed. I had breakfast and dinners there, and I think I paid $35 a month. In the summertime though, the landlady never cooked, it was too hot. We would go out to eat and I would come home from work to the boardinghouse and meet the girls. We went to a different restaurant every night. And of course we went out to concerts and theaters, and many a time we hitched a ride, which we wouldn't think of doing today. And then of course, when Social Security offered me this job I moved back home. So I've been living here all these years.
Q: So you went to work at the Candler Building?
Steinhorn: I went to work at the Candler Building and it was an amazing building. I remember when we worked at the Gwyn Oak Building there was so many complaints about the building, and I said, "you people don't know how lucky you are, you're working in a palace, compared to what the Candler Building was." It was an interesting experience.
It was a huge factory, really. It was hot in the summer, we had the huge floor fans, which blew papers around. It didn't give us much comfort from those fans. And in the wintertime we used to sit at our cardpunch machines with our coats on and gloves because it was so cold. Then there was some company that made some kind of medication or something, the odor was horrible. They had big black bugs, I guess they came from the water. The girls used to be afraid of them, I would squash them. They made really a good sound. And another time I remember as we were sitting at our cardpunch machines, we were throwing paper clips at rats, and I mean they were rats. I remember one time the men were trying to get a rat down from the pipes that ran across the ceiling, and we watched them try to get that rat down. Then the mice, too, were doing damage, they were eating up all the data, the tabulations, etc.
It wasn't a pleasant place, and yet, to so many of us it meant a job. I remember talking to one woman who came into work with no money in her pocket. I don't know how she lived until she received her first pay check. I don't remember how she told me she got her food. Her landlady was willing to wait until she got her first pay check. We had many a story like that. It was a job for so many of us, and of course I had been lucky that I had worked previously in Washington, but it was good to know that I had another job that I could step into, because Resettlement was going to be closing down. And as I said, it was to be for six months, but its lasted all these years.
Q: What were your hours in those years?
Steinhorn: When I worked in Washington it was nine to five. When I came to Baltimore, I don't remember whether we worked from nine to five, or eight-thirty to five, I don't remember the hours. We worked two shifts, I really don't know.
Q: How did you get to work?
Steinhorn: Streetcar. We had streetcars in those days, and the streetcar that I took dropped me off about four blocks from the Candler Building, and I walked to the building. I didn't mind. As for lunches, I don't remember where I ate.
Steinhorn: Well, everything was so small. We had one elevator that took us up and down, and it was a rickety old elevator.
Q: Does it appear crowded because you were all eating at the same time or because it was extremely small?
Steinhorn: It may have been because it was small.
Q: You did eat in shifts, you didn't all eat at the same time?
Steinhorn: I don't remember that. I do know that we had bells. We had bells that told us when we could take our ten minute break in the morning, and ten minute break in the afternoon, and when we went to lunch. We did have bells. It was the only way they could keep things going. And if they wanted to smoke, they had to go into the Ladies Room as they didn't want to cause any fires.
Q: I noticed that the floors were wooden too.
Steinhorn: Yes, and then they had these huge poles in the centers of the floors, which sort of made a division. I have one in my room now. There was one time when I was over at the American Meter Building, I was teaching cardpunching, at that time, and I had to call every morning to give a report. One of the employees, he was a nice person, always very jolly, always had jokes to say, committed suicide by backing off and running into one of these poles with his head. The girls were all so upset, but we had a number of suicides because we were next door, oh, this is when we were in the Equitable Building, I'm going ahead of my story. Ambrose though, that was in Candler Building, when he took his life. I don't know what caused people to commit suicide, because we were really a happy bunch of people. We had jobs, that was the main thing. It was right after the Depression, everybody had the same thing in common. I enjoyed my years at the Candler Building.
Q: I saw in the Oasis article you had a bowling league too?
Steinhorn: Oh, did we have a bowling league, yes. I was working at the Equitable Building. I don't remember if the workers from Candler participated in the bowling.
Q: This is after Candler?
Steinhorn: This is after Candler. We had to be at the bowling alley at 5:15 p.m. We got off at five, I remember that. We had to walk a number of blocks. Ordinarily, it would take about fifteen minutes to walk up to the bowling alley, but we ran because we had to be ready to throw the ball out at 5:15, and we made it at 5:15. So you threw your first three balls out, then you went over to the counter and ordered supper, a hot dog or what ever. That was fun. This way we began to meet more people.
Q: Now, you were part of the accounting operation in Candler, you were keypunching there?
Q: How did you get to Equitable? What caused that transfer?
