She built it well

I got a “proud Aunt” note from one of my favorite cousins last year about her niece.

“Hi Bob!  Hope all is well.  Just wanted to share.  My niece, Isabella just became a certified welder and had her second interview over at Electric Boat in New London.  If she gets hired she might get to work on a submarine.  Cool, right?”

What was very cool for me is knowing that Uncle Jack had a key role in the early days of nuclear submarine development when he worked at the Bettis Atomic Plant in Western Pennsylvania

I hadn’t heard from her for a while but as I was writing this story, I thought I would check into her progress.

“She is doing well.  She is working 3rd shift so I don’t see her as much anymore.  She just got her security clearance so will be able to go to some different areas of EB.  They still have her doing scut work but she really wants to be doing more welding.  I told her she probably just needs to get through the initial 6 months’ probation time.”

I spend a lot of time these days talking with business leaders and educators about the importance of skilled trades. The whole country seems to be going through a drought of qualified young people and many of us are struggling for the answer. To be honest, it could be one of the greatest challenges we face in the near term

So to say that Isabella is my hero right now would be an understatement.

Submarine Month

April is always submarine month and I have written many articles about the link between submarines and the month. It is our recognized birthday of course, but it also marks some of the worst periods in modern history for submarine losses. But as I was researching for the story today, I came upon a very interesting aspect that really hit home for me.

Anyone who has ever read about World War 2 submarines probably knows some of the exploits of the USS Dace. The story of the Darter and Dace will always rise to the top of submarine gallantry. But this article was about her building and some of the people involved.

When World War 2 started, men were needed to fill the pipelines that would eventually provide combat soldiers and sailors as well as airmen. Even though many skilled tradesmen were held back to build the war machines, it soon became obvious that in order to fight a global war, more men would be needed that were workers and farmers in the former lives.

At the same time, ships and submarines were being built at an astounding rate. In Connecticut, the answer came from a very non-traditional source: women, being trained at the Summer War Session of Connecticut College at New London for work in war production plants. One of the driving forces behind the local efforts was a dynamic woman by the name of Katherine Blunt.

This is part of their story:

Shipbuilders & Marine Engineers Union of Groton, Inc.

Dates of publication: 193?-1946

THE SUB, April 22, 1943

Another impressive chapter’ in the history of the Electric Boat Company will be written on Sunday, when, at special ceremonies, the first submarine will be launched at the Victory Yard, and an Army-Navy production pendant, with two stars, will be awarded.

The submarine which will be launched is the U.S.S. DACE. The Keel for this boat was laid down when the Victory Yard was officially opened last summer. At that time there was a ceremony, during which Mrs. O. Pomeroy Robinson, Wife of General Manager Robinson, spot welded Mr. Robinson’s initials in the first keel plate. This was a special honor, granted by the Navy Department, in recognition of Mr. Robinson’s outstanding contribution in the field of submarine production.

At the same time, women, being trained at the Summer War Session of Connecticut College at New London for work in war production plants, and Dr. Katharine Blunt, president of the college, who originated the Summer War Session, were commended for their initiative.

Anticipated “V” Yard Women

When the Victory Yard was opened there was anticipation that women would be hired for actual production work, and this anticipation became a reality. The Electric Boat Company became a New England leader in hiring women for production work, and was the first to assign them to actual production activity on the boats. The submarine on which women first went to work was the “DACE.”

Navy Cross to 24 E.B. Boats

When the Victory Yard was officially opened, there were three Electric Boat Company submarines which had carried out successful missions against the enemy, for which their commanders had received the Navy Cross. Now the record boards on the North Yard plate shop show that 24 of the Electric Boat Company submarines have won this honor, and six have won it twice. The hope that the “DACE” will join the roll of honor will accompany the submarine as she slides down the ways.

The Secretary of the Navy has designated Mrs. Robinson as the sponsor, and she will break the traditional bottle of champagne across the bow of this cruising fighter, just before the submarine slides into the waters of the Thames River.

There has always been a thrill when Electric Boat Company submarines have taken their maiden dip, but the slide of the “DACE” will be particularly inspiring because of the fact that it will be the first launching at the Victory Yard.

“V” Yard Nearly Completed

The Victory Yard is now practically completed, and other submarines will soon follow the “DACE” towards completion and commissioning. With boats from the North and South Yards, they will join the Navy fleet in carrying the war to the home fronts of the enemy.

The Army-Navy “E” pennant which will be awarded at the time of the launching of the “DACE” indicates continuing top production. E. B. Co. Awarded Third Pennant

The first award to the Nelseco Plant was the Navy “E” in March of 1942. At that time it was announced that continuing top production would bring a repeat award. The continuing awards are made every six months. The official presentation ceremony, however, for the second award was held last November. At that time the Navy *y pennant was replaced by the Army-Navy “E”, under a program which had the Army and Navy sharing in the presentation of the production awards. The pennant carried a star, to show that it was a repeater. Now, the third pennant will be the Army Navy “E”, with two stars.

