Joanna Putney Durdle

School strikes often came up in these interviews because Philadelphia’s public school teachers went on long strikes many times in the ‘60s and ‘70s, affecting both students and their parents. Joanna Durdle (1964-2012) recalls one strike and the parents’ reaction to it. Her mother, Joan Putney (1939-2013), who had a Master’s in Education, furnished their basement with tables and chairs and a “giant” chalkboard and provided basic instruction to Joanna and some of her classmates.

Joanna recalls that her parents played a leading role in other neighborhood activities: starting the Sunday school at Old Pine Street Church; writing the by-laws for the babysitting co-op; starting the community garden; and conceiving of Old Pine Community Center to be shared by Old Pine Church, St. Peter’s School, and the neighborhood at large.

Joanna also recalls celebrating her birthday at picnics on Belmont Plateau in Fairmount Park; block parties on Delancey Street; Halloween on Delancey Street; swimming in a neighbor’s pool and playing their player piano; caroling in the neighborhood at Christmas; and riding their bicycles. Before the completion of I-95, neighborhood children could play safely on Delancey Street because the street had not become an approach to the highway.


[Note: In this interview with Joanna Putney Durdle, her mother, Joan Putney (JP), occasionally contributes to the conversation as well.]

DS:      This is an interview with Joanna Putney Durdle. The location is at her mother’s house in Huntington Valley, Pennsylvania. The date is November 20, 2009. The interviewer is Dorothy Stevens.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      Joanna, would you tell me you full name and spell your last name.

JD:       Joanna Putney Durdle. Durdle is spelled D-U-R-D-L-E.

DS:      When were you born, Joanna?

JD:       September 3, 1964.

DS:      And where?

JD:       Boston, Massachusetts.

DS:      When did you come to Philadelphia with your parents?

JD:       In June of ’65.

DS:      Your parents bought a house at 209 Delancey Street?

JD:       Correct.

DS:      Did your parents live in more than one place in Society Hill? You lived on (1:00) Lombard Street at one point?

JD:       We lived at 308 Lombard Street and at 306 Spruce Street, but later, after our stint in Washington.

DS:      Right. When your parents left Philadelphia the first time, for Washington, D.C., you were how old. Do you remember?

JD:       I’d finished fourth grade. I don’t know what year that would have been. I would have been around ten.

DS:      You came back to Lombard [Street], and you were what? In what grade?

JD:       Going into eighth grade. [1977]

DS:      Going into eighth grade. Then when you lived on Spruce Street, you were what?

JD:       In high school. [1980]

DS:      Then the family moved to New York. [1985]

JD:       Right. I moved to Ohio, for college.

DS:      Tell me, do you have brothers and sisters? (2:00)

JD:       I have one brother, Andy, who is one year younger.

DS:      You were first.

JD:       I was first.

DS:      Where did you go to school?

JD:       I went to McCall’s, from kindergarten through fourth grade. We walked there. I think my mother walked me, once every day.

DS:      Why did you leave McCall’s?

JD:       To move to Washington.

DS:      It had nothing to do with the school strikes?

JD:       I don’t think so. No. I think with my mother’s school in our basement, we didn’t need to move schools. I don’t ever remember that being an option, changing schools at that time. Andy already had, I think.

DS:      Where did Andy go?

JD:       To St. Peter’s School. (3:00)

DS:      From McCall’s?

JD:       I believe so. I think he was in kindergarten there, and that didn’t work out, and he went to St. Peter’s.

DS:      Didn’t like McCall’s, or problems?

JD:       I think he had learning challenges –

DS:      That weren’t being addressed at the public school?

JP:        He was a challenge for his teacher.

DS:      During the strikes, tell me about your mother and what she did.

JD:       I remember she did a giant chalk board in the basement, got tables and chairs down there, and really did school. She provided a school setting and taught us all the basics. I think she was nicer to the other kids than she was to me. [Laughs] You were more strict with me. Maybe I thought I could get away with more, since you were my mom. (4:00) And I tried. I just remember us all being in the basement. It was fun.

DS:      What is your mother’s background – educational background?

JD:       She has an education – Master’s in Education.

DS:      This was fun for her.

JD:       I hope so. I think you made it fun.

JP:        I loved it.

DS:      Did you attend any religious services?

JD:       We went to Old Pine Church. At Fourth and Pine. We went pretty regularly.

DS:      The whole family did?