Steinhorn: I transferred out. I went into the Division of Field Operations (DFO). I don't remember whether it was because I was working as an instructor in card punching, I was in the American Meter Building at that time. I left Candler and went to the American Meter building where I taught new cardpunch operators. I'm a bit allergic to noise, and the noise of the machines, and I guess the stress of teaching young ladies who were coming in from, as I say, " from the hills." Some of them were difficult to teach, and I always had to write a letter of termination, which I hated to do.
Q: Is this because of a lack of education or lack of manual dexterity, or skills?
Steinhorn: For some reason, some of the people I worked with in cardpunching, seemed to feel if an individual couldn't cardpunch, they couldn't do any other type of work. I remember I had many an argument with Anne McDonough, who was in charge of cardpunching at that time, and I kept telling Anne, " I don't like to write these letters." Some of these people were college educated and I said, " just because they can't cardpunch doesn't mean they can't do anything else," but she wouldn't listen to me. That was when I was a group leader in cardpunching. When I left and went to teach cardpunch operators I had to do the same thing. I remember I had one young lady who couldn't punch, I had to write a termination letter to her, but Esther Sholl, who was in charge of Personnel at that time, called me and said, "isn't there something else that you could recommend she do." I said, "Miss Sholl, I've been trying to tell Anne McDonough that for years, that just because an individual can't type or punch doesn't mean she can't do anything else." I found out then that the girl was blind in one eye, so Miss Sholl tore up my letter and they gave her something else to do. After that they decided not to terminate anyone that couldn't punch, but to give them a chance at another type of work. So that's one thing I have to my credit.
Q: Now you mentioned the War years, did you notice a big influx then of females coming in?
Steinhorn: Yes. In fact, we had a supervisor named Wayne Knight, who was at that time in punching, and he wanted me to go on night shift. That was the beginning of the War, and because the men were leaving they needed cardpunch operators, etc. to go on night shift. Mr. Knight asked me to go on night shift, as he said, I made a damn good cardpunch group leader. I was a temporary grade three at that time, and I would get my permanent three if I went on night shift. So I accepted, I said okay, but I changed my mind on the Friday before the day I was to leave to go on night shift beginning on Monday, because I thought with all these people leaving, men and women were joining up, the WACs had come up, that I would never get back on day shift. Maybe that was the wrong way to think, anyway I didn't go, I stayed on daytime cardpunching and I stayed until I went into DFO.
I remember during the War years you had to watch the supplies we were using. We had to use our pencils until they came down to little stubs, then they took those pencils and sent them to the children in school. We had adding machines in those days and we had to use the tape on both sides, before we could get a new tape. You just did it, you didn't think anything about it. One time they asked us to give up a days pay for the War effort. I wish those people in Congress today would realize what we Government people have done for this country, they don't realize that, they have forgotten.
My pay slip, which is hanging on the wall in my office, was done by hand. Who knew anything about computers in those days?
I remember when I transferred to EMS. At one time you didn't have to go to the Union to find a job, you could go to a department and speak to the man in charge and ask if they had any vacancies. When I was in DFO they had wanted to down-grade me, I was a grade four at that time, or a grade five, and they were going to down-grade me because they were going into the computer and they wouldn't need so many clerks. I was in charge of the Reports Unit and they were going to down-grade my job, but I would remain in DFO. No attempt was made to find what my rights were.
I went down to Personnel, I had a friend who worked there, and she told me what to do. You know, the men that went to service, their jobs were kept open for them. If someone worked in their job, then when the G.I. came back the person who had that job was either bumped or transferred to another job. So I went down to Personnel and this friend told me what my rights were, and I came back to my office and said, "you begin bumping procedures." Well they couldn't do that, and I understand that the man who was my supervisor at the time was called down by his supervisor as to why he didn't find out what my rights were before they decided to bump me. I was unhappy about it, I felt uncomfortable. I had heard about an individual who was leaving EMS, and I knew Saul Hearn who was in charge. I came over and spoke to him, and he hired me in place of Thelma, who left. So I worked in EMS and I liked working there.
Q: What did EMS stand for?
Steinhorn: Evaluation Measurement System. They were saving the Government money, but why they did away with us, I don't know.
I remember the Commissioner asking for some data on Social Security age policies, and as I said, we had no computers. The cardpunch operators had put the data on cards, of course, and we had tabulations. So we had to go through the tabulations and we tallied, one, two, three, four, five. We worked seven days a week, including Sunday the seventh day, we worked at night and we worked clear into the next week. We didn't meet the deadline the Commissioner had given us; however, they were able to get enough data from what we found for them, enough information, to change the age policies for new claims. For this we received no recognition. The man in Washington who was our statistician, he was the one who did get some recognition, and I think they also gave a couple of the Analysts some recognition. We received no extra pay. This was a job we had to do and we did it, that was it. Then EMS was abolished. Of course we have had so many changes where we are at now I couldn't tell what we were known as after EMS was abolished.