When the second award was received, Brig. Gen. Thomas E. Troland, U. S. A., expressed the hope that Electric Boat Company’s pennant would become a “star spangled banner.” The second star has followed the first, and it has been announced that continued effort will bring others.

Who was Katherine Blunt?

American educator and first woman president of Connecticut College. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on May 28, 1876; died on July 29, 1954; daughter of Stanhope English (an army officer and author of technical articles) and Fanny (Smyth) Blunt; attended “The Elms” and Miss Porter’s school in Springfield, Massachusetts; received B.A. from Vassar College; attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology; received Ph.D. in organic chemistry from University of Chicago.

Katharine Blunt, the third president (and first woman president) of Connecticut College, was a dynamic and driving force in the institution’s formative years. In a college publication called Chapters in the History of Connecticut College, she is called “a woman of judgment, of social instinct, of snap and vigor; sometimes imperious, sometimes flashing fire … a woman able to do a man’s work with the encouragement a man needs, or without it.” As a female college president in 1929, she was no doubt well served by her feisty nature.

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Vassar College, Blunt went on to receive a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Chicago. Beginning her teaching career at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, in 1913, she was then appointed to the home-economics faculty at the University of Chicago, where she remained until 1925. Blunt became chair of the department and raised the study of home economics to the graduate level, providing high quality, specialized study. During World War I, she worked for the Federal government as an expert on nutrition, writing leaflets on food conservation. In 1918, Blunt collaborated with Florence Powdermaker on a series of lesson plans for colleges called Food and the War, which was published by the U.S. Food Administration. During this time, she also became active in the American Home Economics Association, serving as president of the Illinois chapter, as national vice president, and as national president from 1924 to 1926.

When Blunt was appointed president of Connecticut College in 1929, it was the only college in the state offering a four-year course for women. As the first woman and only the third president of the young institution, she built up the college’s faculty and increased financial resources. Blunt is credited with the construction of 18 building from 1929 through 1942, during which time she kept a constantly escalating budget in check. She increased research revenue and upgraded faculty salaries and benefits. She expanded the curriculum, helped develop and finance more scholarships, provided campus accommodations for resident students, and instituted apprenticeships in public affairs, economics, home economics, and business.

Blunt was also responsible for a number of innovative summer institutes, beginning in 1941, with the Latin American Institute. Organized at the request of Nelson Rockefeller (then coordinator of Inter-American Affairs), the institute examined Latin American trade relations, economics, and politics. A secretarial school also met for a six-week session that summer, and in 1942 the college held an eight-week summer “War Session” for the training of secretaries, chemists, accountants, statisticians, and nursery-school teachers. In addition to the summer institutes, Blunt encouraged college-sponsored lectures, conferences and concerts. The Institute of Women’s Professional Relations, established in 1929 as a informational clearinghouse for business and professional women, was also headquartered at the college.

In 1943, Blunt retired, age 67, but was called back two years later when the succeeding president, Dr. Dorothy Schaffter, returned to nonacademic work. Blunt served until June 1946, when she retired for a second time. In addition to an honorary LL.D. from Connecticut College, she was awarded honorary degrees from Wesleyan University, Mount Holyoke College, and the University of Chicago. Blunt believed that women could shape the world around them and that they should be encouraged to participate in every field open to them. In the Journal of the Association of American University Women, she directed teachers to provide their students with the “contacts with life which vitalize the theory and destroy ‘ivory tower isolation’.” Katharine Blunt died on July 29, 1954.

So how successful was the Dace in its service to the nation?

In addition to the Navy Unit Commendation, the USS Dace received seven battle stars during her seven war patrols, the last five of which were designated as “successful.” She is credited with having sunk 28,689 tons of Japanese shipping.

Taffy 3 – Courage Beyond Measure

She would survive the war and was later scrapped in April of 1975, 42 years after initial launch.

Submarines are often credited with a tremendous share of the successes of the war. But like all of the ships and planes and submarines, we should never forget the work of the men and women who stayed home to provide them with the weapons they needed. The motto in the yard at that time was “Keep em sliding”. While things are done a little different these days, I am reminded how important those people truly are to our security.

Mister Mac

One thought on “She built it well

  1. Hey Mister Mac, I recently was seen by an audiologist to update my hearing aids and we struck up a conversation that ties in nicely with this story. His wife was a pipefitter at EB about the same time that the Lafayette entered for Sub-Safe conversion and Poseidon conversion. I have no idea if I ever met her, but it is indeed a small world at times. Stay safe and keep writing.

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