A Prowse Maid in Manhattan
In 1921, at the age of 14, Bertha Susan ‘Susie’ Prowse (1906 – 1985), like many, if not most, English girls at the time, left school for work.
Having not inherited the sewing genes of her elder sisters Bessie, Annie, and Mildred, she found employment as a domestic and it was in this capacity that she found herself five years later heading across the Atlantic ocean for the United States aboard the S.S. George Washington.
Texan Howard Calhoun Davidson (1890 - 1984) was an important figure in the early history of the US Army Air Corp and the Air Force that followed. One might say he was the very model of a modern Major General.
In 1919 Davidson was stationed at McCook Airfield in Dayton, Ohio where he met and married Mary Patterson (1894 – 1950). Mary was the daughter of Frank Jefferson Patterson, co-founder of the National Cash Register (NCR) Company - a growing industrial concern that was the spawning ground of future titans of industry like Thomas J. Watson, founder of IBM. Frank’s brother, John Henry was the dominant force at NCR, however, and later on became a kingmaker, largely being credited with getting Dwight David Eisenhower into the President’s office in 1953.
In July 1922, then a lieutenant colonel, Davidson was assigned as assistant military attaché at the American Embassy in London. Susie came to be employed by Major and Mrs. Davison and so in 1926, when Davidson was reassigned to Mitchell Field – Long Island, NY, about 30 miles from New York City, Susie was offered the opportunity to stay in the family’s employ on the promise of two years of service. Though Davidson’s official transfer date was September, Mrs. Davidson (32), her young son Stuart (4), Susie (19), and Daisy Tucker* (27) sailed July 22 from Southampton for New York, presumably to set up residence prior to the arrival of Davidson himself. They arrived July 30. Interestingly, the given US address in the ship's passenger record was Virginia, not New York.
*Daisy was born 1899 in Weston-Super-Mare to Frederick William and Ellen Tucker. It appears Daisy passed in 1936 in Manhattan.
Susie’s daughter, Nancy recalls her Mom telling her how Susie met Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh's departure point, Roosevelt Field, for his historic first solo trans-Atlantic flight, was next to Mitchell Field. Upon his return to the US by ship, Lindbergh reassembled the Spirit of St. Louis and began a tour of the US. On the day he returned to Roosevelt Field, Susie served Lindbergh his lunch.
Davidson’s post to Mitchell Field lasted only until December 1927, after which he was assigned in quick succession to a several posts elsewhere in the US. It seems likely, bearing in mind that Mrs. Davison would have been a socialite, that the family maintained their home in New York and Susie her employ with them.
Susie left the United States May 23, 1930 to return to England, one assumes after her employ with the Davidson family ended. All 5’2” of her paid her own passage back as an immigrant October 15, 1930 aboard the S.S. Homeric (re-entry permit # RP559604). Her listed US destination: 159 Saratoga Avenue, Yonkers, NY.
Davidson continued his distinguished military career. Perhaps his most notable posting was as commander of the 14th Pursuit Wing, Wheeler Field, Hawaii during the attack on Pearl Harbour. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
September 1933 saw Susie marry Alfred E. Trainor (1897 – 1947) in Manhattan. Alfred was himself an immigrant, from Cookstown, Ireland. He must have emigrated as a child or adolescent as he was drafted into the US Military in June 1917 in New York City. Perhaps he ended up in the Navy as the ship’s record from the S.S. Transylvania August 1929 lists his occupation as sailorman (sic) and verifies that he was returning to the US after a visit to his father, Thomas, in Ireland. The given destination was 229 Columbus Avenue, New York City, which seems, for a sailor, a tony part of Manhattan, not too far from Central Park (near Strawberry Fields for all you John Lennon fans).
The 1935 and 1940 US Censuses list he and Susie residing at 510 West 150th Street, in the Sugar Hill area of Upper Manhattan, New York City. These records reveal that the highest level of education received by both was Grade 8 and that Alfred was a sales routeman for a retail bakery and Susie a housekeeper. Alfred died in Manhattan February 1947 at only 49 years old.
Susie married Joseph Marco Boccadoro (1910 – 1993) July 1949 in New Jersey. While the wedding was in New Jersey, the couple lived and worked on Manhattan Island.
Joseph was born in Sicily but like many Italians, his family emigrated to the US in search of a better life. His last job was as a doorman at the Plaza Hotel. The Plaza had just been totally renovated and this picture of him appeared in United Airlines monthly publication, Mainliner, in an article about the hotel.
The couple's only child, Nancy Susan Boccadoro was born in Manhattan on May 25, 1951. In July 1978 Susie and Joe retired to Florence, South Carolina, where Susie passed in July 1985 and Joseph passed in March 1993. Nancy resides in Peachtree Corners, a northern suburb of Atlanta, Georgia.
Links of Interest:
Military Bio of Howard Davison
New York Times Obituary for Howard Davidson