Q: Is it true that it was considered un-patriotic to take off, to take leave during the War years? That people built up tremendous balances of leave?
Steinhorn: I remember I wanted to take a day off or two days to go shopping, and Mr. Lupton wouldn't let me. He said I didn't need the leave. I didn't take too much leave, I had all this annual leave. Sick leave I was losing, because at one time you could only accumulate so much sick leave, when you reached this total, we lost it. You could accumulate as much annual leave as you want. In fact, when they changed the law, I was on vacation. Had I not gone on vacation I would have had more leave in the "bank," as I call it, because I do have leave that I never touch, I use my 240 hours a year. This year I still have an additional 64 hours that I have to use, the leave I could not take because of the furloughs.
Q: In 1940 we came under the Federal Security Agency. Did you notice any change in the organization at all because of that?
Steinhorn: It didn't affect me. Any job that I had, all the changes that were made didn't affect me in whatever I was doing. As long as it didn't affect me I wasn't interested.
Q: Okay, so the men are away during the War years and mostly women are working at the jobs. So at the end of the War they all started coming back. Was there a lot of hard feelings because women were getting bumped out of jobs?
Steinhorn: I don't think so, because they were given other jobs to do. No one lost their job. They may have had to go down a grade or two, but I don't remember hearing of anyone who lost a job. The only thing, as I said, was their grades. But, the Agency was different in those days. Those people who may have lost their grades received them again at the end of a year or so.
Q: Did you ever hear of a rumor of moving the Agency to Chicago?
Steinhorn: Not to Chicago, but to Denver. I was dying to go. I love Denver, I think it's a beautiful city, and I wanted to go, so I was very disappointed.
Q: Do you remember in what year you heard this rumor?
Q: Because I had read some papers, this was in the mid-'40s they were talking about moving to Chicago, and they actually did a study on it, but it would have been very expensive to do it. I don't know why it was being considered, but you remember Denver?
Steinhorn: I do remember Denver. Well, you heard all kinds of rumors. You know people were disgusted with Candler and they were trying to find other places, I guess they found Candler was the best. When we moved to Woodlawn, there was nothing out here, it was all country. No public transportation. The MTA (Maryland Transit Authority) provided two buses, one in the morning and one in the evening. So it was difficult for me to come out here by bus. I managed to have a ride. I was lucky at that, and then I drove my own car. I bought a car in 1964.
Q: Now, you stayed in Candler how long? What year did you leave there?
Steinhorn: Well, from 1936 I guess until the '40s, because I was working in the Equitable Building the early '40s I think.
Q: And you stayed there until when?
Steinhorn: I stayed there until I transferred out to the Army Chemical Corp.
Q: What year was that?
Steinhorn: That was in 1952. And the reason I did that. I don't know whether I should tell this on tape or not, the little personal stories.
Q: Sure you can, these are the interesting things.
Steinhorn: Well, I had. Oh it was in 1945, because I had emergency surgery, and our group leader Bill Klaweer was leaving, he was being promoted and he recommended me for the group leader's job. That would be a grade four. When I came back from my surgery I found that the job had been filled by Helen from Payroll. I went in to see Mr. Tyssowski, Joseph Tyssowski. He was a tough individual, but I enjoyed working
with him. When he said it was black it was black, if he said it was white it was white. I liked Mr. Tyssowski, and I went in to speak with him, "why was I passed over", and he said, "well Helen had so many years in statistics." I was able to better it. Everything he said about Helen, I could better, in fact, to the point where her name was in a statistical book, mine was too, because when I worked at the Army Chemical Corp I helped the G.I.s on a study and they put my name in as being one of the assistants. Then he said, "Miss Steinhorn, Alice did the interviewing and she was the one who selected Helen." Okay, I let it go.
Helen couldn't take the pressure. Monday mornings we received a weekly field office report from the district offices, which we had to balance all claims information. How many claims the offices received, how many they cleared out, and how many they had pending. We had to do this on adding machines, and we had to get the data to the Commissioner by nine o'clock that morning, and we worked like son-of-a-guns to get that data out. Helen couldn't take the pressure. I had to teach her what we did in DFO. She transferred back to Payroll.
The next thing I know they brought in another person, who came from Personnel with no background of statistics, and again I had to teach her what to do. And the reason that she was brought in from Personnel was she was to get a promotion, but the only way she could get a promotion was to take one step at a time. You couldn't go from a four to a six, you had to go four to a five. You couldn't go from a six to an eight, you had to go six to a seven. They called the even numbers "bastard grades." So they brought her down, I had to teach her what we did.
