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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
JEWISH FEDERATION OF PALM BEACH COUNTY
INTERVIEWEE: Maurice Dickson
INTERVIEWER: Sylvia Lewis
DATE: November 22, 1981
PLACE: West Palm Beach, Florida
L: To start our interview, would you please tell me when you
were born and where you were born?
D: I was born January, 1900, in Liverpool, England.
L: Would you tell us something about your early childhood in
D: When I was in England, we didn't get an education. All you
do is you go to school 'til you're fourteen years old. I'm
talking now of my time. And it was really hard. People
really don't realize what an education is, until they get out
into the world, and you need it.
I worked in a place where the party wanted to adopt me. It was
glass silvering and beveling and there was no one in the city
who worked in it but him. He was an old four-war soldier
and by wanting to adopt me at that time he had influence that
nobody could bother with him.
L: He wanted to adopt you in spite of the fact that you were a
So, in 1916, I ran away from home. No one knew where I was,
because the war was on.
I got a job on a ship, the Finland, which was sailing from
Liverpool to New York. There were six of the American Lines.
On this trip I was the smallest on the boat, I only weighed
about 100 pounds. I was the chief engineer's boy.
On the way over, the German submarines were sinking ships and
we stopped and picked up passengers of a sunken ship because
we were flying the American flag and the United States was
not in the war.
L: Would that be 1916?
On the ship there were quite a number of immigrants, and
because I was the chief engineer's boy, I could get whatever
I wanted. So, I would keep getting fruit and anything else
I could get, and walked around to give it to these immigrants.
They used to look forward to seeing me.
When I got into New York, the chief engineer sent me to get
him some beer or something. I turned around and got off
off the ship and nearly missed getting back on the ship.
So, that was getting over to the United States.
L: Did you have relatives here in the United States?
D: My brother, Charles, was here in New York, so I went to him.
Then I got homesick and I tried to go back again. I was
here a week. I was going to get another job on another ship
to go somewhere.
L: Did you stay in New York with your brother?
D: Not long. I didn't stay there very long. Then, I got back
to go to work on my first job. In England a Jew could not
work, but in two or three trades. You couldn't be anything
at all. He could be.a glazier, a cabinet maker, or a tailor.
He could not go in business for himself unless he was
practically born into it. There were so many generations
they had that you were restricted and couldn't get in.
L: So, it wasn't very pleasant to be a Jew in England then at
L: Was there opportunity for work?
D: There wasn't any opportunity.
L: What type of work did you do in England?
D: Well, I was going to school. My father used to make furniture
and then I would carry the panels, the woodwork to the wood-
working place. This was at thirteen years of age.
L: Did you get a salary for this?
D: From a father you get a salary? Let me tell you, when you
ask that question you reminded me of something.
The glass silvering and beveling trade was so restrictive in
England, that nobody could get, it was secret. And, when my
father would sell the furniture, it would take him a week
before you could get a mirror. But I, being in the business
of making the stuff, knew the secret.
One day my father sold a piece of furniture and I brought the
mirror home at night.
The reason I brought it home at night, was that I got a
mirror that was finished, and I cut it down to that size he
needed so he could sell the furniture.
And he said, "How did you do it?" I said, "You got it,
haven't you, what are you worried about?"
L: As they say, there are all tricks to the trade.
D: There are tricks to the trade.
L: All right. Tell me something about your family life in
England from the Jewish viewpoint.
Were your mother and dad born in England or had they come
D: They were born in Russia.
L: And they migrated tq England?
D: That's right.
L: What kind of Jewish life did you have as a child there?
D: Well, as a religion it was all right. I don't know exactly
what you mean by a Jewish life. We were strictly kosher.
Very, very kosher.
L: Did you go to shul and observe all the holidays?
D: Oh, you reminded me of something. When I went to work for
this party, my father said no working Saturday, and no work-
ing any Jewish holidays, and I didn't work any Jewish
When I went to the United States and made a trip back to see
him, no one knew where I was at, because you couldn't tell
what ship sailed. If you did find out what ship sailed you
wouldn't know where I was.
So, he says to me, "Do you work Saturdays now?"
L: What was your answer?
D: I answered, "Well, what do you expect?"
L: That was interesting about your life as a child.
Back in the United States, where did you move to after New
L: Who was in Philadelphia?
D: Well, they're really strangers but I joined a club. In
this club they had all Jewish people. I was getting along
very good. It was at 7th and Fairmont Avenue, I can
remember the place.
