A New Year… 12 New Chapters, 52 Revisions, 365 New Chances
Happy New Year! We’re off and running. Fingers crossed.
What was the most important lesson I learned in 2020? Gratitude. A focus on what is good in life (e.g., glass half full). Gratitude has proven to be a powerful tool in my navigation through 2020 – a tool I will use this year because it puts so much in perspective.
Shameless Promotion: 75th Anniversary of Operation Crossroads
To commemorate the occasion, a special series of posts will present highlights from Bill McGee’s naval memoir, Operation Crossroads – Lest We Forget! An Eyewitness Account, Bikini Atomic Bomb Tests 1946, along with declassified videos and archival radio broadcasts.
Come aboard the heavy cruiser USS Fall River as atomic veteran and naval historian William L. McGee provides his eyewitness account of the dawning of the nuclear age.
Meanwhile, back on the ranch, I’m sifting through the social columns of the Reno Reporter for items of gossip, romance, and scandal, starring the colorful and changing cast of characters from the 1940s Reno divorce colony – a mix of locals and Social Register divorce seekers. I discovered this weekly tabloid in 2003, when I was doing research for The Divorce Seekers at the Nevada State Library and Archives in Carson City. The Reno Reporter was published 1947-1950. None of the stories from the social columns made the 2004 edition of The Divorce Seekers, and it’s been on my mind ever since to do something with these fun and true stories. Not sure what. We’ll see…
Back When: Betty McGee, “Washington Girl”, January 1946
Bill’s youngest sister, Betty, was a “Washington girl” – one of the thousands of single women who answered the call for clerical help from Washington, D.C. during World War II. As soon as Betty graduated from high school, she headed for D.C. She worked for nine “initial” agencies (as they were called), including the War Production Board (WPB) and the War Assets Administration (WAA). In January 1946, Bill paid a brief visit to Betty in D.C. and slept on the floor of her efficiency apartment shared with her roommate, Jean. (The full story is in “Washington Girls”, Operation Crossroads, Lest We Forget!)
For movie buffs: Due to the acute housing shortage in D.C. during the war, “Washington girls” (also called “government girls”) moved around a lot and shared housing. The 1943 movie, The More the Merrier, is a romantic comedy set in Washington, D.C. during the wartime housing shortage. A “Washington girl” (Jean Arthur) and two men (Joel McCrea and Charles Coburn) share a small apartment, with Coburn playing Cupid to the other two. The film was nominated for Outstanding Motion Picture of 1943. (The winner was Casablanca.)
Television journalist David Brinkley took a nostalgic look back at “Washington girls” in his book, Washington Goes to War:
They came. They came on every train and bus nearly all of them women, wearing dyed-to-match sweaters and skirts and carrying suitcases tied shut with white cotton clothesline, or cardboard boxes printed with the names of the sewing machines and hairdryers that had come in them. They carried department-store shopping bags already splitting up the sides. They came in response to recruiting advertisements in local newspapers across the country.
One of the advertisements trying to entice typists to work in Washington said, “It takes twenty-five girls behind typewriters to put one man behind the trigger in this war.” If that figure had been right, when the army grew to 7.5 million men, as it did, it would have required 187 million girls behind typcwriters—more than the total population of the United States.
Formal civil service exams had been dropped for the war. . . . If you could type and had a high school diploma, you were hired. $1,440 a year. The women were told to go from the trains and buses to a mass receiving station, a huge loft above a five-and-dime store, a scene of noise, crowding, confusion. They milled about, still in the clothes they had worn on the trains, carefully studying each other to see if dresses and hair styles and lipstick colors just off the train from Alabama were unacceptably different from those just off the train from Minnesota.
They lined up at desks hauled over from government warehouses and staffed with women slightly older than the new arrivals, women trying to conceal their fatigue from answering the same questions a hundred or more times since that morning. Where will I work? Can I work for some famous general or admiral? How do I get there? How do I find a place to live? Things moved so fast that many of the young women found themselves working at desks and typewriters and on the government payroll before they had even found a place to leave their bags.
– David Brinkley. Washington Goes To War. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1988
Thank you for reading this missive. Wishing you contentment and health in the New Year…