Meanwhile, the Army Chemical Corp moved into the Butler Building, one of the girls went over and she got a job there, so I decided I was going to try to get a job there too. I was interviewed, but, of course, I couldn't go from a four to a six, so I suggested to the man, "why don't you make the job a grade five and then at the end of the year give me my six." He went to see his Colonel, and came back and said, "your hired." That was in 1952. Then the rumors were that they were going back to Camp Edgewood, and I didn't want to commute, so I went to Personnel.
Oh yes, while I was there I had taken my first big trip to Europe in 1955, and when I came back my job was going to be audited for a grade seven. I had my audit and I said to the man, "I don't know how I'm going to tell what I do because I'm still on cloud nine." I did get the promotion.
While I was in the Army Chemical Corp I did statistics. If the G.I.s asked me to work a statistical problem, I would work the problem. The results I received would be analyzed by the G.I. But then they were going back Edgewood, I didn't want to go to Edgewood, I didn't want to commute. So I went to Personnel and they sent me over to the Air Force, which had moved into the building on Fallsway. I was able to transfer over at a lateral, a seven, and I was to be in charge of what we called a "Blue Book." It was a reference book, and I had a lot of fun, because I would go around and interview Generals and Colonels and others to get statistical data for the book. I had a chief statistician, and she would okay whatever I put in the book. There were three of us, a clerk-typist, an airman and myself who were responsible for seeing that the "Blue Book" was published by the deadline.
Q: What kind of statistics were you looking for?
Steinhorn: I can't remember, but it was just plain arithmetic. Whatever they were doing at that time. Many a time we stayed in at night to get the book out. I enjoyed that job, and then all of a sudden they were moving back to Andrews. At that time my mother had a stroke and she was paralyzed from her wrist down through the fingers. She couldn't dress herself, and I couldn't very well get up at five or five-thirty and make her get up so I could dress her, so I said I'm going to try to go back to Social Security. Meanwhile, they were RIFing (Reduction In Force). They RIFed a woman with twenty-five years of experience.
Q: Who was RIFing, the Air Force?
Steinhorn: The Air Force, because they didn't want to take as many people back with them to Andrews. So I said to this woman, "what are you going to do?" She said, "I'm going to have to find myself a job." I don't know whatever happened to her. And then I got a call to come to Personnel. Well I thought, this is my turn now to be RIFed, but when I went down to the office they were offering me a grade nine job. I could never understand why the military saw my potential, and Social Security never did. I turned it down, because I knew it was going to be bad enough going from a seven to a four, then going from a nine to a four.
So I was started to job hunt back at Social Security. I was interviewed at a couple of places in Social Security, and it was actually true, one man did not want to hire me, because he said my attitude would be low because of going from a seven to a four.
I happened to run into a former co-worker. In fact, I was her group leader in cardpunching. Gladys had a computer's mind. There wasn't anything she couldn't do with figures. In fact, she would tell the engineers, that were coming to repair a computer, what to do. She had a brilliant mind. I happened to run into her, and I told her what was happening. She said you know we're in a time study, and I'm going to ask Saul if we could use you. Saul Hearn was the man I worked for in Evaluation Measurement System; also, he was my driver. He used to drive me into work every day, he had a car pool and I was one of his passengers. Gladys did speak with Saul and he said, yes. I transferred back to SSA. Thank goodness I didn't have to go back to a four, I came as a grade five.
It was a fun job, because we found out how many hours people worked, how long it took people in Social Security to do a particular job. If the punchcards had an error on it, I would have to walk from the Paca-Pratt Building down to the Candler Building to make the adjustments to the punched cards. I didn't like the long walk, but I did it. I stayed on that job until the time study was over. Oh yes, and a year later I got back my seven.
Then I was in the Division of Program Analyses at that time. I didn't have any work to do. A grade eleven person left and I did his work, which wasn't much. I had a lot of time on my hands. I can't sit around, I have to have something to do. I think that's when I heard that Thelma was leaving Evaluation Measurement System. Saul had already left Division of Program Analyses and was in charge there. So I transferred over to the Evaluation Measurement System and I got my grade nine. Unfortunately, Saul left and the person who took his job, I'm not nice, I called him a very dirty name. He did not have a very good reputation. In fact, when he decided to retire I was standing at his assistant's desk and this man came in to pay his meal money for the luncheon and I heard him say to Ellen "how many people are coming", and Ellen told me later, "I was ashamed to tell him how few." And he said, "yes, Jack never did endear himself to anyone." If one of our analysts left, I understand, at the staff meeting he had every week, he would pull that individual down in front of everyone. One of the analysts told me that when they had a staff meeting, he would always say, "when Lil leaves." He had taken work away from me. I had nothing to do. One day I went in to him and I said, "Mr.", (I don't want to say what I called him), "I have nothing to do, I sit here five days a week, eight hours a day with nothing to do." So he sent Ellen over to give me work. I did the calculations, brought it over to Ellen and said, "Ellen, now you can throw this in the wastepaper basket, because you remember I did this once before for you." I was a pawn between two people. My group leader and Mr. D. could not agree with each other. They would argue, "when Lil would leave," because McNeil had a man he wanted to bring in and Mr. D. wanted to get rid of me so he could replace me with someone else. So I got very angry about it, because McNeil had work I could do, but what he was doing was giving it to one of our former clerks, who had transferred out, brought her in on Saturday to do what I could have been doing five days a week. And she was getting time-and-a-half.