L: What type of work were you doing?
D: The first job I had was sweeping the floor with a broom,
sweeping the place out. I was there a few weeks, then I
went and got a job in the sheet metal place. It was a plumb-
ing ship, but they wouldn't put me to work in the plumbing
department. They put me to making what they call 'sleeves'
for the sheet metal shop, in the production of vents.
He wouldn't let me in plumbing, and I wanted to be in plumbing
so I quit him and went to work. It wasn't very much money,
but a few dollars. I went to work in a plumbing shop, Boon
and Sample. In this shop I went to work for less money so I
could be in the plumbing business.
Well, after awhile there was an Irishman that I was working
with, Bill Augustine (I can remember the name), who was
trying to get me fired because I was a Jew. There was another
party, Charlie Barry, who was a Catholic. He had about eight
children. He took a liking to me and he let me work with him as an
apprentice. He asked for me, so I worked with him. That is
how I started in the plumbing business.
L: And then did you continue your schooling?
D: You had to go to school at night, and I went for four years
to Central High School, I have a diploma to prove it.
I gave it to my granddaughter. She wanted to have it to show
when I graduated Central High.
L: You attended the school at night and had your job during the
D: At night, had the job, going out in the snow and everything
else. We had to go to school four years at night.
L: Did you become a master plumber then or did that take you
D: You know, now, you figure the years. That was from, say,
1916, I started plumbing and in 1922, I'd taken an examination
for a master plumber's license which is a very hard thing to
get, I was not only Jewish, but the youngest of age.
Now, you want to know and I know you are all wondering, who
is hearing this conversation, "That's impossible."
L: How did you do it?
D: That's what I'm waiting for. How, did you do it? Simple.
The reason I said you'd think it's impossible is true, but
it so happens that the teacher in the school was on the
examining board of the City of Philadelphia. How can you
turn anybody down that graduated with a diploma? I went with
a party that was trying to get a license for fifteen years,
and he asked me how come I got mine. So, I told him. I
said, "You've got to know the right people, that the 'right
people' was the school, and that's what helped." I said,
"You don't know the right people." You can use your own
judgment what I mean.
L: Maurice, what prompted you to come to West Palm Beach in 1923?
D: Well, the reason I came here was I had two brothers here; one
was a plasterer and one was a carpenter. So that's why I
came to West Palm Beach.
L: What were their names?
D: Charles Dickson and Sam Dickson. Sam Dickson is in Miami now
and Charles Dickson has passed away.
L: During what period of time did they come to West Palm Beach?
D: My brother, Charles, came down from Chicago in 1919 and my
other brother came over from England in 1920 and then came
down here in 1920.
L: When you came down, where did you live?
D: I lived in a little shanty on Fern Street and the railroad
tracks. And, they and I lived together. We used to take a
bath in the outhouse. There was no plumbing in the house.
There was a little outhouse.
And, when we took a shower, we put the hose over the tree
and we took a shower right outside.
L: With your clothes on?
D: No, not with the clothes no, nobody would be coming by the
house, so we could be doing that.
L: Was there a Jewish neighborhood here when you came in 1923?
D: Well, really, in certain sections. No, not too many. Down on
Florida Avenue was pretty well established. There weren't too
many people to have a Jewish neighborhood.
L: How many Jewish families or people would you say were here
at that time?
D: Fifty or sixty families, that's about all at that time.
L: Were they organized into any type of Jewish community?
D: Oh, yes. You see, the Jewish Community Center was organized
way back. It goes back beyond the years that I can remember
when my brother was there but there was very little activity.
We used to have services and I used to even arrive at meet-
ings. When the Jewish Community Center had meetings, I was
secretary and Joe Mandel. was president and I would ride a
bicycle to the Northwood School for a meeting with the books
under my arm. That's where it was at that time.
Now, I'm going to say something that I don't think there's any-
one in town knows about and it's no secret.
There was a party by the name of Franky, and they turned
around, Mr. and Mrs. Franky at that time, and they gave a
lot on Broward Avenue for a shul. And, as time was going on,
Joe Mandell said that he's going to make a reform shul in
West Palm Beach. And, I said, "I don't belong to the reform
shul, I'm a conservative." But, really at that time, there
was hardly anything, mostly orthodox. There was quite a number
of orthodox but the majority was reformed. So, when he said
that, I said, "I'm not going to join any reform shul", and
that was the beginning of Congregation Beth El, and I was a
charter member of Congregation Beth El.