JD:       Right.

DS:      Did they have a Sunday school?

JD:       They did.

JP:        I started it with Peggy Noyes.

DS:      You started it with Peggy Noyes?

JP:        Yes, because there was none when we moved there in 1965. Peggy and I got it going.

DS:      Good. Fun. (5:00)

JP:        Yes.

DS:      Where did you play?

JD:       I’ve been thinking about that. I remember us just playing in the courtyard behind our house. There was that parking lot. Then just on the streets. We would ride all over the place. When we got privileges to cross streets and do different blocks, whether it was your block of Delancey Street, down there by Front [Street], or ours. Then there was finally a time when we could go to Tancredi’s. Get that far. I remember roller skates, bikes, jump ropes.

DS:      What would you go to Tancredi’s for?

JD:       Candy. It was a mission.

DS:      You would ride your bikes and roller skate?

JD:       Yes. And I just remember dress-up and being outside a lot.

DS:      On the street. Joan, you had no fear for them to be playing on (6:00) the street?

JP:        No, because I was out there with them. I was watchful.

DS:      You were watchful.

JP:        It was quiet then. There wasn’t a lot of traffic. When we moved in 1965 in our block, there were only two homes that were occupied.

DS:      I-95 wasn’t there yet. People weren’t coming down using us as a thoroughfare.

JD:       Right.

DS:      Was there any organized sports for the children that you can remember?

JD:       I don’t remember anything like that. We didn’t even seek it. We were just content to be outside. There were so many of us then within a three-block radius. I never remember being without friends and playmates.

DS:      How many children would you say there were – I mean, like, in the strike classroom your mother had in the basement. How many children were down there? (7:00) Approximately. Are we talking ten, fifteen?

JP:        Sounds right.

JD:       I think maybe ten. It was just my age group because Andy – was he already at St. Peter’s?

JP:        Maybe.

DS:      In the neighborhood, there was always somebody to play with, because there were a lot of children.

JD:       There were.

DS:      Can you give me a couple of the names of the families?

JD:       I wrote down some: the Denworths, the Zeldins, the Schwartzes were behind us, the Glockners, the Roberts. We never did play with the Lavinos, because they were so much younger; they were way up the street. And the Stevenses, of course. I remember spending a lot of time at your house.

DS:      Davies? (8:00)

JD:       Davies.

JP:        Oech.

JD:       Oech.

DS:      Would you go to any other places in the Philadelphia area? Your parents had a car.

JD:       I only remember getting in the car to go to the Poconos, or to go see grandparents. We’d go to the Italian Market, but we’d walk. That’s my memory. Put us in a stroller.

DS:      Smith Playground?

JD:       Oh, yes. I forgot about that one.

JP:        The zoo.

JD:       The zoo. And wasn’t there a playground with a giant slide in Fairmount Park?

DS:      That was Smith Playground.

JD:       Oh, I’d forgotten the name.

DS:      But you remember the giant slide.

JD:       I do, and like going to the Franklin Institute and a lot of things in town. (9:00)

DS:      Museums.

JD:       Yes.

DS:      Would you go by bus? Or would you go by car?

JD:       I don’t remember using the car very much. I guess we would take the bus or walk. Three Bears Park, of course. Church, we’d walk. The grocery store; we’d walk there, too. Then we’d have to walk home. We couldn’t sit in the stroller, because of all the groceries. [Laughs]

DS:      Did you ever go to South Street?

JD:       I remember Essene. Was that over that way at one point on South?

DS:      Yes.

JD:       I remember we would go over for that, but there wasn’t a lot of other attractions, to my memory. There was a Chinese restaurant, but it wasn’t at that point.

DS:      Did you go up to Independence Park or the Bell? (10:00)

JD:       Occasionally. It was more like we’d pass it to go somewhere, because it was kind of a fixture.

DS:      Down to the river?

JD:       Not so much. I mean, my friends and I in high school would do that. I don’t remember doing it as a kid.

DS:      What would you do when it snowed?

JD:       I remember building snowmen. I don’t remember there being –

DS:      Did you ever go sledding up at the Towers?

JD:       Oh, yes. I forgot about that.

DS:      On the east side of the Towers. Kids are still doing it.

JD:       They are? Wow!

DS:      Much to the guards’ displeasure. In the summer, what would you do?

JD:       My mom and I were talking about that. We went to the Poconos a lot. (11:00)

DS:      You had a house in the Poconos for the summer?

