Stories about life in Liddonfield housing project and its impact on the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg. These true stories reveal how government policy affected the lives of real people, from the project residents to area homeowners during the 5 decades of Liddonfield’s existence. Stories and articles are written by a former resident of the project.

FIGHT THE STIGMA!

FIGHT THE STIGMA!
Rosemary Reeves, Blogger, standing on Philadelphia Skyline

Sep 13, 2010

Biography of a Housing Project Resident

Eileen Reeves and daughter Rosemary
Liddonfield Housing Project circa 1965




Mrs. Eileen Reeves lived in Liddonfield Housing Project from 1958-1967 along with her husband Jim and their children. Eileen was born in Scotland. She emigrated to America in 1923 with her parents and sister, Mary. Her father, James, was just a boy of thirteen when he had to leave school to work in the coal mines. His teacher tried to intervene on his behalf. She was convinced he had writing talent and was capable of earning a scholarship to university if he stayed in school. But it was common in that time and place for children to labor in the mines. James felt it was his obligation to do so in order to provide money for his struggling family.

Eileen’s mother, Elizabeth, was Irish. She attended convent school and earned her teaching degree. Elizabeth moved from Ireland to Scotland to accept a teaching position. There, she met a coal miner named James who was now a grown man. Elizabeth was impressed with the young miner’s intelligence and writing ability. Their friendship blossomed into romance. It was almost unheard of in those days for a middle-class woman to marry into the lower class, but they were in love, and the couple chose to defy convention.

Elizabeth left her teaching job to raise their two children. Her husband’s wages as a miner weren’t enough and the family became impoverished. James wanted out of the mines. The couple decided to move to America in hopes of a better life. James found factory work in the U.S., but the conditions the workers were subjected to were almost as bad as the mines. He tried to organize a labor union. In the 1920’s that was a dangerous thing to do. Union organizers and workers who supported them were often brutally attacked and even killed by hired henchmen in an effort to subdue them with acts of terror.

James held secret labor union meetings at his home. Eileen played by his side during the meetings. Though she was too young to fully understand, her exposure to their politics instilled in her a sense of kinship with downtrodden laborers and an awareness of inequality between the classes.

Eileen graduated high school in 1937. She met Jim Reeves several years later, as WWII raged on in Europe. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Jim was drafted and stationed in Alabama. Eileen went to Alabama to see Jim and he proposed. The couple was married on the army base. While in Alabama, Eileen took public transportation and was horrified that blacks were made to sit at the back of the bus.

Jim was not adjusting well to army life and was discharged. The couple went back to Philadelphia. Eileen took a job as a secretary. Jim, however, was often in and out of work. The fact that he only had an eighth grade education made it difficult to find good work. Eileen had a baby and stayed home to be a mother. A year later, a second child came along. There was not enough money coming in and there were times when they couldn’t even afford baby food for the children.

The Reeves family moved to Northeast Village Housing Project in the early 1950’s. In 1957 they moved again to Liddonfield Homes. By now, there were seven kids. The couple had their eighth child in 1959. Though they had a roof over their heads, they were very poor. At times, Jim resorted to stealing food. There were constant arguments over money. Jim had a violent temper and often took it out on the children.

When her youngest was old enough to go to school, Eileen went back to work. She found a job in the billing department of a publishing firm in center city. The oldest of the children were grown. There were less mouths to feed. By now, Jim had steady work as a maintenance man and was promoted to supervisor of the maintenance crew. Financially, things were much better. There was enough food to go around. All boded well, but then the housing authority told them they were making too much money and were no longer eligible for public housing.

The couple moved into a home nearby, where they lived for ten years. When they retired, they sold the house and moved overseas. They lived in England for two years before returning to Pennsylvania. During her retirement, Eileen continued to travel. Her grown children often took her on trips abroad. She visited Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Greece, Italy and France. She stood at the Berlin Wall and beheld the Acropolis and the Coliseum in Rome. She walked through English castles, taking the same path as kings and queens centuries before. Despite her difficult life, Eileen lived to be eighty-six.

Two of her three sons served in the military. The eldest, Jim Jr., did his tour of duty in Turkey. Barry was a soldier in Vietnam. He is mentioned on pages 115-116 of the book, Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam. Her youngest son, Kevin, moved to Alaska and has written articles for magazines, including the Alaskan Northeastern.

Eileen had five daughters. Maureen co-owns a restaurant in New Jersey. Jean has her own furniture refinishing business. Daughter Eileen is an artist. Rosemary worked in New York for Cambridge University Press, as well as a marketing manager in the science and medicine division of the same publishing firm her mother worked for. Sharon’s son, Brian, is a civil engineer who has designed bridges in Maryland and Washington, D.C.

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