L: Which was built first, Beth El or Israel?
D: Temple Israel was built first. I forget the exact year because
it was a continuation from the old part, so, it can go back
into the 20's, because it branched out. So, the split came.
L: Where was it built? Where was Temple Israel built, the first
D: Temple Israel's first building was on Broward Avenue on the lot
that Franky gave and Joe Mandel had control of it.
L: Where did Temple Beth El build it's first building?
D: In 1926, it was chartered then, and it was built on 7th Street.
So, that's the answer to who was here first. I've heard this so
much and nobody's going to believe me to be telling them but I'd liI
you to find anyone in any history that can dispute it.
L: Maurice, we're now up to about 1926. As I recall from hearing,
1925 was the land boom, '28 was the hurricane. Would you share some
of your remembrances with us about those periods of times?
D: Well, in 1926, was the height of the boom and the Miami area
got hit with the '26 hurricane that was really bad.
Things were so bad here at that time that I went to work at
dredging the St. Lucie Canal. And, I went to work out there
for about $25.00 a month just to get something to eat, to get
through the boom.
And, right in that year, '27,.there wasn't a nail driven in
town. I went away for a few months and came back right away.
Coming back it took me two days to get here on the bus
because it used to make all stops on the way.
I just want to bring out that it used to take two days to come
down here from Jacksonville. I came down in 1927. The bus
stopped in Cocoa overnight and the bus left me because I got
up late the next day.
L: How did you get back to West Palm Beach?
D: On the bus, the first time I stayed there.
Then in 1928, the hurricane hit West Palm Beach and it was
devastating to all the buildings. You could see some of
the pictures of buildings that blew down. There were 1,800
people perished in Belle Glade and out in the Glades.
The water from the lake flooded Moorehaven and that's how bad
it was at that time.
L: When you came down from the north, what reaction did you have
to the climate, to the beautiful weather here?
D: Well, the first thing I want to say is, when I came here in
1923, I didn't even put a jacket on. The climate was ideal
and you could always sleep at night. It was hot during the
day and we didn't have any air-conditioning and we didn't
need any air-conditioning in those days.
But, the trouble today is it's overbuilt. By lowering the
water the way they have they changed the climate. The
concrete buildings, hold in the heat and that is why we have
the heat as bad as it is today.
L: Did you use fans for sleeping?
D: We didn't even have a fan. My mother-in-law came down here
when we were married and I carried just a plain fan from up
north. It was the first one she'd ever seen. That's how
ideal the weather was.
L: So, I gather that the charges of the Florida Power and Light,
or whatever company it was in existence at that time for
electricity, was very inexpensive. Did you find that this
was an inexpensive or an expensive place to live when you
D: Well, that is some question expensive. It was a little
higher but we never worked in the winter time in those days,
we just worked in the summer and a person's credit was good.
All year anybody could get whatever they want because they
always paid back.
But, as far as being high, it was a tourist place so you could
expect something like that.
L: How about food, was -that expensive? And for those people who
required kosher food, what did they do in those days?
D: Well, they used to get the kosher meat from Jacksonville and
Miami. There wasn't any butcher around here but we did have a
shochet that would kill chickens. And, that's about the only
way it was kosher. But the meat was a problem. The kosher
part really was a problem for quite awhile and so it used
to come in from Miami. When Miami started growing up it was
closer to get to.
L: Maurice, restrictions against minority groups such as Jews,
blacks and anti-Semitism in this area in that period of time
around 1926 to 1920, would you share some of your thoughts
D: I'll tell you, in that time it was a problem. The Ku Klux Klan
was set up in Lake Worth and they used to ride around here with
their car numbers covered, in the Ku Klux row. And the blacks
could not cross the railroad tracks. Very seldom. When it
got dark they wouldn't cross the railroad track, they didn't
go down Clematis Street and you didn't see any blacks hardly in
Lake Worth at all. They used to have to live in Lake Osborne
and that's way back.
Now, we had a Rabbi here, I don't know whether it's right to
give the name or not, but I guess it's better not to give
the name, and he had a paper in Jacksonville fighting against
it. And, when he came down here he reversed himself with the
So, they turned around, the Ku Klux Klan turned around, and got a
hold of him and beat him up, and tore the shirt off his back.
It so happened that I went down to the police station that
evening, and Frank Mathews was chief of police and asked him
what was the matter. He played dumb, but that is actually
L: When you say that this Rabbi had a paper in Jacksonville,
and then came down here and reversed his position, regarding
the Ku Klux Klan, is that what you mean?
