Tag Archives: family letters

My Grandmother and Rosie the Riveter

Family letter 1943

Letter and envelope with 3 cent stamp, October 25, 1943 from Vera Anderson to her daughter Harriette A. Kaser

My favorite photograph does not exist.  It is a picture of my Grandmother, Vera Anderson, as a “Rosie the Riveter.”

The collection of old photographs passed on to me by my mother and to her by her mother and to her by her mother, contains many gems.  I have shared many of my favorites from those photos–Grandma Vera Anderson in her baseball uniform; the whole clan of Andersons and Stouts in front of a farm house that still exists; my mother and her two brothers dressed up like fancy dolls when they were toddlers, the Anderson family during World War II….and many more.

But the photo that I have only in my imagination shows my grandmother as a Rosie the Riveter. You’ve seen the popular poster of Rosie, who went to work in factories building war materiel during World War II.

Rosie the Riveter

J. Howard Miller (1918–2004), artist employed by Westinghouse, poster used by the War Production Co-ordinating Committee.

In a note from “Daddy Guy” (my grandfather) sent October 16, 1943 to my mother:

Guy Anderson 1934

Guy Anderson August 1943, Killbuck

Mom is going to work Mon. morning  at Goodyear. She has her slacks (Hell) and all that goes with the job.

Later in the letter he says:

I may get job caring for three Parks in Holmes Co. $124 year around. I am afraid of inflation. Mom working and if I get parks I can work in Williamson about 4 days a week but just so it doesn’t inflate Mom’s Slacks I don’t care.

He and grandma did care for parks for a while. I remember going with them when I was a small girl.  And Williamson refers to a man who roomed with them, and ran a factory putting together wooden boxes.

Leter from Guy Anderson

Letter from Daddy Guy (Leonard Guy Anderson) to Harriette Kaser, 10-16-43

Vera Anderson

Vera Anderson,August 1943

Since Grandma did not leave behind a picture of her in the slacks that my grandfather hated so much, I have to rely on a picture in words from her letters in 1943 to recreate her life as a Rosie the Riveter factory worker during World War II.

Daddy Guy had more reason to resent Grandma’s job than just the slacks.  He almost had the job himself.

In late September or early October, Grandma wrote to mother:

Dad got notice to come and take ex{am}. For work at GoodYear in Millersburg today at 60 cents an hr. He is all excited about it. I wonder if he will pass. I think we could get along but he seems to want to try and that will be a good way for him to find out. I hope he can for it would be better for him to being doing something and I think he would be happier.

However in the next letter we learn it is not to be.  Grandma and Daddy Guy had closed the restaurant (pictured at the top of the page) when Daddy Guy had a severe heart attack. He had not had a regular job since then.

Dad thought he had a job. They called him and told him to bring birth certificate Social Security Card and come up so he did and they said you go to Dr. Cole for examination and come back here in morning at 7:30. So he did but when they opened the letter from Cole. The man said he was very sorry but Dr. said No. He had a bad heart and there wasn’t any thing they could do. Dad was awful disappointed.

Mr. Williamson said for him to come up to {his} place and see if he could stand to make crates. He could work just as fast as he wanted to or as long as he wanted to as it would be piece work. So I guess he will try that.

On October 16, Grandma tells Mother that she will start “school”–training for her new job–at the Goodyear Plant in Millersburg. At the age of 62, Vera Stout Anderson is becoming a “Rosie the Riveter.” Just a couple weeks after her husband was turned down because of his health, she has been hired. He writes his comments about slacks that you read above, and Grandma says:

Yes I am starting to school Monday. 8 hrs until we go through school which is 6 days then we work 10 hours. I am riding with Mrs. Bernard Smith and Priscilla Spellman at 7 a.m. but at 6 when we work. I am still going to help out at the show as I won’t work night shift. I will not stay if I have to.