JD:       We would go there. They built that, what, 41 years ago? I was, like, four, and we would go there, on weekends especially.

DS:      Did you have any pets?

JD:       We did; we had a dog named Keo that we got when we moved into that house [308 Lombard Street?] or a couple of years later.

JP:        When you were six.

JD:       When I was six. Then we got guinea pigs at some point. [Laughs]

DS:      [Laughs]

JD:       Keo was a fixture, I think, on the front steps. She would lie out there.

DS:      She was well known in the neighborhood. A very friendly dog.

JD:       She was.

DS:      In your education, you came back to Philadelphia and lived at 308 Lombard Street. Where did you go to school?

JD:       I went to St. Peter’s School for eighth grade, and then I went to Shipley for ninth through twelfth grade.

DS:      When you were at Shipley and began to meet the suburban girls, did you ever think about living in the city versus living in the suburbs?

JD:       Well, they kind of forced that upon you, because they assumed you are of a very different economic status than they are, because you live in the city.

DS:      What did they say –?

JD:       They thought that we had to be poor, that we couldn’t afford to live in the suburbs. That came out early in my ninth-grade year.

DS:      How did you handle that?

JD:       It just made me even more quiet than I already was. [Laughs] I loved the city, and I think that once I established friendships and they would come in and see where we lived, that we lived nicely, and it was a choice that my parents made – I couldn’t (13:00) imagine living in the suburbs, because they didn’t have the friends that I did right around us and could walk to anything that I needed. They couldn’t do it, because they weren’t driving yet. I couldn’t imagine living out there. I took a bus and a train to get to school every day, and home, but I couldn’t imagine living out there.

DS:      What did you like about living in Society Hill, and what didn’t you like about living in Society Hill? You just said what you do like.

JD:       I loved the community and the neighborhood. And even reflecting back on where my children are being raised, they don’t have that as much. I do. I think that was a lot of what made me who I am, just having that community. The only part –

DS:      You have four children, and you’re raising them in a suburban-type (14:00) environment in Ohio?

JD:       It’s very suburban.

DS:      Very suburban. Go ahead, I’m sorry.

JD:       There aren’t very many young families around us in our neighborhood. The only part that I look back on that’s kind of a negative, but also a positive, is that I grew very street smart, because of what we encountered. When Claudia Zeldin and I think Betsy Greenberg and I were riding bikes one time – and Lydia Denworth – and Claudia was the first one to confront this pack of guys who wanted our bicycles. It was right around where the Richards live in that little –

DS:      Blackwell Court.

JD:       Exactly. They got Lydia’s, after a struggle, and they broke her [Claudia’s] jaw, I think. Oh, no, they didn’t get hers, and they broke her jaw. I gave them mine, because my mom had always said, “It’s not worth it. Just give it to them.”

DS:      Were they older than you? Bigger?

JD:       Older and bigger. I think there were actually only two, though it felt like a gang of them. Lydia and Betsy had been behind us. They didn’t see it all happening, but as they got to Claudia, I ran home to tell my mom. But, that was just an eye (15:00) opening. I remember my brother getting mugged occasionally. [Laughs] Multiple times.

DS:      Doing what and where?

JD:       He was walking to A&P down that courtyard.

DS:      The walkway. I guess it’s the Delancey Walkway.

JD:       I remember once there, by two girls, and he was so crushed that he would be mugged by two girls and have to give up his money. [Laughs] I think we’re both street smart, and we love cities.

DS:      What do you mean when you say “mugged.”

JD:       Well, just that they came up and told him that they’d beat him up if he didn’t give them all of his money.

DS:      He didn’t have a bike.

JD:       No.

DS:      They just wanted his money. Another story? With Andy?

JD:       Oh, yes, he had another time, too. I can’t think. (16:00)

DS:      [inaudible]

JD:       I guess maybe the other ones are later. When he was at the University of Pennsylvania, that way, living up there. Our bikes were always gone.

JP:        You probably lost half a dozen bikes [inaudible]

DS:      Did you report it to the police?

JP:        Probably not.

JD:       I did get mine back after that one incident.

DS:      Oh, how did you get it back?

JD:       They caught them.

DS:      You must have reported it.

JD:       Yes, that one we did.

JP:        [inaudible] must have called when you came home.

JD:       Yes, because Claudia was really hurt.