D: He reversed his position of defending the blacks. That's really
where they were getting him, when he referred to the Jew
because he did it. That is where I'm bringing the point that
you're asking about.
L: Would you tell us a little bit more abcut the Ku Klux Klan
during that period of time? Was it a respected organization?
Did many people support it in this area?
D: Sure, they all were supporting it. And I don't think we're
much better off right now only it's not out in the open as
Surprisingly, there was a Jewish merchant that belonged, but
he was there trying to defend the Jew as much as possible and
I think he did a lot of good.
L: Transportation in Florida; you mentioned the bus that took two
days from Jacksonville to West Palm Beach. What other trans-
portation was there available?
D: Well, there was a train, the Flagler Line ran to Cuba, but it
went to Key West over the bridges. It's about the eighth
wonder of the world, you could call it.
I went on an excursion, left West Palm Beach and then went to
Key West for, I think it was $37.50, to Key West and stayed
overnight, and I was one of the first customers in the brand
new hotel which they just happened to tear it down just about
a month ago.
It took seven hours to Key West on the train and four hours to
L: Could you tell us about the Welfare Board, about the time it
existed and what type of work it was doing as this welfare
board was the forerunner to some of our projects today?
D: Well, I'll tell you how it started. We had the organization
and we used to get an awful lot of people coming down from the
north, always wanting something to eat. Back from the old
Jewish Community Center we developed different organizations
which we have today. And, quite a number of these new organi-
zations are active only after what we started back in the 20's
So, we got up to the welfare board, The United Jewish
Welfare Board, and the people coming in town were given free
meals and they also were giving milk to the schools in those
days for the poor children.
And, on the Board was Martin Dubin, Dan Goodmark, Dave Katz,
Cy Schupler, O.P. Grunner, Dr. Blicher and quite a few
others that I can't remember. Maurice Dickson, I was on the
Board too because I was the secretary for years and years.
So, that's what was happening.
Then later on they branched out to even getting a loan
society. I'm only naming some of the new things that went on
and Joe Mandell happened to be -- in fact it was in his honor
that we turned around and named it the Joe Mandell Free Loan
During the depression, money was very scarce and we gave
quite a number of merchants right on Clematis Avenue today
money, loaned at a very cheap rate out of the same money.
So, I don't want you new people that's around here thinking
that everything grew on trees. We sweated before we got any
L: Maurice, on a little lighter and more romantic note, could
you tell us how you met and courted the lovely lady who is
known as Sophie Dickson?
D: Well, I'll tell you how it started.
I was down here for quite awhile and then my brother used to
be here too and he moved to Boston. I went up in the summer
time, everything was practically closed down, it was very
quiet then. I went to my brother's house up there, and Sophie
happened to be there. I don't know what it was all about,
but she was there. My sister-in-law and Sophie were very
great friends so they introduced me to her.
So, I stayed up there for awhile, stayed up there a few weeks
and came back here. In the meantime, we were corresponding,
so the courtship went into that, turned around like that. A
year later I went back up there and we got married up there.
That was on June the 7th, 1931. So, we've been together for
over 50 years and have had a very good life.
When we left Boston and we came to Florida in 1931, we moved
into 524 Hampton Road. We've been in the same house here for
over 50 years, and we're still in the same house.
Our children were born in the Good Samaritan Hospital and
were raised in this house.
Joy was born in 1933 and Sandler was born in 1935.
L: What about their Jewish education?
D: The Jewish education was this way. At that time, the
Congregation Beth El -- I used to call it Congregation
because that was way back and then somebody changed it to
Temple for their own benefit to fool the public figuring it
would be a reformed temple to get members.
In 1938, I became president of the Congregation and signed
Rabbi Greenstein's contract. Rabbi Greenstein was here for
thirteen years, one of the longest contracts around here,
especially at that time.
Rabbi Greenstein prepared my daughter Joy for her Bas Mitzvah
and she was the first to have a Bas Mitzvah and the year
Our son, Sandler, was taught at Temple Beth El by Rabbi
Greenstein and he was also Bar Mitzvahed in 1948.
L: Maurice, in conclusion, do you think that Jewish families
moving into the community today have to face the same problems
that you did?
D: The answer to that is, no. We had to work hard to accomplish
what we have today.
L: Thank you very much, Maurice Dickson. I am very, very grateful
to you for sharing your time with us, helping us find out
about early life among the Jewish community here.
We wish you long life. We thank you again.