Sunday night, Oct. 24:

I am sending my exam papers so you can see what a dumb Mother you have. You needn’t return them. I start to work in morning at 6 o’clock. The school was hard for me. I just couldn’t study I am glad it is over. My grades in shop were 92% -85%, 97-94. Not so bad for an old woman. We only went 8 hrs to school {a day} but will work 10. I will tell you all about it after this week.
Vera Anderson letter Nov 1943

Vera’s letter to her daughter about her WWII factory work Nov 29 ,1943

Her factory work was not her only contribution to the war effort. [Delmar Alderman was the owner of the hardware store and good friend of my father. You can see his picture here.]

Buy War Bonds

Buy War Bonds poster WWII

I was out today getting War Funds for Delmar he put me on to get from here up to Apts and railroad St. Which I did. The ones that were at home.

Even while working eight hours a day at the Goodyear Plant, Grandma was taking care of rooms she rented and she also worked some nights at the end of the week at the movie theater which was only three doors away from her house. She sold tickets.

Nov. 18 she writes:

I am still[working] at the show and it makes it awful late for me when I have to get up at 4:30 every morning.

Mon. Nov 29.

Would have written you last night but I was so tired I just couldn’t. I cleaned my house all over yesterday and washed and then ironed my blouse & slacks so I could have them today. I have never bought but one suit.

We know we was somewhere today. They are trying to increase production so we had to step on it. We have had one raise and another one due now soon we are getting $.50 an hour for 8 hours. All holidays and over 40 hrs time and a half. We go to work at 6 and get off at 2:30. I get up at 4:30 every morning.

Note that Daddy Guy was promised sixty cents an hour when he applied for a job at the factory.  After working two months and having a raise, Grandma is still only getting fifty cents an hour. The Rosie the Riveter revolution brought new jobs to women, but at a lower wage than men were paid. Women are still waiting for the satisfactory outcome of that particular revolution.

December 14, she proudly writes:

I must tell you how I rate at shop. They transferred me over to Pre Assembly and it is much nicer and cleaner. We make parts on jigs and then they are drilled. They told Mrs. Bell and me today that tomorrow we would build them and each of us would have a man to drill them so it will be nice.

I must get some new slacks. I only have one pair and they are getting pretty thin. I wash them and dry them in evening.

Apparently the working conditions are not ideal, as she writes in this December 20 letter:

I didn’t work today as Dad had an awful night coughing last night. I guess he took my cold. I have just been sick. 1/3 of the people that worked was off with colds. They did not get the shop warm those cold days and we just stood around and shook. My cold is better. I took tablets every 1/2 hr for 2 days.

Nowhere in her letters does she mention what she is working on.  It is possible that since they were manufacturing parts, they really did not know what the final product was, but as I explained in this post, the Goodyear Aircraft Corporation plant in Millersburg, Ohio, was making Corsair airplanes for the Navy.

It is also possible that Grandma was just being cautious.  Everywhere, posters warned people not to give away where their servicemen were going, and in factories, the Rosie the Riveter gals were warned not to talk about what they were doing.  These “Loose Lips Sink Ships” posters were not an abstraction to Vera Anderson, whose letters are filled with her concern for her son William J. Anderson, a SeaBee deployed to the Pacific.

World War II Poster

A WWII “Loose Lips Sink Ships” warning poster.

Words and posters paint a picture of my Grandma in her role as Rosie the Riveter.  I do not know how long she worked as a Rosie the Riveter, but as long as she was needed to help, she would be there.

[This has been my response to the prompt “My favorite picture” for the 52 Ancestors project.]

Grandma’s Got the Holiday Blues: Family Letters,1943

Many people get the holiday blues.  My usually stoic grandmother had more reason that most to feel sad in December 1943.

In a previous post, I wrote about Hattie Morgan Stout writing to her daughter, Maude Stout Bartlett.  Now I am going to launch a series about Hattie’s other daughter, Vera Stout Anderson and her letters to HER daughter.

