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  • Writer's pictureRochelle Gridley

Career Women

Updated: May 12, 2020

Women who worked (other than the women who cleaned your house or who worked in factories) were an enigma, and the Pantagraph was there to explain away your fears of the menace of working women in 1944! This was of course limited to the women who worked in offices or worked in places like shops and restaurants. As we have already found in the Charming Business Girls contest, mere laborers did not count. Only women working in the public eye were part of the danger to middle class life. Women had worked for decades as servants, seamstresses and factory workers, but when they were right there in your face -- working along side your husband, well that was another story. Who were those women and how dangerous were they???? "The biggest job of the average business girl is to find time to relax -- and a girl tied into knots isn't an addition to any office scenery even in wartime." The business girl's evenings were spent preparing to have a pleasing "neat as a pin" appearance and in keeping up her apartment. What a responsibility -- she had to do her job and be an adornment to the office at the same time!



Barbara Lee was an employee of the Hotel Rogers, but in her off time, according to this article, one important evening task was her shopping. For unspecified reasons, she had just half an hour to do her shopping after getting off work, so she planned carefully to make the most of the time she had and make the best decisions while shopping. This image appears to have been in the hotel but were those huge ledgers behind her the guest registers or the office books? These girls lived as lodgers or apartment renters so had very little private space.

In 1943 Barbara was still living with her widowed mother on Lee Street, so apartment living was a new experience for her. (Barbara's father had died after being bitten by a rabid dog when she was just ten years old.) Here she makes a purchase at the shoe store.













Joan Shields came home with arms loaded with groceries -- she had to work all day and then come home to prepare a meal for herself, possibly a roommate as well. Staple goods used in cooking were ordered for delivery, but fresh produce and meat had be purchased on a daily basis. Joan had attended ISNU at least one year and was a clerk at State Farm. She also was still living with her parents in 1943, but was apparently trying out her wings in an apartment in 1944.







Edna Hubbard, like many business girls, did all her laundry and ironing on one night. One might wonder how one could do all the laundry on one night if there were no electric dryers? The first electric dryer was created in 1938 and was called the "June Day!" How refreshing. I wonder if there was an automatic dryer in Edna's apartment building?? There were no self service laundromats listed in the city directory, so these apartment dwellers were stuck washing in the sink, a communal washing machine, or a laundry service!







We are informed that business girls found showering to be necessary every day! This was somewhat uncommon for the average citizen, who bathed somewhat less frequently depending on their social status and the availability of running water in the home. Edna was a Mason City native transplanted to Bloomington to work for State Farm and later the Pantagraph.






Business girls were of course concerned about their figures and engaged in exercises to stave off excess pounds! Mary Jane Kelly shared an apartment with her younger sister, Margaret, after leaving their parents' home on Clinton Boulevard. Mary Jane and Margaret both attended Trinity High School. Mary Jane and Madeline Kinsella (the reporter) were both members of the social/service sorority, Sigma Phi Gamma. Mary Jane was the manager of the wallpaper department of Zinser Paint and Wallpaper store. Margaret attended ISNU to study education for over two years, but decided office work was for her! We don't know where she was working in 1944, but a few years later she was working for a real estate agent and selling phosphate on the side! Quite the entrepreneur!



These sisters shared an apartment and enjoyed the conveniences of an electric refrigerator for storing their food! Here they are having a late night snack. I personally loved the glass milk bottles, which kept your milk colder and fresher than a flimsy plastic jug. Their evening was spent in personal grooming -- plucking, manicuring and washing!




Margaret sets her alarm for 6:30 am -- career girls were early risers! Note her crisply ironed monogramed pajamas!




No danger here folks -- No mention of dating or husband-hunting or a wild social life, just some hardworking gals who want to look nice and get home to eat dinner at night.


Madeline Kinsella was the reporter and photographer for this series of images. She was born in Money Creek Township, the daughter of Thomas and Theresa Kinsella. She graduated from Trinity High School and Brown Business College. She married Clyde North in 1947 and worked at the Pantagraph from 1936 to 1948. She had three sons and died in Virginia in 2000. (In 1940 Madeline lived as a lodger with the Imig family in Normal on Glen Avenue.)



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