My Mom celebrated her tenth birthday on February 3, 1942.
She and I talked a few times about the war that was going on around her at that time and she did not have many memories. She was born into a well to do family and was isolated from the events that were transpiring all around the world. I am sure, knowing my grandparents, they had a lovely party for her.
My Grandfather was months away from being drafted into service in the Coast Guard reserves in McKeesport Pennsylvania. He had a large cabin cruiser boat and knew the rivers around the area pretty well. The boat was drafted too, and he spent quite a bit of the war years with his small crew looking for saboteurs along the banks of the Monongahela River near the steel mills that made metal for the war effort.
Inside many of those mills and in defense industries all over the country, women were rapidly replacing the men who were being called up in large numbers. This phenomenon had been observed once more during the First World War so there was certainly a precedence for the actions. Plus, the large increase in federalization of production was driving the need for more workers at a very fast pace.
Debbie’s Mom and many of her friends even worked at a nearby plant that made bombs. It was hard work, but everyone lent a hand and joined in the war effort.
So how did it go?
There are hundreds of stories in the archives about the integration of women into non-traditional occupations. They were often paid less, the conditions were frightful, and they had to juggle childcare in many cases while their husbands were away at the war. But I found this very interesting article by a popular column writer who regularly wrote about life as it appeared to him.
Henry McLemore was a sports columnist for the Hearst Newspapers organization. If you look him up online, you won’t find much information about his private life. He was born and raised in Macon Georgia, did a few movies (one with Bing Crosby), and appeared on an episode of Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life.
Henry McLemore was born on December 2, 1906, in Macon, Georgia, USA as Henry Tolliver McLemore. He was an actor, known for The Millionaire (1955), Swing with Bing (1940) and You Bet Your Life (1950). He died on June 23, 1968, in Daytona Beach, Florida, USA.
This was his column about women workers on February 3, 1942
Note: Before you get all worked up and mad, remember, I am only the messenger, and this column was probably written with his tongue in his cheek. Even though he was from Macon Georgia, he seemed to have a wicked sense of humor
McLemore – Cute Girl Workers Upset Plane Plants
By HENRY McLEMORE.
LOS ANGELES. Calif.—Aviation in California has a new problem. It’s not tricycle landing gears, pitch propellers, fire power or rationed rubber. No, its new problem is an old one, and involves what Kipling once foolishly described as “a rag, a bone and a hank of hair!” You’re right, folks, it’s the gals.
Blue-eyed gals and skinny gals. Redheaded gals and oversized gals. Serious gals and flighty gals. All sizes and all sorts of gals. Since the attack on Pearl Harbor California’s major airplane factories have employed thousands and thousands of woman workers. There la scarcely a plant that doesn’t have a powder room or where the rouge and lipstick doesn’t stand on equal terms with the cut plug and the briar pipe. The girls are doing a magnificent job. They have proved they are worth the 60 end 75 cents an hour that they receive for helping in the assembling of bombers and fighters and trainers. On the more monotonous Jobs—you know, the kind where, for hour after hour, you tuck a little bit of wire here, you twist a bolt here, you pat something down here—they have shown themselves to be more efficient than men.
But the girls have produced a few headaches, just as girls have always done since Eve was determined to keep the doctor away with a bite into that forbidden winesap. Clothes have been a great problem. When the plants were first opened to woman workers the gals arrived on the Job wearing any and everything. They came in voile creations, dotted Swiss jobs, crepe print numbers, tailored suits, Mother Hubbards, boudoir aprons, slacks, shorts and almost everything else that you can find in a girl’s wardrobe. Tough foremen threw up their hands in horror. Hard-bitten machinists quivered and shook at the sight. Overalled mechanics muttered oaths that all but started the motors of nearby planes. The girls were told that they must report in slacks; that to allow them to frisk around in billowing skirts would endanger their lives. No one really knew the variety of slacks that were worn until the girls started showing up for work in their slacks. The cute girl workers, the pretty ones, and the well—well, the well-built ones—took to slacks that were more appropriate for the first line of a Broadway chorus than an airplane factory. Quite a rumpus was raised when the foremen of one factory rebelled against a worker wearing a trousers and halter outfit. He demanded that she cover up some of the exposed sections of her anatomy. The girl said OKAY, she would, but not until the men in the shop abandoned the habit of working without their shirts. This developed into quite a battle. The men said they had been working without shirts for years and they would be blankety-blank if any gal could come in and dictate how they should dress. You know who won, don’t you, or aren’t you married? * * * *
What the airplane factories want is a standardized girl worker. Ones that are too pretty upset the place. As a matter of fact, the ones that are too lovely and look too well in a sweater, say, are not employed. It has been found that this type upsets the production of a plant. Some nosey statistician has figured out that to take a Hollywood starlet through a factory is magnificent for morale but terrible for production, and costs dozens of man hours. It seems that no matter how patriotic a workman is, how interested he is in his work, he simply can’t help being more interested in a delicious little thing in a sun suit than he is in a bomber. The thousands and thousands of woman workers are determined not to lose their feminity. A Los Angeles department store, in polling them to ascertain a market for their merchandise, found that the girls wanted only one kind of clothes— the frilliest, fluffiest stuff that could be stitched up by hand or machine. I’m afraid that, war or no war, women are not going to be standardized.
What are your views on the subject? Write me care of the Dead Letter Office and let me know. (Distributed by McNaught Syndicate, Ine.)
I read about thirty of his many columns this afternoon. They are easy to find on the https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/about/
This web site offers a unique look back at our country through the lens of the newspapers archived there.
With as prolific a writer as Henry was, I wondered why there was so little information available on the internet about him in my usual sources. Then some key things surfaced which explained why Henry was buried in such anonymity.
You see, Henry McLemore was mainly known for his advocacy of the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II.
McLemore is responsible for the quote, “I am for the immediate removal of every Japanese on the West Coast to a point deep in the interior. I don’t mean a nice part of the interior either. Herd ’em up, pack ’em off and give ’em the inside room in the badlands… Personally, I hate the Japanese. And that goes for all of them.” -Hearst newspapers 1942.
The internment of the Japanese American citizens will always be one of the largest stains on our national story.
Henry was filled with rage at the attacks in not only Pearl Harbor but all across the Pacific. He saw the presence of the Japanese Americans in the same way that many people did in that day and age. His biggest crime was that he said in print what many of that generation were thinking. And he was brutal. And he was racist in the truest sense of the word. I truly believe that when the last guns were done shooting, America took a hard look at itself and realized that it had to be a better place. And maybe, just maybe Henry’s words were a little too much of a reflection of the people at the time.