Vera Anderson wrote frequently to her daughter Harriette Anderson Kaser (my mother), during the months that we lived in Iowa in 1943.  The job my father accepted there  did not last long since the man who was to head the project changed his mind and never went to Iowa. But when Grandma wrote the letters, she (and my parents) assumed the move would last for years.  I was four years old at the time.

A world at war haunts every one of these letters.  We hear about the men in town who have signed up to fight, the restrictions of rations, the effect the war has on occupations and businesses. When Grandma goes to work in a factory in a nearby town, we learn what it was like to be a “Rosie the Riveter” and you can see how the jobs that opened up for women began to affected societal attitudes.

Every letter mentions my Uncle Bill, Grandma’s oldest son. I did not realize until I read these letters that she always called him William, since he was “Bill” to everyone else.

I will circle back and share all of Grandmother’s letters later, but I am starting with a short one one about the holiday blues. Vera Anderson wrote about this time of the year on Saturday, December 10, in 1943–almost exactly seventy-four years ago.  I believe that we had seen my grandmother and grandfather at the end of November, 1943, because I can vividly remember meeting the new husband of my cousin, Evelyn Kaser. Their wedding took place on November 25. A gap in the letters between early November and early December presents another clue that my family probably visited Ohio in November.

The wedding took place on Thanksgiving Day, so we were “home” in Ohio for Thanksgiving, but but Grandma got the holiday blues thinking that her son William and daughter Harriette would not be home for Christmas. To make matters worse, the war in the Pacific was getting more heated, and William was head straight into that unknown part of the world.

Notes on the Letter

Postal Service

Grandma Vera refers to going to the Post Office Box.  Killbuck did not have house to house delivery.  A centrally located post office had boxes even when I was in high school in the 1950s. In fact, we shared Grandma’s post office box, number 103–which was in the family for decades. She also mentions sending the letter to be on the Star Route so it will arrive “first of the week.”  The Star Routes were postal delivery routes that were handled by private delivery companies, and presumably were faster.  Federal money had to priortize spending on the war and postal facilities and trucks limped along and broke down, lacking needed repairs.

Grandma’s War Work

Grandma writes that she just came home from work, and that means that she worked on Saturdays.  The job at a factory in a nearby town meant adding drive time to a long day.  However she says she would rather work on Christmas Day than stay at home to worry and be sad about her children who were scattered rather than home for Christmas. Her solution for the holiday blues–work harder.

Uncle Bill, the SeaBee

She says she thinks that “William has sailed.”  That refers to my uncle Bill, William J Anderson, a SeaBee. While at times in earlier letters she puts a positive spin on his military service, she spent sleepless nights worrying. The situation was terrifying–information came slowly if at all.  She had no idea where he would be going or what he would be doing.  She had already seen many local boys head to Europe and many did not come home. Now he son would be in this truly foreign area and she did not even know what he would be doing.

She had been expecting to hear that he had sailed away from the safe base in California soon.  He had earlier told her that he would soon be sailing.  In the twenty-four hours before sailing, personnel entered a state called “secure” meaning they could not communicate with anyone.

Daddy Guy

“Dad about the same” refers to my Grandfather, Guy Anderson, who had suffered a heart attack in February of that year. Guy and Vera had to give up the restaurant they had run in their house after Guy’s heart attack, and her letters reflect his impatience at not being able to work. My Grandfather’s weakened condition no doubt also kept her awake at night worrying. This worry was not just holiday blues.  She mentions Dr. Stauffer, the family doctor who had delivered me at the Millersburg Hospital four years earlier.  Dr. Stauffer later rented the small building on my Grandmother’s property for his practice.

Grandma’s Letter

Sat. Dec. 10-43

Dear Harriette, Paul & Bunny,

Just came home from work and went to P.O. Box and got your box.  It came through fine.  Haven’t opened it yet.  But knew you would want to know we got it O.K.  I am sorry you can’t come home [for Christmas]. It won’t seem much like Xmas.  I hope we will work.  We couldn’t all be together anyway so we will all be sad.  I think William has sailed as he thought he would go into Secure last Sun or Mon.  I am all broke up about it.  He mailed his Xmas cards last week.

