Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Day 12: Fearless Females: Working, Working and Working Girl!

March 12 Prompt— Working girl: Did your mother or grandmother work outside the home? What did she do? Describe her occupation.

Minnie Crane
Autor of Stored Treasures, A memoir
c 1950s

I opened this series on March 1st with a post about Minnie Crane, my great-grandmother, and favorite female ancestor. Today, I chose to return to Minnie and tell the story of her employment out of the home. By the time I had the pleasure of knowing Minnie, she was retired, so I didn't really think of her as a working woman. While researching her remarkable life story, I learned that she had been working since a very young age. Her tenacity, ingenuity  hard-work and determination took her through many jobs both in and out of the home and enabled her to contribute to the household economy as well as support herself when she was alone.

Minnie's Mother, Feige Kranowitz (Yarmovsky)
Homemaker and Nurse- Minnie was born on April 30th, 1986, in the small shtetl of Belitsa, Belarus. She was the sixth child and second daughter in a poor household of eight children. When she was around ten years old, her mother Feige Kranowitz (Yarmosky) contracted severe rheumatoid arthritis. According to Minnie's memoir, her mother became bedridden for a year and was left with a debilitating limp and a partially immobile right arm. Brina, Minnie's oldest sister was living away from home at the time, and though she returned to aid with her mother's illness, the brunt of the responsibilities around the house lay on the ten year old Minnie. Minnie's oldest brothers were mostly away at school (various yeshivas located in larger nearby towns). The illness embittered Feige's temperament, making caring for her a difficult task. In addition Minnie took care of her two youngest siblings as well as tended to the cleaning, cooking, laundry and the various animals the family kept (they had a horse or two and sometimes a cow, as well as chickens).

The Mail Business- Minnie's father, Moshe Aaron Kranowitz was the town postman. All the children helped their father with picking up, sorting and distributing the mail. Despite receiving very little formal education, Minnie could read and write in Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, Russian and later on German as well.  The towns folks sought her out to read the letters they received from their loved ones. She also helped supplement the family income by writing letters for illiterate neighbors.

Apprentice Dressmaker- Minnie must have learned to sow at home. By the time she arrived in America in 1913, alone, at sixteen, she reported herself as a dressmaker on the Ellis Island ship manifest. Her first out of the home, paid American job was as an apprentice dressmaker. In January, she arrived in Atlantic City, speaking no English, and got a job helping with the alternations at her uncle's friend's ready-to-wear ladies shop. Apparently, the clothes weren't quite ready to wear. Disappointingly, the first week's salary, $3.50 did not cover her $5.00 weekly boarding fee. By April, she moved to New York City,  roomed in the tenements with some girl cousins and worked in the needlework business again. As soon as she could, Minnie enrolled in English classes.

Minnie Crane, Hartford, CT 1917
(Note the collar on the dress is very similar
to the one worn by the sisters from
 last Friday's Faces from the Past orphan photo). 
Back to Homemaker- In less than a year, her brothers called upon Minnie to move to Hartford with them. Minnie's younger brother Bernard was arriving and the plan was to help him study and eventually send him to Medical school. From 1914, they all lived together. The three elder Cranes worked outside the home, while Minnie kept house and Bernard, the sixteen-year-old, studied. Minnie describes this period as one of the happiest of her life. She sacrificed her independence but enjoyed being close with her brothers. There was plenty of time for socializing and  night classes. She found tutors to help her prepare for the college entrance exams and simultaneously got a diploma in bookkeeping.

Head Bookkeeper-When Bernard left for Medical school in 1920, Minnie decided to try her luck in the big apple and returned to New York. Only seven years after immigrating to America, Minnie got a prestigious, well paying job as head bookkeeper in an interior design company. She worked full time and continued to take night classes at the Columbia Extension School.

Minnie selling meat at the Bloomfield
Market, Lakeport, NH early 1920s.
Small Business Owner- When she married my great-grandfather, William Bloomfield, they joined his family in New Hampshire and opened a grocery store. Neither had experience in the grocery business but William's mother helped them to get started. William had some prior experience in the wholesale produce business prior to opening Bloomfield's Market. Minnie helped around the shop and kept the books. After some trials and tribulations, they learned the trade and managed a successful store together for twenty years, both in Lakeport, NH and Houston, Texas.

Crane Apartment Building
(Click to Enlarge)
Back to Bookkeeping- In 1942, William passed away suddenly leaving Minnie a widow at age forty-six. She was forced to sell the store and her few assets and take a job as a bookkeeper with a geophysicist drilling company. She worked at this male dominated industry, for five years until around the time she married her second husband Louis Heintz in 1948.

Landlord- The marriage did not last long and Louis passed away in 1951. She was in her mid fifties and couldn't stay idle for long. Looking for work proved quite difficult. Luckily, her daughter Ethel and an architect friend, came up with an idea. They convinced Minnie to buy  a couple of vacant lots and build apartments for rent. Minnie became the proud owner of the Crane Apartments! The building housed twenty furnished apartments. Minnie administrated the building as well as did most of the maintenance. The Crane apartments were some of the first of what later became a very popular building style in Houston; horizontal apartments built around an interior courtyard and a pool. When her daughter Ethel got divorced, she moved into the apartments with the four kids and Minnie was able to help Ethel with childcare while Ethel went back to law school.

Minnie cleaning the pool at the Crane Apartments

Looking back at Minnie's timeline, I am amazed with her accomplishments, especially considering her humble background and limited early education. Minnie loved the United States! She never took for granted the opportunities this country provided her. Thirty years after she passed away, she added another profession: Published Author. She certainly was fearless!

More posts about Minnie Crane:
The True Stored Treasure Surfaces!
The Gift that Keeps on Giving for Mother's Day
LOVE 1920s Style
Women's History Month Day 1: Fearless Females: Favorite Female Ancestor & Genealogy Guru!

To learn more about +Lisa Alzo's 31 inspirational writing prompts in celebration of Women's History Month visit her blog:  The Accidental Genealogist. It's not too late to join!


  1. Replies
    1. Sure was. Thanks for spending some time with her!

  2. Your females truly were "fearless."

  3. Wow she was very busy! Love all the pictures.
    Great post!

    1. She never ceases to amaze me! Thanks, Cheri for stopping by!

  4. What an amazing woman Minnie was. What endurance! After being forced to care for the whole family at a young age, she just kept working at a heightened pace all her life. Her diploma in bookkeeping took her a long way, and she was always ready to take on new challenges. So she was the one who wrote Stored Treasures! Thank you for this fascinating story.

    1. Yes Mariann, she is "The Stored Treasure!"


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