DS:      They broke her jaw?

JD:       That’s what I recall. But, she kept her bike. I remember having to go to a line-up for those guys, and they actually had my banana seat girl’s bike [Laughs], and I (17:00) got it back for a few weeks.

DS:      [Laughs] For a few weeks. Then it got stolen again?

JD:       I think it did. I think I left it in the courtyard or the parking lot some weeks later. [Laughs]

DS:      Do you think that this growing up in the city influenced your development for the rest of your life? I mean, now, do you still use some of those skills?

JD:       Definitely. I love it, and I would love to live in a city someday….

DS:      Was there anything else that you didn’t like about living in the city, other than the crime and losing things?

JD:       Yes, and I think that was just a rite of passage. No, I really loved it.

DS:      Your parents don’t still live in the neighborhood. Do you ever come back, just for nostalgia? (18:00)

JD:       I did, not long ago, probably a year and a half ago. We came back. Brian and Ellie and Grace had never been in downtown Philadelphia, so we did all the historical monuments and walked around. I made them all stand in line for an hour and a half at Jim’s Steaks for a sandwich.

DS:      South Street.

JD:       Walked by Old Pine Church.

DS:      Your old houses?

JD:       Yes. I did love being down there.

DS:      What other stories? Do you have any other stories that you’d like to share with us?

JD:       I also have very fond memories of my birthdays in September. My parents had a lot of the neighborhood families come and join us in the park and have a meal –

DS:      Which park? (19:00)

JD:       Fairmount Park. It was really just a gathering of the whole neighborhood.

JP:        Belmont Hill. Belmont Plateau.

JD:       Oh, Belmont Hill. That was fun. It was an event where the whole families would come.

DS:      They’d bring all the children, and Joan would bring all the food. It was free. You could just go.

JD:       Yes, it was fun.

DS:      About your block parties?

JD:       Oh, the block parties. I vaguely remember them. But they were really – it was fun to all be out on the street. We could ride our bikes, and there was food and music.

DS:      They would block the street off and everybody would – did you have people from other blocks join you? Or was it just your block?

JD:       I think we did, because you guys were there.

JP:        Yes, we started it on our blocks, but then people from other blocks would (20:00) come. The police would let us barricade either end of the streets and there wasn’t any traffic. Each household brought out a card table with food ….

DS:      What is your mother in the neighborhood most known for?

JD:       The sticky buns.

DS:      Her famous sticky buns. People still talk about that.

JD:       And you, Dottie, were most famous for your caramel apples at Halloween. We would get our costumes on and head to your house first, just in case you were to run out.

DS:      [Laughs] Which I did.

JD:       Yes, I know. You did quickly. That was a highlight, definitely. There was something else, too.

DS:      The babysitting co-op?

JD:       Oh, no. There was a babysitting co-op. There were houses I liked going to, and houses I didn’t. It was fun, because we were with our friends. That was great, (21:00) rather than having just a baby sitter.

DS:      Your parents organized that.

JD:       Right.

DS:      Paul invented the system?

JP:        Yes, he wrote the bylaws.

DS:      How did he do that?

JP:        Well, he looked at our many friends with children. They were neighbors, and he realized it would be easier to share the duties of parenthood when you needed a babysitter than to hire someone. There was no money exchanged, but we kept a log of a point system, so if a father or mother came to your house and baby sat, that person got points by the hour.

DS:      Would the parents go to your house to babysit for your children, or would your children go to their house?

JP:        You would decide as parents which way worked best. Very often, if it (22:00) was a daytime situation, very often the child would go to the other person’s house, or the other family’s house. If it was night time, a father or mother would come to your house and take care of your child, get him to bed. It worked so well, I thought, because you didn’t have strangers involved.

DS:      This would have been in the mid-1960s when it started?

JP:        Late 1960s, I guess. It went on even after we left Society Hill, ‘till the children got fairly big. Then, I think, new people came in that were with younger children.

DS:      That’s right. There was a whole other group, like the Eiswerths, and so forth, another generation and continued the same idea that you and Paul had started.

JP:        Well, and Paul was really the brains behind it, because being a lawyer, he was (23:00) able to write the by-laws, which were very fair and matter-of-fact. We needed that; it wasn’t just an iffy kind of arrangement. It worked well.

DS:      Another story?

JD:       Some others that I thought of were times at your house, Stevens’ house, with your pool, in and out of the pool, a thousand times an hour, into the yard, into the house.