I will have to hurry and mail this so it will go on Star Route and you will get it first of week.  we’ll play Santa Clause for you and many thanks for what ever it is.  I am going to write you again in a day or two.

Dad about the same.  I paid Stauffer $10.00 on Dr. bill last night.

Many thanks again until we see what it is.  Wish you could be here when we open it.  Must mail this. Lots of love to you all and give Bunny a big Kiss.  Will write more tomorrow. Love,

Mother

My Grandmother was not one to let life get the better of her. Her answer to bad things that happened in life, was to keep busy and things would turn around.  I have many letters that she wrote, but rarely does she reveal getting as sad as she does in this December letter with the holiday blues.

 

Doctor’s Daughter and the Medicine Show, a Family Letter

Imagine This

Imagine that you are a 13-year-old girl living in a town of about 800 people in rural Ohio, Holmes County. It is February, 1895, so the dirt streets usually turn to mud in winter, but this winter has been mild, and a medicine show has come to town. You sit down to write a letter to your Grandma, Emeline Stout, who lives in Guernsey County.

The Letter

Vera and Emeline

(The photo of Emeline Stout below is undated, but since I have younger and older pictures, I believe this is roughly the right time period. I previously mis-identified it as being Hattie Stout because I misread a caption that said “Grandma Stout”.  Since it was my Grandmother Vera’s handwriting, it is Emeline, not my mother’s Grandma Stout–Hattie.  The photo of Vera is approximately the time she wrote the letter, but unfortunately I do not have one that is better quality.)

The Background

Your father is a doctor and, as usual, is out in the country helping a patient.  Not a lot happens in this small town except church on Sundays and other church meetings. A medicine show with a painless dentist has replaced the interest stirred by the Methodist Church revival, which has now ended. The revivals are almost as well attended as a traveling circus, and draw nearly everybody in town.  Some of those people, not already committed to your father’s chosen place of worship, the Church of Christ,will respond to the emotional sermon of the traveling minister and walk down the tent’s aisle to join the Methodist Church. After you report on the Methodist’s success, t occurs to you a that you had better also tell Grandma about the activities of the Church of Christ. (You are writing the letter on Monday, so your church yesterday occupies your mind ).

When you announced your intention to go to the medicine show, your mother, upholding the reputation of the good doctor, lets you know in no uncertain terms that you cannot go.  One can only guess how appalled she is to think that neighbors would see Doc Stout’s youngest daughter at this charlatan’s traveling show. Additionally, although you Vera might not have known, alcoholism ranks as the biggest social problem of the time. The traveling medicine man’s main income comes from selling “medicine” that is almost totally alcohol or morphine.  It would not occur to you that Grandma Stout might disapprove as much as your mother did  of the medicine show.  Emeline Cochran Stout took an active role in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).

You let it slip later in the letter that you already went to the medicine show, because you were tempted to let the painless dentist pull your teeth.  But since you report honestly on both the good and the bad, you admit that you chickened out of having the teeth extracted.

Perhaps your mother did not realize you had attended before, and when she learns about your plans to go again, you see your mother’s refusal as being contrary, and you pitch a fit.  You get so angry that you even refuse to write a thank you letter to your Grandmother Stout even though your obedient older sister, Maude, has written her letter.

But when you calm down, you write the letter to Grandma and in plain terms, confess to your contrariness.

Transcription and Notes

The 13-year-old was my Grandmother Vera Stout (Anderson). She wrote the letter on her father’s stationary and filled in the date February 25 1895. In three months she would celebrate her 14th birthday. The portion in italics is what Grandmother wrote. I have left her spelling, but for clarity I added periods at the end of sentences. My notes are in brackets. I will include additional notes at the end of the letter explaining things that might not be clear.    

Printed letterhead, with fancy frame around name (see picture above):

W. C. Stout, M.D.

Office days, TUESDAYS and SATURDAYS (from 9 A.M. to 3 P.M.)