I don't remember now what transpired then, because after "D" left that's when they decided to abolish the Evaluation Measurement System. From that time on I have not been able to get higher than my grade nine. I'm at the top of the grade, I've been at the top of my grade for years. I've received a few awards, cash awards for what I did, but my background was taken away. I had nothing to do.
So I guess this is it, I will retire at my grade nine. I'm not complaining. I do live alone, I have my own expenses, but I'm managing. I do take nice trips, but since I reached this age I'm a little hesitant about taking foreign trips. The last trip I took was Costa Rica, and then I went to Newfoundland last year. I took vacations the years I worked, I took three weeks at a time. When they wanted to down-grade me in DFO, and working with Mr. D. in EMS, were the only two bad times I had. Outside of that, I can't complain. I've enjoyed working here. I think we are doing a tremendous job. I've seen what getting SSA benefits has done for my sister. When President Johnson came that time in October he presented the thirty year awards, I received my thirty year award. We had the baseball player, Dave McNally. He had been raised on Social Security benefits, so he was invited as a guest.
I can't complain, Social Security's been good to me, and especially now, OPIR (Office of Integrity Reviews), from Mr. Gribbin on down, these people I work with are terrific. When am I going to retire? I don't know. When I reached sixty years I told my cardiologist, "I think I'm going to retire, I'll be reaching sixty years in April." He looked at me and he said, "stay as long as you can." So I'm doing it. It gives me something to do, during the day I'm kept busy. The only thing is I don't drive at night, because I can't see at night, so I'm home every night. But I enjoy coming in, though I don't like getting up at six o'clock in the morning.
Q: Do you have any regrets in your career, that maybe you wish you had stayed with the Air Force. Or do you think you made the right decision?
Steinhorn: Well, I'll tell you what, when I worked for the Civil Service Commission I had received a letter from Procurement at a grade one job. I went over there and I worked one day. The girls were very, very pleasant. They introduced me around, I felt that I was wanted. Then that same day when I came home from work my mother told that this Mr. Baugh in Washington from the Civil Service Commission had called me, so before I went to my Procurement job I stopped in to see Mr. Baugh and he told me he had this job for me at the Resettlement at a grade two. You know money always sounds good, so I went back to Procurement and I resigned, and I went over to Resettlement. Sometimes I think what would have happened had I stayed at Procurement. Another regret I think about is what would have happened if I had accepted and went on night shift. Where would I be now? I never regretted anything else. The entire time I was with the military, I was a bit unhappy. SSA was my home.
Q: Because you were a civilian, is that why?
Steinhorn: No. They treated civilians as they treated the military. It was the fact that they were, I called them gypsies, they could never stay in one place too long. They were always moving. Well, it's the same with Social Security offices, always moving. The Federal Government, at least in SSA is always moving around. But I can't complain. And I don't look back. Just look ahead. I wonder when I will get up in the morning and say, "don't listen to Dr. Salomon, stay home."
Q: So next month you have another anniversary, right?
Steinhorn: Yes. At the end of April I will have sixty-one years. And at the end of May, the 26th I'll be eighty-five, the good Lord willing. He's been good to me, giving me my health.
Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for us for your longevity? Your lifestyle must be very healthy.
Steinhorn: Well, I don't know, you know I work out at the Fitness Center every day. I've always had a liking for exercise. I remember in the War years the Carnegie Institute sponsored a gym class. We had one hour and it was at Western High School on Mondawmin Road. I used to walk from my house to the school at night. It was wonderful that we could do those things and never be afraid. You can't do it today, and that's what hurts.
I joined up with those classes. Carol Lynn, a teacher from Peabody, a ballet teacher, taught us exercise and dance. And I was surprised when I came to the class, there was Gladys and a few other girls I knew from the office, and other friends all taking classes. Nobody had said anything to me about these classes. I had read about it in the newspaper, and then one night I said to my mother, I'm going. So I went and I loved it. Then we gave a city-wide demonstration at Eastern High School. Oh, I showed Rob downstairs, the manager in the Fitness Center, Rob Dorsey, I showed him the photograph I had of all of us in our leotards with a little skirt over the bottom part. Not like the girls are wearing today, the bathing suits. And Carol Lynn showed how a child starts to crawl and how as we grew up to adults, learned to walk. It was done beautifully, but then Carnegie discontinued their support because of the War. Then the Department of Recreation took over and it remained for a few years. Carol Lynn and the Department of Recreation couldn't get along, so we had Mary Jane Ward, also a ballet dancer, a professional one, and now she is teaching over at Goucher College. So whenever, Goucher College alumni has a bus trip to Washington to see the ballet (I will be joining them next month) Jane usually comes along, and she describes what we're going to see. She has lunch with us, the school pays for her lunch, and then coming back she gives her critique of the performance.