DS:      [Laughs]

JD:       Then your player piano. I think we spent hours pumping that piano. Then you had a ladder over to the Dodds’ house, on either side of the wall?

DS:      Yes.

JD:       We’d go back and forth, a little bit. They more than us. We stayed on your side mostly. Oh, and then, caroling. We grew up going around caroling at Christmas (24:00) time. Then moving to Ohio, nobody does that out there. The tighter-knit community that I had, no one ever did that. That was a wonderful memory at Christmas time.

DS:      Was that just in the neighborhood, people getting together, getting together and caroling? Or was that a church-related activity?

JD:       Old Pine, maybe?

JP:        No, I think it was neighborhood, mixed church members. Different churches would get together. I remember one year my brother led it.

DS:      Your brother?

JP:        My brother led it with his bagpipes. Of course, the sound of a bagpipe is so intense, people would hear it coming and come to their doors and open up and come out.

DS:      He could play Christmas carols on his bagpipes?

JP:        Yes, he could. He could. I don’t know how, but he did. He had on a kilt, (25:00) too.

JD:       The last one I wrote down was the community garden that I think you started, Joan, that we each got a plot of, or anyone that wanted one had a plot. You had your own space to plant what you wanted to plant, and it was using a big, empty lot where the Old Pine Community Center sits now.

DS:      At Fourth and Lombard [Streets]. You have fond memories of working in the garden? Or were you made to work in the garden? [Laughs]

JD:       I have fond memories of it. [Laughs] I haven’t had a garden since, but I have fond memories of it. I remember it being a big project for my mom, and providing for people that couldn’t necessarily afford vegetables. I remember it not being fenced off, and you said whoever needed items should be able to come and get them.

DS:      And they did. (26:00)

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      The story about the beginning of the Old Pine Community Center?

JP:        Oh, yes. The Old Pine Community Center was an idea conceived by Paul Putney, my husband, and Bob Blum, thinking that the neighborhood needed it and St. Peter’s School and Old Pine Church could use it every day of the week. The school needed more space and a gymnasium, a big gymnasium. The community garden had to be plowed under and the Community Center was built. I used to tease Paul about he took over my space and that great garden, but the Community Center has been definitely wonderful.

DS:      How did they raise the money to build that?

JP:        The Community Center? I think St. Peter’s School parents were asked. (27:00) Old Pine parishioners were asked, and I think community people gave.

DS:      It was a private donation kind of –

JP:        Yes.

[Tape is turned off, then on again]

DS:      This is a story about the beginnings of Three Bears Park and Metropolitan Hospital.

JP:        Metropolitan Hospital was on the corner of Third and Spruce. It backed up to Cypress Street. Cypress Street was along the edge of the new park [Three Bears Park]. Metropolitan Hospital’s morgue was on Cypress Street, and occasionally they would set a body on a gurney out waiting for the hearse to come. That would bring about a bit of attention and conversation, but it was all, I guess, efficient. We lived with that in the city. (28:00)

DS:      Did the children ask questions?

JP:        No, except that the mothers that were sitting around watching this probably made some explanations. Then Metropolitan Hospital was torn down, and they built a complex of homes there.

JD:       When I moved back to 306 Spruce Street, I was in high school and commuting to Bryn Mawr, but a number of us from the neighborhood would go out to Shipley so we would commute together. We did still have friendships even if we didn’t go to school together in the neighborhood, we still had friendships. Lydia Denworth and Molly Lloyd and Lauren DiLaurentis, who was a newcomer to that neighborhood, actually, in high school, and Daisy Newbold, at least for a while, I think may have come out. (29:00) Maybe for a year. Maybe she didn’t.

DS:      You would get together in the neighborhood as a group?

JD:       We would, even with the whole Lloyd family.

DS:      These were long-time friendships, even though you had moved away a couple of times.

JD:       That’s true. That’s true. We were still friends, and even now Facebook has brought us back together again.

DS:      Thank you, Joanna. Thank you for your memories.

JD:       Thank you.

[End of interview]


© 2009 Project Philadelphia 19106™. All rights reserved.

About the Interview

Dorothy Stevens
Cynthia J. Eiseman
Interview Location
Huntington Valley, PA
Interview Date
November 20, 2009
Durdle, Joanna Putney
Narrator Type
Redeveloper - Restoration
Third Generation
Oral History Sources