A pack horse librarian reads out-loud to a man in the Kentucky mountains; 12 January 1938
When the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was established in 1935, it had the responsibility for creating employment through developing infrastructure across the country. The building projects were concentrated in trades that were largely limited to men at the time, but in 1930, 22% of the workforce was female. Although WPA rules decreed that both husband and wife could not be receiving work through the WPA (this was not pure misogyny but an effort to reach a greater number of breadwinners overall), women needed work too. With many women claiming the head of household mantle, the Division of Women’s and Professional Projects scrambled to find work “appropriate” for women.
For most people, the name WPA brings to mind images of men laboring on highway projects and building parks and schools, but during the Depression, women, too, were heads of households and in need of employment. Work programs for women were first established in 1933 through the Women’s Division of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), and later came under the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Some women were placed in clerical jobs or worked as librarians, others went to work canning, gardening, and sewing. Nationally, some 7 percent of WPA workers were women engaged in sewing projects. Sewing rooms could be found in rural areas and large cities alike. (“We Patch Anything”: WPA Sewing Rooms in Fort Worth, Texas)
Original caption: “A girl team working on a center wing section of a B-24E (Liberator) bomber in Ford’s big Willow Run plant. The Liberator is capable of operation at high altitudes and over great ranges on precision bombing missions. It has proved itself an excellent performer in the Pacific, in Northern Africa, Europe and the Aleutians. Ford’s Willow Run Plant, Michigan” (Between July 1942 and February 1943)
In September 1942, President Roosevelt visited the Willow Run plant as part of a cross-country war industry tour. Despite being four months behind where it hoped to be, Ford showcased its bomber and other war materiel that was being produced at other Ford locations. It was a dog-and-pony show put on by the company, but as Roosevelt’s countrywide tour was intended to be a boost to morale, it was a pleasant visit despite Henry Ford’s dislike of Roosevelt (Charles Lindbergh, an American First-er who had resigned his commission with the Air Corps before the U.S. was officially at war, stayed home. He was now employed by Ford as a lead test pilot, to be involved in the shakedown flights of the bombers). If the visit was any indication, 1943 should have been a stellar year for Ford. It wasn’t.
Riveting a center wing section for a B-24E (Liberator) bomber in the horizontal position at Ford’s big Willow Run plant; February 1943.
Last week, we learned that Ford Motor Company, at the urging of Edsel Ford and against the wishes of Henry Ford, decided to get into the airplane-building industry prior to the U.S. entry into WWII. The building of the Willow Run plant was a major undertaking, and getting Henry Ford to donate the land for the plant could have, and maybe even should have, been the high point of the story, with the rest being routine and unremarkable. But expecting the routine and unremarkable when Henry Ford was involved would in itself be remarkable.
Fall panorama of Green Lake near Chelsea, Michigan.
The second part of my Willow Run post will happen tonight; Monday was quite a day (and not in a good way), so there hasn’t been time to get a proper post written. So until I can get the rest of the Willow Run story written up, this is a fall interlude of Pure Michigan.
A small part of the world’s largest one-story war production plant, the giant bomber factory at Willow Run, Michigan. Fixtures in background hold bomber wings during assembly. Ford plant, Willow Run; July 1942.
I’ve written about things related to the auto industry before, but usually from the union perspective or with a union-centric focus. Despite that, I’m not dismissive of the contributions that the companies have made to our country’s history and development, particularly over the course of WWII. They may not have given up the production of automobiles voluntarily or altruistically, but committing their workers’ expertise to creating the arsenal of democracy undeniably made the difference between victory and defeat for the Allied powers. Today I’m providing a glimpse of one production center: the Willow Run B-24 bomber plant built near Ypsilanti, MI.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (center) walks with Kenyan Minister of Agriculture William Ruto (left) and Kenyan environmental and political activist Wangari Maathai (right) during a tour of the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) near Nairobi, Kenya August 5, 2009. (State Department Photo)
A few weeks ago I saw a random tweet about the progress of a tree-planting initiative in Kenya, similar to this:
To attain the 10% tree🌲🌳🌴 cover by 2022, one creative avenue for the Service is in forming partnerships with among others, Non-State actors through tree planting initiatives that aim to spur a tree growing culture among our youth today.https://t.co/D75sTp4ap1pic.twitter.com/Z6qesyDkr4
Then this weekend, I decided to treat myself and downloaded Chelsea and Hillary Clinton’s latest book, The Book of Gutsy Women: Favorite Stories of Courage and Resilience. One of the reasons I went ahead and bought the book is because the description of the book included a mention of Wangari Maathai, a woman “who sparked a movement to plant trees, understood the power of role modeling.” (The Book of Gutsy Women) It seemed like a perfect storm of things I didn’t know…what was Kenya’s tree-planting initiative and who was Wangari Maathai? And as anyone who knows me can attest, I don’t like not knowing things. So today you get my introduction, and maybe yours, to Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement.