Killbuck, Ohio, Feb. 25 189 5

Dear Grandma,

I will answer your letter this evening. I was to contrary to ans when Maud {Vera’s sister} did because I was mad. I received your mittens you sent me and thank you ever so much. think they are very nice.

There is a show in town & has been here for wk and is going to stay all this week. ma got a contrary spell & would not let me go & I have been crying about it for a long time. Pa is up to Stagers. Mr. Stager was down after him to go to see his wife. she has the grip. {grippe–flu}

The Methodist church broke up last night I do not know how many members they got. I think about 30 I am not sure. Are school will be out in about 2 months & Mr. Searles is going to teach a Normal school {school for teachers} this summer. I will not attend.(1) We had church last night & two came out and three were taken in.(2) Bertie Knavel and Mrs. Williams joined and the Fox girl was taken into the church. We got Uncle Tom’s little boy’s picture & he is awful sweet. they named him after Pa. William Clarence Stout. & it make it W. C. Stout like Pa name. He is awful sweet. I expect you have one of them. he is standing by the hobby horse.(3)

Well grandma I got two teeth filled the other day . Mr. Mackey from Millersburg {County Seat, and biggest town in the county}. I only have two more to have filled & 4 to have pulled & will have good teeth. will be glad of it. The show that is here is a medicine show and the Doctor pulls teeth without pain & I am to big a coward to get my pulled. I started to and set back down. backed out.

This was a lovely day. the sun shone all day & the roads are nice.(4)

When are you coming out{?}

This is all I have to say this time so good bye. From your grand daughter Vera

Tell the girls I will write to them to. {Vera’s cousins, who were close to her in age– the nieces of her father, Doc Stout. Mary (b. 1883) and Myrl ( b. 1885), daughters of “Lib” Elizabeth Stout Cunningham.}

 

(1) If May seems early for school to be out, remember that in an agricultural society, parents needed their children on the farm during planting season.

I don’t know why Vera felt it necessary to say she would not be going to the Normal School conducted by Mr. Searles, since Normal schools were for high school graduates, not pre-high school.

(2) “two came out and three were taken in”  In Evangelical churches like the Church of Christ people “come out” and confess their  belief generally at the end of a service.  After some time passes, the minister baptizes them and they are “taken in” to membership in the church.  “Taken in” could also mean people who moved from another congregation.

(3) Uncle Tom is Tom Stout who ranched near Sheridan Wyoming.  The little boy named after Doc Stout, born in 1891, grew up, married and had a child, but was killed in an automobile accident in 1919.  Unfortunately, I have not found a copy of the picture of the child with his hobby horse.

(4) “the sun shone all day and the roads are nice”  This is the most evocative line of this letter, taking us back to a town when the condition of the roads could not be counted on to be passable, particularly in winter.

What Did I Learn About Grandma’s Life?

Now if your imagination is still in tact, and you are transported back to small town Ohio in 1895, imagine what happened after Vera wrote this letter.

My first reaction focused on how wonderful it was to have such a revealing letter from my grandmother.  I can see the plain-spoken, no-nonsense woman I knew in her later years. It brought back to me that  small town life really did include things like medicine shows and painless dentists, and the westerns that I saw in the movie theater where Grandma worked in later years were not just making things up. Did you ever see Bob Hope as a painless dentist in The Paleface?  (Remember, also, that in 1891, Ohio was still considered the West.)  Excellent description of the American phenomenon of traveling medicine show in this article.

But my second reaction was to ask, “If this letter went to Emeline Stout, why was it among my great-grandmother’s papers?”  Was Vera’s Ma, Hattie Stout still being ‘contrary?; Was Vera drop the letter in the slot at the post office, or did her mother make her recopy it and leave out some offensive lines? Perhaps I am over thinking this, because when people wrote letters by hand  in an era that prized beautiful writing, it they frequently recopied a letter and mailed the “clean” copy.

Now that you know Vera as a 13-year-old, and her mother Hattie, what do you think happened? And what do you think of my grandmother?