A Girl of the 1920s Grows Up
Frameworks for America's Past
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Dorothy Arthur Burns photo 1927 Wilmington NC

Dorothy Arthur
Five years old - 1927

   Life was very different from today for girls and boys growing up in the 1920s.  They did not have TV, video games, home computers, or cell phones.  They played outdoors most of the time.

   Dorothy and her friend Bob probably wore those same clothes all week long.  In Wilmington, North Carolina, where they lived, many families kept chickens in the backyard for eggs and meat.  The children helped feed them as part of their daily chores.

   A movie downtown for 10 cents was an occasional treat.  Dorothy's favorite thing in the summer was the all day picnic trip to a nearby beach.  It was organized for the neighborhood children each year by a local church. 

Radios were the hot new item many families were buying in 1927.  Some neighbors had a car, but many did not.  There was a trolley that went downtown.  Horse drawn wagons could still be seen as well. 

Dorothy Arthur Burns photo Wilmington NC

Dorothy was a
teenager in 1939

The decade of the 1930s was not an easy time for Dorothy's family.  Money was tight.  The country was in a bad economic downturn called the Great Depression.  She always remembered a high school friend who would share a nice blouse or dress with her for special occasions.

   Dorothy loved acting in the school plays, and the library had shelves of books she loved to read.

   She graduated from high school just as World War II was beginning in Europe and Asia.  An older brother joined the U.S. Army and was sent to fight in Europe.

Dorothy took a job in the Wilmington shipyard, and learned to read blueprints (the ship construction drawings) to be part of the war effort. 

Dorothy Arthur Burns photo 1948  Wilmington NC

A career girl in
the big city - 1948

   College was not a common choice for most young women at that time.  They often found jobs as sales clerks in stores or as secretaries in offices until they married.

   Dorothy was one of many young women who decided to move to a big city after the war - New York City in her case.  She landed a job as an office assistant at Seventeen Magazine.  Now and then she even got to write an article. 

   This is her official Seventeen Magazine photograph from 1948.  The hair and outfit were just the snappy style that office women of that time liked.  She was 26.

   A young man she had met while working at the Wilmington shipyard also moved to New York City after the war.  His name was William Burns.  They ran into each other again, and were soon going together.

Married with children
in the 1950s and 60s

   Dorothy married William Burns in 1949.  They moved to Virginia, where he found work as an engineer at the famous shipyard in Newport News.  They raised three children through the 1950s and 1960s.

   Like most married women of that time, Mrs. Burns was a full time homemaker.  She kept active in the community as a volunteer, however, as did most of the ladies she knew.

    Technology?  There were no video games, home computers, or cell phones.  The family had a TV set, but there were only four channels.  Her children mostly played outdoors.

   One of the children, by the way, was given the name David.  He grew up to become a writer, a history teacher, and the creator of this web site.

Your family stories
are also part of
American history

    Take a few minutes to consider how your family is part of America's story.  Although we are all individuals, in many ways our lives fit into the larger patterns created by those who lived before us.
   Ask your mom or dad about your family's past.  Look through old family photo albums, or start a new one.  Write down your family stories so that someday, you can pass them along to your own children and grandchildren.  Let them know that their lives, too, will become part of American history!

The photos are from David Burns' family albums.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright 2009, 2017 by David Burns.  All rights reserved.  As a guide to the Virginia Standards of Learning, some pages necessarily include phrases or sentences from that document, which is available online from the Virginia Department of Education.  The author's copyright extends to the original text and graphics, unique design and layout, and related material.