The only other thing was my vacations that I used to look forward to. I've done a bit of traveling. Every year I would take three weeks, and now, as I say, I've sort of slowed down a little bit, which I don't like.
Q: In the early years did they have dances and get togethers? Did the Agency put on these things?
Steinhorn: No, but there was a Union that came in. The Union tried to get us together as a social group. Perhaps this is the way they begin, as a social group, I don't know, but I did join them, but that's because I lost a bet. They arranged for us to go to New York, excursions on the weekend. We stayed at a hotel, Taft, had meals, a night club, and during the day we were on our own, for $5.65. And many an engagement was made between Baltimore and New York. Boys and girls who never met each other would meet on these trains and before they arrived in New York they were engaged. All for $5.65.
The Union held little social meetings. A co-worker would always ask me to join him, and I would go with him. We had Freddy Wonderman, who played piano. Freddy didn't work at SSA, but his wife did. Oh, could he play beautifully. I don't know, it was the days of that individual in Congress who was saying everybody was a Communist. Bethlehem Steel had a strike, and some of our people joined the picket line. Now I was going to all these meetings, so I'm sure that I was one who was investigated too. I had to be, being with this Union. We never did anything wrong, that I could see, except that these people were joining picket lines. Well, that's their business if they want to do that. We would just sit around and gab, and as I said, Freddy would play the piano, but they were investigated. Freddy's wife and a number of others were all fired.
Q: Now this is the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the McCarthy hearings?
Steinhorn: Yes. They were all fired.
Q: They worked for Social Security?
Steinhorn: Yes. A couple of these people fought the cases and won them. Frank McCullen was one. He transferred out, he was at the Army Chemical Corp, but he could never have a secret clearance. I did get secret clearance, but he never could because of this, even though he had fought his case, it cost him a lot of money, but he won the case. There was another man, I don't remember his name, but he also fought, but once they would win their case, they were either re-instated or transferred out.
Q: This was in the late '40s, early '50s?
Steinhorn: During the time of McCarthyism. It was a bad time, it was a sad time, because a lot of these people were not Communist, they were not Red. It's just that they thought things should be done the Union way, they had nothing against the Government, they were nice people. And of course, now we have the AFGE Union.
But I joined that Union, I don't remember the name, because I had a bet with one of the girls (who used to join the picket lines). I said okay, if I lose this bet I'll join the Union, as she was after me to join the Union. My sister had an experience with a Union where she worked, which caused me to go against Unions from that time on. Well, I lost the bet and I joined the Union, but I was just a member for a very short time, by than all this nonsense became news. I'm almost sure I was investigated, but I never heard anything. These others did, and most of them were those who participated in the picket lines.
Q: Do you remember what specific charges were brought against them?
Steinhorn: No, they never said. I could never talk to them to find out what it was.
Q: But they left Social Security after they won their case?
Steinhorn: Yes, after they won their case. In fact, I had a friend who worked in Washington, she did not work for Social Security, she worked for another agency in Washington, and she said something to a man, in a joke, and she was terminated. She fought her case and won it, but she resigned. This man that she had said it to took her seriously. She said, "after I won my case, I went back and I resigned." You had to be so careful what you said in those days. Well, thank goodness McCarthy's gone. Now you can say practically anything you want.
Q: Well, I told you I was going to give you some photographs to look at, and these are mainly of the Candler Building, and I thought they would help you remember things. Of course, that's the outside of the Candler Building.
Steinhorn: Yes, that's the outside of the building and we were on the seventh floor. There was water here and you could look right down on the banana boats. Many of our people would go down and buy the bananas right from the boat. They also had over here a bathhouse.
There's the cardpunch machine, I had many a picture taken sitting at my cardpunch machine. These boxes were filled as they finished cardpunching and the sheets that are on here I believe were called
SSA-1-A's, they came from the employers and we would punch the information from them.
And in the beginning, when we were punching from the SS-5's we would come across a famous name, a movie star. I remember I came across a man and I called it out. Then somebody else would call out what they had, and we would look at the names of the parents, the man I had reported, "unknown" for parents. I always wondered about that. As a group leader, after they punched their cards, I would go around and clean out the hoppers, because they were on production and I wanted my unit to be high in production. When I came in as a temporary group leader, the unit I had was not very good in production. When I left them, these girls really worked hard. I would take their punched cards out of the hopper and put in blank cards, and then after their box was full I would take it over to the verifiers, where they were verified for accuracy.
