Born: September 25, 1904
Died: March 8, 1999
Married: John Peer
Children: Michael Peer, Walter Peer, Evelyn Camelo, Mary Peer Spadola
Dorothy Peer worked for 37 years at Ray Brook Sanitarium as a laundress.
The following interview is part of the Ree Rickard's oral history interviews conducted in 1987.
A woman of dignified simplicity, Dorothy Peer spoke warmly of her thirty-seven years at Ray Brook Sanitarium. A petite and independent octogenarian, possessing amazing vitality, she walks daily two miles into town to do errands and visit friends.
I started work at Ray Brook in the laundry as a twenty-year old bride in 1925. At that time my husband, John, worked outside with the horses. There were no cars then. He drove the team that took all of the freight up to the different buildings. John later got work in town but I stayed until the place closed in 1971, with only a few years off to have my family.
WHAT WAS LIFE LIKE AT RAYBROOK?
Oh, it was a lovely place to work. At first Papa didn’t want me to go there. Mama wasn’t alarmed but Papa was dreadful about T.B. He needn’t have worried. We were well protected. We were checked by the x-ray machine every three months. I never knew anybody who got it but one; some were careless. We wore masks and gowns and were careful about washing our hands.
They looked out for us. All of the employees’ families got free doctoring from the staff of wonderful physicians.
At first, it was a free facility just for New York State residents but later they took patients from other states.
The sanatarium put on a lot of parties at night. They even brought in orchestras from Montreal and downstate. Twice a week there were movies for the patients and once a week for employees. The Halloween party was wonderful. All of the patients dressed in clever get-ups.
The employees who never mixed with the patients had their own party with their families. In the early years there was a dance once a month for employees until it had to be spoiled. Some brought their bottles in so they had to stop it. They always cleared out by 12:00. If you wanted to go off on a picnic on your day off, you could get food from the kitchen. They were good to us.
DID YOU ENJOY YOUR WORK?
Very much. I loved to iron and there was plenty of it. We’d do the personal laundry for the patients. They were all anxious to talk. They were away from home and lonely.
I sort of looked forward to Monday and my husband was the same about his job. We always had lots of fun. There was always a story going. I got along beautifully with everybody. If there was a miserable one, they’d get shunned very quickly. They had to learn to be decent or they didn’t get along very well. Old Mr. Getz, he was a marvelous baker, once brought in some disgraceful calendar pictures. I got my dander up and tore that calendar right off the wall. Imagine, women were working there and we even had clergy walking through all the time!
Mrs. Abel was very good. She was head housekeeper and ran a right tight ship. Every month Johnny Dust, we called him, would come up on surprise inspection tours from Albany. He wore a white suit and white gloves but he couldn’t catch Mrs. Abel’s staff. The place was always meticulous.
T.B. was good to everybody. There was work for all ages.
DID PATIENTS’ FAMILIES MOVE UP HERE?
Yes. Quite a few, and a great many stayed on to make their homes here. George Reibel [sic] was a chef in Rochester when his wife, Ella, became sick so he became a cook at Raybrook. He wanted to be close to her. She was a hemorrhage case. She was a very sick girl. On Sunday evenings he put her in a wheelchair and wheel her down to the kitchen for a big dinner. Many times he’d invite John and I to have dinner with them in the kitchen after it closed. It was lovely. We’ put a nice white linen on the table with everything on it and lit candles. It was right handy and George could have Ella with him. It made it nice, kind of romantic. They ended up running a motel for years and are still around.
Patients with children could have them visit in the solarium. They didn’t want to expose them to the halls.
WHAT PATIENT STANDS OUT?
Well, there were 500 of them at any one time, but that’s easy. My son, Mike, was hired. He got along so well that he passed a test and became the highest in the laundry. He became my supervisor. I got along beautiful with him.
There was a young girl, Pat, from the Bronx, who had many operations. She was going out with a fella, at night, after hours. Someone went to my brother-in-law, who was a cook in the other building and said, “Will you tell Dorothy that her son, Mike, is taking out Pat?” He said, “You tell her yourself, I’m not telling her. So, I never knew. Before her first operation, she got married, on a Tuesday. So… nine months later they had a baby boy. The baby’s system had collected all the drugs that Pat had taken so for the first three months after he was born, he raised a lot of phlegm. When he was cleared out, though, he had no trouble. He lived with John and me for the first two years while Pat was still in the hospital. That was 35 years ago. Pat eventually regained her health and she and Mike had 8 more children. The youngest is 18.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, March 10, 1999
SARANAC LAKE - Dorothy Peer, 94, of 1 Santanoni Ave., Saranac Lake, died Monday, March 8, 1999 in Burlington, Mass.
Born Sept. 25, 1904 in Huntington, Quebec, she was the daughter of William and Alice E. (Rice) Walsh.
Mrs. Peer had been employed at the Ray Brook State Hospital for many years until her retirement. She was a member of the civil service employees association and the Saranac Lake Adult Center. She was also a daily communicant of St. Bernard's Church and had been a member and promoter of the Sacred Heart Society of St. Bernard's Church.
Survivors include a son, Walter Peer of Burlington, Mass.; two daughters, Evelyn Camelo and her husband, Frank of Saranac Lake and Mary Peer Spadola of Hicksville, Long Island; a daughter-in-law, Patricia Peer of Saranac Lake; two sisters, Robena Moody of Paul Smiths and Irene Stefanik of Tupper Lake; 22 grandchildren; 36 great-grandchildren; three great-great-grandchildren; and several nieces and nephews.
She was predeceased by her husband, John, in 1968; a son, Michael; and two brothers, Earl and Wilson Walsh.
Calling hours will be held from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Fortune-Keough Funeral Home in Saranac Lake. A Bible vigil will be held at 8 p.m. Thursday. A Mass of Christian burial will be held at 11:15 Friday at St. Bernard's Church with the Rev. Timothy Soucy officiating. Interment will be in the Union Cemetery in Saranac in May.
Memorial contributions in Mrs. Peer's name may be made to the St. Bernard School in care of the funeral home.