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  • Writer's pictureRochelle Gridley

Woman in the Office Interviews, 1944

In July of 1944 the Pantagraph interviewer wanted to know the opinion of women who were working during the war -- would they go back to the kitchen, or did they want to stay in their war time work?

Mrs. William Rowe's (Eleanor Cable) husband was a sergeant in Corsica and she was anxious for him to come home: "I want to get back to normal living just as soon as my husband gets back, and normal living for us means having a home. You can't have a real home and have both a husband and wife working--at least I feel that way. I want a home and children. Housework is hard. It is just as hard as office work, sometimes harder, when housecleaning time comes. But it is less monotonous." William Rowe returned to Bloomington June 5, 1945 after 3 years in Italy. One family tree for the Rowe's indicated that they eventually had four children.

Mrs. Dave Swanson's (Marcia Johnson) husband was a private in the medical corps serving in the south Pacific. "Give me the home fires any day. I like housework. It can be creative and interesting. And the program isn't so rigid as office work, where everything has to be done according to the clock." When home in Bloomington, Dave Swanson was an underwriter with State Farm. Marcia was from California, but had attended Wesleyan before teaching in Chenoa. Dave was later a vice president at State Farm. Their only child died as an infant in 1943. Look at the height of Marcia's desk. If she was using that adding machine with any regularity she was having extreme back issues!!!

Mrs. Robert Willman's (Marjorie Jane Stubblefield) husband was Lieutenant in the navy in Gulfport Mississippi. "I will always want to work in this office. I really like it. It is far more interesting and exciting than washing dishes and making beds. Besides it is easier for us to get household help than it is for us to get help in the insurance business." Robert Willman was an insurance agent and apparently Marjorie was working to keep the family business going. The Willman's had one child before Robert signed up to do his bit -- even though he was over thirty years old and a father. Once again, Marjorie was working at a desk built for a man -- no wonder the women didn't want to stay in the office -- their backs were killing them!!

Mrs. Harry E. Watts' (Florence Corn) husband was a lieutenant with the army in Italy. (On the left in the photo) "Sometimes I think I can't wait until this war is over and I can have a home again. I shall give up office work with no regrets whatsoever. Housework is easier because it doesn't require a set routine of time and program. You can listen to the radio and take a nap on a hot afternoon -- but in an office you plug away until you think you'll drop in your tracks. At the end of the day you wonder what you have accomplished." Florence was from Georgia and had married Harry in 1942 in Georgia, after he was sent overseas apparently she moved to Bloomington, where Harry was an underwriter with State Farm.

Mrs. Tom Harrison's (her name unknown and on the right in the photo above) husband was stationed in Hawaii with the navy. "I married to have a home and children. I don't think office work is easier than housework. In a way it is harder because it requires more discipline. I am looking forward to preparing three meals a day for Tom when he comes back. I hope that when he comes home tired from the office, and the kids have been noisy and ornery all day, and everything has gone wrong, that I can remember these years I've spent in office work while he has been away. I want to remember that nothing can be as bad as this has been."

Mrs. Richard Middleton's (Lucile Larkin) husband was a private at Camp Ellis. "I've liked my work at the bank a great deal, but I'll be glad to get back to my homemaking nevertheless. I don't think the two jobs are comparable because they are so different. In this work I could reach an end -- in housework I never could. It goes on and on. But I prefer housework because it offers more opportunity for creative activity." Before he left for the war, Richard was a teller in a bank. He was later a vice president of the National Bank of Bloomington, during the war he rose to the rank of staff sergeant in the Finance Department. At least Lucile's desk was at a reasonable height for typing!!!

Mrs. Harvey Wells's (Dorothy Robinson) husband was a private, still stationed in Ft. Hood Texas in 1944. "If my husband comes back well and able to work I am going to give up my job immediately and take it easy. I like to loaf and there is more time for it at home than at the office." Harvey was a sheet metal worker, the only laborer among the husbands mentioned here. He worked for Modine Manufacturing. Dorothy worked for 27 years in food service at ISNU.

Mrs. Lee Hubble's (Jean VanZile) husband was a private in the medical corps in New Guinea. "I'll work for a while after my husband gets back, because he wants to finish school. But I intend to quit work just as soon as we are in a position where I can. I've always wanted a home. Keeping a home will be play compared to office work." Lee Hubble attended Wesleyan after the war and worked in banking in Bloomington until about 1953, when the family left Illinois.

The interviews in this column were stacked against the women staying in the workplace -- all the women interviewed were married and anxious to have their husbands back home. Nearly everyone of them was married to an executive and was looking forward to life as a "clubwoman." If young women who were unmarried, or married to young men who did not have prospects of an executive's salary, like Mrs. Wells' husband, the answers could have been vary different. Even the attitude of Mrs. Wells was different from that of the more educated women, and she was the only one who continued working in physical labor.

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