During World War II the role of women was forever changed.
Young men were being drafted, and families torn apart. Wives, who formerly deferred to their husbands as the head of the household, were forced to make important decisions on their own. With new responsibilities and new routines to adapt to, it was a confusing time for everybody. Some families were forced to share their homes with others to cut expenses and exchange childcare duties.
Courageously, women took up the challenge and kept the home fires burning while the men were away.
For the first time in the history of this country, women were working alongside men in the factories and doing a fine job. They were recruited by Lyon Metal Company to replace some of the 650 men who were called by Uncle Sam. Although they were never able to achieve wage equality, they did attain a new sense of freedom and self-sufficiency that would did not go away when they returned to a prewar life.
At the outbreak of the war, Lyon had to cease peacetime production so they made a bold move. They sent a group of aggressive salesmen to Washington, D.C. to convince those in charge of their ability to handle the wartime contracts. As a result they brought home a total of 3,800 separate contracts throughout the war years. A classic example of “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
Other local factories were retrofitted to produce weapons and equipment for war. Women were taught to rivet and weld, and to use the new dies and jigs and other equipment. They proved to be excellent workers. After their shift ended, they returned home to cook dinner and bathe the babies. Other young, single women joined the army, navy, and other branches of the service, and trained nurses were in demand.
Everything revolved around “The war effort;” a phrase heard often. Everyday life took on new meaning. Such things as buying savings stamps, using rationing coupons, saving balls of tinfoil and cans of fat from the kitchens became the norm. Local butcher shops became collection points for coffee cans filled with bacon grease. It felt so patriotic to carry in those greasy cans and hand them to the butcher. Women and children planted and tended victory gardens. They also helped the Red Cross by rolling bandages, knitting warm socks, holding blood drives and bond drives. It all mattered.
Vanity was put aside. Women would scavenge their jewelry box and donate bright colored costume jewelry so the soldiers in the jungles of New Guinea could use them for bartering. That sounds a little far-fetched, but that’s what we were told. After all, didn’t the Dutch buy Manhattan for a handful of colored beads? There were collection boxes at various businesses where you could deposit your colorful necklaces, bracelets, and broaches. This was in the days when much of it was made of Bakelite and even Celluloid. What was considered “junk jewelry” in the 1940s is now “vintage” jewelry and can be found on E-Bay.
There were many small ways to make people feel like they were contributing. Unlike recent wars, this one had the backing of almost everyone. Even the mothers, who cried when their sons went off to war, proudly hung the silk banners with a big blue star in their windows. When the blue star was changed for a gold star, the whole community felt the pain and rallied around, mourning with the family.
Young mothers and sweethearts sent almost daily letters to their men overseas. Mail from home was the highlight of a soldier’s day. How different it is today with the Internet and it’s rapid communication.
The wallpaper factory at the end of River Street became a munitions factory. Lyon Metal received a special Army/Navy E award, and a banner to hang at the front entrance. One member of their large work force of women is pictured on the badge shown at the top of this story. If you recognize this woman, please tell us her name.
During the war years, the Christmases would have very been bleak if it had not been for the long-standing custom of the Village Santa. Children could still count on the brightly wrapped package containing a bag of hard candy, Grandma Brigg’s coveted popcorn ball, an orange and a bag of nuts in the shell. The village was especially gloomy with all of the room darkening shades pulled after dark, as children listened carefully for the tinkle of the bells on Santa’s sleigh. Suddenly there would be a sharp wrap on the front door, and it would fling open. Santa would be standing there holding a large bag of gifts; and he would call out Merry Christmas as he tossed in the parcels and quickly closed the door.
Every evening the radio would bring us war news from Europe. Edward R. Murrow from London; H. V. Kaltenborn did his broadcasting from Paris; and here at home, Gabriel Heater did his best to bolster the spirits of the country with his famous line, “there is good news tonight.” He tried to find some positive thing to include in each broadcast.
Time dragged on as we waited for it to end and the soldiers to come back home. Sadly most of us would never feel really safe again. We were forever changed in many ways.
(This week we were saddened to learn of the passing of Donavan Goodwick. He was a member of the popular band, Bub and His Boys. This band was started by his father Harold “Bub” Goodwick and played locally at barns, dance halls, and county fairs since the 40s. I wrote about this band in March of 2011 and the response was heartwarming. People had fond memories of the dances, and some wanted to find a copy of a Bub and His Boys CD. Donavan’s daughter, Julie, was able to oblige them. Thank you, Donovan, for the many hours of pleasure you gave us, and thank you, Julie, for your kindness.)