You notice all white faces here, at that time there was segregation. They had one unit of African-Americans, with an African-American group leader. I remember the Afro-American newspaper reporters coming up and taking pictures of these girls. I don't know what happened, all of a sudden I found that I was group leader of their unit, and the white girls. White girls on one side. The black girls sat on the other side of the room, and I had to run back and forth between them. I had forty girls to work with, the only group leader. I'm happy to say I did fairly well. The girls in both sections, when I had a birthday, surprised me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers.
Q: How was the lighting, I just see these big globes hanging over head, was it hard to see?
Steinhorn: I don't remember the lighting. All I know is we had pipes across here. This is either Candler or Paca-Pratt.
Q: Did they both have wooden floors?
Steinhorn: Yes. This is the elevators, we crowded into them.
Q: Did they have an operator, or was it automatic?
Steinhorn: I don't remember. They were really rickety, they made noise. This is a picture, I think we were let out because of the heat, but I see the girls are wearing scarfs so I don't know.
Steinhorn: I really don't know. I had also become the last timekeeper of cardpunching. They had separated us from these rows like this, to divisions. I was in Region IV, and I had the job of keeping track of production and accuracy. In those days we did not get automatic increases, like we go from one step to two to three, four. They were not automatic, you had to be recommended. There was also, like all places, a clique. The heads of cardpunching and a few of the cardpunch operators were always going places, parties. In fact, one night they spent the night in jail. We all knew about it.
I never received one of these increases, and I was an excellent cardpunch operator, three thousand cards with one error card sticking up. I was going to the YMCA, taking a class, and Florence Von Shultz who was from Personnel, was taking the same course. One day I was speaking with her, and I told her that I had never received a promotion. She said, "well, there is one allocation left in your division, and I'm going to see to it that you get it." So I did get my first step. Then when I saw the production records, and I saw all of us who were way ahead of some of these girls who were getting those promotions, it was who you knew. But thanks to Florence, I received my first step in my grade.
Q: I just assumed it was some type of guard post.
Steinhorn: I remember as a little girl, because I lived down in this neighborhood, we had no bathtubs, in fact we had outside facilities, and my mother would send us to this place and we would take a shower there. I think we paid 75 cents, I'm not sure of the price, but we did get a towel and a bar of soap. Of course, they did away with all this when they remodeled the area and the building. I couldn't recognize it when I was there. I remember the cobblestones.
Over here was a restaurant that the parents of Hugh McKenna's secretary owned. And down the street around the corner there was a loan office that was run by a friend of my father. In fact, I had a job down here at one time. That was before I worked for the Federal Government, and my salary was $8 a week. I had to be at work at eight in the morning to six at night. On Saturdays until twelve midnight, and I was to sell wristwatches and pocket watches to the seamen that came off the ships. I found out that I wasn't to work in the office which I had been hired for. I was hired to sell these watches, and I found out that they were defective. Of course, the sailor would buy it, go on his ship and go off. I had to clean them up at night, take them out of the case and in the morning put them back exactly in the same place. I lasted one week, because they had promised I would get a lift home at Saturday midnight, and they didn't keep their promise that first Saturday. Finally, they did get someone to take me home that first night, I never went back.
In those days to get a job, after I graduated in February '30, Underwood and Royal would have offices that we could go to and sit, hopefully we didn't have to sit all day, and wait for someone who needed a typist. I was not a stenographer, I took up Dictaphone machine, because we were told in high school that was the thing. Shorthand was out. I found out that it was not, because people would say "how much experience do you have", and I would say, "nothing, I just graduated high school", so they wouldn't hire me.
I worked at one job, and it was to last two days. I think we got $2 a day, they had no heat. They had a little kerosene stove, and the second day I was there I blacked out. I felt sick, and then on Monday we came back, they gave us an extra day, and all of a sudden I blacked out. I didn't faint, but everything just turned black. I went out into the factory where there was no heat whatsoever, and I walked there until I began to feel better. I came back to the office and when I got ready to leave, another girl and I were walking down the steps, we both blacked out, and we both sat down on the steps to recuperate. I had to go to the doctor, and found out we weren't getting oxygen. I don't know how those people who worked there all the time did it. I had to get medication, as it affected my nervous system, but these were the little things you had to put up with because you were so glad to get work.
Then I decided to take the City examination, I worked four months temporary, $25 a week, that was a marvelous salary. This woman who's job I was taking had taken a leave of absence for four months and gone to Europe. When she came back, I was called into the front office, and they wanted to know what my parent's affiliation was. I said I didn't know, I wasn't old enough to vote. So I didn't get the job. From that time on I became a Democrat--it was a Republican administration.
