Read me: Slacks and Calluses

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A few months ago I attended a lecture at the local history museum about recent archaeological finds at the Kaiser Shipyard site. Vancouver Washington grew in the 40s due to the shipyard and it's workers. Every time I leave the house in slacks and a bandanna, everyone person over 50 remarks at how I look just like their mother, aunt, sister, or even how they looked back in the 40s, working in the shipyard. 

The lecture was very interesting, apparently the most recent dig site was on a small garbage dump area where everything from cold cream jars to scrap metal was found. I was on the edge of my seat when the archaeologist showed pictures of jewelry, workers made from metal scraps on slow days. Crude little metal horse heads and hearts with arrows through them that were rejects for brooches and bracelets. He said even though it was very much against every policy in the book, they would often sell their crafts, and some work was so beautiful the upper management would order pieces of jewelry for their wives! 

I will spend as long as it takes to find a little scrap brooch. 

At the end of the lecture I gathered up the courage to ask the speaker about any books he would recommend. 
(Did I have enough to talk to the elderly woman sitting next to me who had actually worked in the Kaiser Shipyard? No. And I'll kick myself forever for that). 

I scribbled down a little list and received them for Christmas, and this being the shortest was the first to be read! 

Slacks and Calluses is the account of two schoolteachers who work a swing shift during the summer in a San Diego bomber factory. It's written by Constance Bowman Reid and Illustrated by Clara Marie Allen, and is as straightforward and honest an account as you could find. 

It's not exciting, or dramatic, it's really just about their experience in the few months they wanted to do their part. Constance is smart, witty, and there were times I laughed out loud at some account or another. Near the end an entire chapter is dedicated to the girls being forced to wear caps that cover all their hair and the displeasure of every female worker in the factory. 

It seems we always see two types of factory worker photos: Those gritty black and white ones where women were covered in metal dust and their hair was up in a bandanna, and those crisp colorful photos where the girls have perfect little curls peeking from their snood and clean slacks and sweaters. I always thought perhaps the latter was staged and the former was the real deal. Well according to Constance and Clara, both were reality. 

"Blondie and Phyllis were the old timers of the group. They were absolutely the cleanest girls on the line, and they amazed us, even before we got to know them, because they could arrive for work in spotless, creased slacks and leave work at one o'clock with their slacks still spotless and creased......They could keep their hair in intricate coiffures-up in beautiful curls one day and down in beautiful curls the next, with the whole thing topped by fresh or artificial flowers carefully chosen to match the costume jewelry they were wearing today."

"We in our striped t-shirts and dusty blue slacks did not see how they do it. We asked Babe of the bomb bay how some girls managed to keep clean, and she replied, snippily, that some girls had clean jobs and other girls made it their job to keep clean."

They also go into what a vast difference wearing slacks as oppose to skirts made when it came to how men treated them. 

"They called us 'Sister' in a most unbrotherly way, and 'Baby' in a most unfatherly way."

When wearing slacks they were refused service at an ice cream shop, as well as surprised when not a single man gave up their seat on the bus. They even conducted a little experiment and wore skirts and hats on the same bus only to find multiple men jumped up and offered their seats. 

Of course there's quite a bit of technical description, and they each go into depth about the jobs they did and what that involved. 

If you're interested in a personal account of what it was like to work in a bomber factory, I'd highly recommend this book. 
I enjoyed both the writing style and clean illustrations, and accounts of other workers and how their lives varied so much from the teachers (many girls working never graduated high school). Must have been an amazing experience!

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Betty2Tone said...

I actually have to write a paper this semester about different jobs women had in the 40s/WWII and how it impacted their everyday lives, so that book looks like it could be really useful! I will def. be looking into it! :D

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to get my hands on this book!! I would have LOVED to attend a lecture like that and would have been on the edge of my seat too! My friend works at the local library and she's going to help me track down some local WWII history here in Vermont. Don't you just love when older gentlemen make comments like that? I think it's very sweet :)

Lillian said...

I love books like this! Betty MacDonald books are great in this same way, she writes about her life and all the various jobs she held in her life during the depression. Lots of great descriptions of clothes and the jobs she worked!

Dakota said...

