Oral interviews digitized

This is a group of women from the Mary Martha Home, posing for a 1926 photo in their uniforms (CMBS photo NP066-01-20 viewable at the Mennonite Archival Information Database).

Recently, I completed a media preservation project. It involved the digitization of audio recordings from analogue cassette tapes to digital mp3 files.

In 1987, Frieda Esau Klippenstein interviewed 34 Mennonite women for an oral history project, documenting the experience of Mennonite domestics associated with the Mary Martha Home in Winnipeg. The interviews ranged from 60 to 75 minutes each. These women—usually for a year or two, but some longer—had worked for wealthy Winnipeg families in their homes during the 1920s through to the 1950s—cooking, cleaning, and child minding.

For many years, the women were under the supervision of Anna Thiessen (1892–1977), matron of the Mary Martha Home, a house at 437 Mountain Avenue and ministry of the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba.

The Mary Martha Home functioned as an employment agency and living quarters for the women between or during jobs. It was also a place for the women to gather on Thursdays, when their employers gave them the afternoon off. The women were mostly young, new to the city, and from Mennonite immigrant/refugee families; they did what they could to help their families resettle in Canada.

When the Mary Martha Home closed in 1959, more than 2,200 young women had benefited from its services.

The digitization of the interviews ensures that researchers will be able to access all 34 interviews, even as the original cassette tape recordings deteriorate with time.

Below is a 3-minute excerpt from Frieda Esau Klippenstein’s interview with Agatha Isaac in 1987.

To read the article Frieda Esau Klippenstein published in 1989 about her oral history project, see

For more information about the Mary Martha Home and the ministry of Anna Thiessen, see the links below.

♦The GAMEO article on the Mary Martha Home,

♦The MAID photo collection of the Mary Martha Home,

♦The online version of Anna Thiessen’s memoir,