Then I worked with the State. When we had to re-register for our license plates, I was called in and I worked about three weeks at a time. I did this for about two or three years. In between I couldn't find work to do. Then all of a sudden I remembered we had a Federal Government, so I took that examination in 1934. I was picked up in 1935.
Q: Did you have to pass the test by a certain percentage at that time?
Steinhorn: I don't know, but we had to have a physical examination and I again have to thank my father for this. My father was a tailor, he made mens suits from scratch, he was making suits for the doctor at the Civil Service Commission. When I went to the office to get my physical examination, I was skinny, and you had to weigh a certain weight. The doctor, knowing my father, (my father was never fat he was on the slim side) said to me, "I can't pass you because you are below the required weight, but knowing your father I'm going to pass you." And that was the way I was accepted into the Federal Government.
Q: I just asked about the percentage factor, because there were so many people out of work, they could afford to take the best.
Steinhorn: I don't remember if there was a percentage, they just hired. We were the second group to come in. There was a group that came in on November the 9th, and then we came in on November the 16th. Each group had about two hundred people who reported in those days. By the time we filled out our papers we just sat around for the rest of the day.
I remember we had these long tables with chairs, and we sat around and did nothing until they started getting in the SS-5s. We started to code them, they told us how to code them. Then we received the 1As from the employers and we punched the data from those forms. One of these days I'll look for that picture, that newspaper clipping again showing a group of us around the instructor who taught us how to punch. As I say, I only clipped pictures that had my picture on it.
When I was in the Equitable Building my brother came up to visit me one time. We had some business to discuss and it was lunchtime. People were going to lunch and coming back, finally my brother said to me, "is there anyone in this building that you don't know?" You know, now I can stand at any building and I don't know anyone.
Then, another time, when we would rush out to bowling and we would need a substitute, Mr. Pogge always came in and helped us as a substitute. And going to Ford's, Saturday was matinee day. You know, during the War years we worked six days a week, from morning to evening. Then after the War we worked half a day on Saturday. So we would meet Saturday's at the Ford Theater, Bob Ball, Jack Futterman, George Liebowitz who later transferred to Washington, and a number of other SSA employees attended the matinee. We looked up to them because they were the grade fours and we were the grade twos and threes. It was a very friendly afternoon. We were like a small family, it wasn't this large administration we are today.
Q: Since you remember Mr. Ball from that particular time, could you sense or tell that he was going to be someone very important in the Agency?
Steinhorn: All we knew is that we had great respect for him. I told Mr. Gribbin when I reached sixty years of service, Mr. Gribbin had invited me to his office, where I spoke on video to the Regional Directors out in the field, I said " when Bob Ball was removed from Social Security, Social Security went down the dregs." And that's the way I feel and any old employee that you speak to will say the same thing. When they removed Bob Ball and made the Commissioner's job a political job, it was wrong, it just pulled Social Security down. I think it did a great disservice by making it a political job. Everyone that came in as Commissioner after Bob Ball was going to reorganize, they were going to be the best Commissioner, but they did nothing but damage the system.
I can't remember any Commissioner that we really enjoyed, I don't even remember them. I remember Mrs. McSteen, because she gave me my fifty year award, the paperweight they were presenting to prestige people. I was the very first person to receive that paperweight. I also accompanied the newspaper men, from the News-American at that time, and I took them over to the new computer place. I told them about my experiences with the computer room in the Candler Building. I told them, the reporter and photographer, how small the computer room was in Candler that the space could be put in this corner and you would still have all this space. I have a newspaper clipping of myself with the tin cans that they kept the tapes in, that was published in all the Hearst newspapers.
I remember Commissioner King, she was nice. Dorcas, I don't want to have any memories of, I didn't like her. Neither did anybody else. This Commissioner (Shirley Chater), I've had more personal contacts with her since she's been here because of my sixty years of service. She was the one who was responsible for getting the letter from the President of the United States, congratulating me for my sixty years of service.
Q: Did you ever meet Dr. Altmeyer, the first Commissioner?
Steinhorn: I remember him vaguely. I don't remember too much about him. In fact, as I said, I don't remember about any of the Commissioners. They came and they went. All I know is that most of them came in and they were going to do this big job of reorganizing. I remember there was one office I used to visit, Katherine Brown, in Personnel, there people were always busy, and after the Commissioner that came in and reorganized, that office sat around with nothing to do. A lot of these changes were not necessary, stupid. I can say that now, I can say anything, I don't have anything to worry about. But that's it. I might remember something else after I get upstairs, but I think I've said most of what I could think of saying.
Q: Well thank you. We appreciate it very much.