How delightful!! That little snippet about how all the girls got around the hat requirement is a hoot!

Not to sound really weird, but I love digging through those old forgotten dumps; 20th century archaeology is really neat. We have quite a few old trash sites in the woods near our house, from farms which have been around since the 1700s. I've found lots of jewelry pieces, beautiful glassware, toys, and all kinds of metal relics out there.

PS: You look adorable, like the archetypal Northwestern gal!

Unknown said...

Oh this sounds so interesting, I do hope you get to find a brooch! xxx

bahnwärterin said...

every time I read something like this I have to think of my grandparents who were bombed in Dresden and Berlin ......

Macska said...

What a fascinating sounding book! Thanks for the recommendation, I'm going to go and hunt that one up. :-)

Helen Le Caplain said...

Love the outfit - and it sounds like a fascinating insight into the experiences these women had there.

Good luck finding one of those pins - and be sure to report back if you do!!


Witchcrafted Life said...

This books sounds entirely like it would be right up my alley. I love firsthand accounts of historical events and time periods, especially those written by fellow women. I'm off to add this title to my Amazon wish list (specifically the one I have dedicated just to vintage related books) right now.

Terrific outfit - I love classic red plaid and dark denim together like that.

♥ Jessica

Amy G said...

I've heard of these ladies before! I haven't read they're book, but I remember their experiences and book being referenced in a book I had to read for a class in college. Really interesting stuff!

LandGirl1980 said...

Sounds like my kinda book! Shall have to look it up over here :)

Unknown said...

Oh I love the sound of this book! Thank you for sharing your experiences at the lecture! I think its awesome that you are doing this!! xox

Emileigh said...

Oooooo, this book does sound great! What an interesting lecture, too! I'm going to have to look around and see if we have any such things in my area. I love history and things like this, but it's a bit harder to find here in the Midwest.
And you look super cute! I'm looking for some vintage/vintage-style pants currently, and I love your whole look!

Anonymous said...

That's quite an interesting blog post. To me this era is quite complex; at the same time as these new industries meant a whole new world to women and their rights to work, these industries also meant the death of so many people. Does the book say anything about if they ever thought of what they actually produced? Anyway, I'd like to read it, it's quite rare to find such an authentic document of real life from that time I think. And I love the description of "Blondie" and "Phyllis"! Fresh flowers in your hair for working in a factory!? That's some hardcore styling! :D

And, of course, you look great like always. I love that casual look!

Midnight Cowgirl said...

Sounds like an interesting book, and love your bandana!

Solanah said...

miriamskafferep, The darker side of it was never touched on, the only time she mentions the bombers outside of the factory is seeing them in newsreels and up in the air and being proud that they helped make them. I think Americans were more disconnected with the tragedies of the war since there were entire oceans between them and the actual battles. Interesting point you bring up though!


Sarah said...

"They even conducted a little experiment and wore skirts and hats on the same bus only to find multiple men jumped up and offered their seats."

Still holds true today :)

Tasha said...

I LOVE the idea that they were stealthily making jewelry at off moments! We have a scrap metal cowboy on a horse that Mel's grandpa made in pretty much just the same way (not jewelry, actually pretty big-- it can stand up on its own). He worked in a steel factory in Indiana. It's a really neat memento to have!

Sarah Dee said...

Thank you for sharing this Solanah! I HAVE to give this a read!

x missdottidee.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

This looks so interesting! It's amazing the difference clothes make to the way others perceive us!

Beth said...

Oh, you just have to try and watch Bomb Girls! It's a Canadian show part way through it's second season about the women who worked on the line of a munitions factory and their lives during wartime. I'm sure you can find it to watch or download online!


cuteNroll said...

you are really cute!

alice c'n'r

marjorie1940 said...

There's a wonderful TV series on now called "Bomb Girls", which follows the lives of a group of women working in a bomb factory in Ontario, Canada in the Second World War. It is on CBC TV....not sure if you can access it from the States, but the episodes are also broadcast on the web at cbc.ca (click in to TV, then Bomb Girls). Hope you enjoy it!

Debi said...

Wow! This book sounds amazing! I definitely want to learn more of the history of Vancouver!