Birth control pills had not yet been invented. William Pearl hadn't been married 2 weeks before the first of his 14 children became a bun in Mama's oven. Until the day William was forced to retire from his longstanding job as Senior Clerk at Social Services he would be raising and supporting very young children.
So 35 years later when William Pearl turned 65 years old and faced the mandatory retirement, his youngest child Sam was only eleven. William, who was fit as a fiddle was not ready to be put out to pasture... he simply did not want to retire, and could not afford to retire.
The Pearl family lived on the top floor of a 5-story walk-up. The rundown tenement apartment had been home since William & Eva's first child Robert had come along years ago. Every single one of their offspring still lived in the apartment with them... even the 2 oldest who lived there with their spouses and children.
The long railroad-apartment was a beehive of activity and the only place to enjoy a brief moment of privacy was behind the locked door of the apartment's one bathroom. The 4 bedroom apartment had to accommodate 20 living, active, breathing souls... despite the fact that it was designed to house only a family of 5.
The bright, spacious living room with the crown-molding and high ceilings was William & Eva's bedroom, as well as the family den. The dining room was bedroom to the 6 youngest Pearl boys who were cozily packed against 3 walls, in bunk beds. The bedrooms off the corridor-of-a-hallway were divided up amongst everyone else.
There was lots of genuine love and warmth in the Pearl household. The cramped conditions didn't change that and may even have contributed to the great camaraderie everyone felt. It was like a small village where everyone cares for each other and gets along well.
William Pearl had no choice but to keep working so he sold greeting cards and did astrological charts for anyone interested. His pension was good. He had begun the pension plan during the years of a prosperous economy and was now assured a monetary payout plus full medical and dental coverage, for life. Fortunately, the pension covered all his basic expenses.
Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to cover everything, so working on commission, William sold his cards and books all over town. Between the commissions and astrological readings he was able to make ends meet to his satisfaction. William would never charge to do an astrological reading for you but he would accept donations. Oddly enough, he made more money that way.
William Pearl may have been forced to retire because of his age but he would never be forced to take money from his grown children if he did not have to. So he worked until the day he died. He claimed he would rather burn out than rust out.
Huge families were common once upon a time. Modern science has given us the ability to choose the size of our family now. So, in general, families like William & Eva's are rare today. Solid pension plans like William's that pay every penny of every expense are also rare. It is even rare for Americans to calculate how much they need to save for retirement... more than 50% do not.