President Barack Obama salutes while walking down the steps of Air Force One as he arrives in Youngstown, Ohio, to attend a roundtable event with auto workers at the GM Lordstown Assembly Plant, Sept. 15, 2009. The Lordstown plant was closed March 6, 2019 after 52 years of operation.
As a kid growing up in Cleveland, I was aware, even hyper-aware, of any UAW strikes against the automakers. Maybe it was because we got the newspaper delivered everyday, and it was hard to miss the updates. Maybe it was a Midwestern thing and the proximity to so many auto plants. Or perhaps it was because my mother’s cousin worked at the Lordstown plant and was loud and proud in his support of the UAW. Whatever the reason, a strike was a big deal, and the strikes were seen, heard, and discussed whenever they happened. I no longer feel like that’s the case. Even here in Michigan, it doesn’t seem like the current strike against GM is garnering much attention except in UAW families. That’s probably a statement about the decline of auto manufacturing in the state, as well as the decline of unions in general. But this is an important strike, with the very real possibility of being of historical importance. So today it’s going to be seen, heard, and maybe even discussed.
Logo from a Portuguese podcast, because pod people are everywhere.
I’m not technology-averse, but neither I am a first-adopter. I had a flip phone long after everyone else had moved on to smartphones, and I didn’t add texting to our phone package until 2009, when the Kiddo begged and pleaded with me, using the rationale that her work study boss expected to be able to contact her via text. (I still don’t know if that was true, but she got extra credit for creative persuasion, which tipped the balance to a yes on text capability.) Part of my reasoning for waiting until new tech isn’t new is that I want to wait until the cost of the technology comes down; part of it is a show-me-why-it’s-better attitude; and yes, some of it is resistance to change.
But sometimes that change is forced upon you. When I recently got my new-to-me car, it came without a CD player but did have bluetooth. I rarely listen to the radio, so my music choices had always been dependent on which CD I pulled from the stack in my center console. Without a CD player and with no intention of keeping Sirius radio once my complimentary trial ran out, I was faced with a dilemma. I immediately consulted my personal tech gurus (Kiddo and SIL), and they had two immediate solutions. They added me to their Google music subscription, so I could stream whatever music I wanted. In addition to that, they suggested I might want to add podcasts to my listening choices. Of course, I was aware of the existence and popularity of podcasts, but I had never listened to one. Directed to a podcast app (they suggested Podcast Addict), I was able to search by categories, by what was new or trending, and even for free audiobooks. It was a revelation. I know there are a number of you thinking, “Oh, Do, you really need to start living in the 21st century,” but I bet there are also a few of you who are thinking that maybe now is as good a time as any to explore podcasts. Below are some of my current favorites; please add any of yours in the comments.
Last week, we looked at two of the four key Lost Cause myths identified by James Loewen and Edward Sebesta in The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause”. This week, I’m looking at the last two:
Third, during the “War Between the States,” Confederates displayed bravery and stainless conduct. They only lost owing to the brute size of the North. Conversely, slaves displayed loyalty to their “masters” during the war. Finally, and most important, during Reconstruction, vindictive Northern congressmen, childlike African Americans, and corrupt carpetbaggers and scalawags ravaged the prostrate South. (“THE NADIR OF RACE RELATIONS, 1890–1940.” In The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause”, edited by Loewen James W. and Sebesta Edward H., p. 253. University Press of Mississippi, 2010.)
Monument to a Confederate soldier, dedicated in 1901 in the town of Union, West Virginia, to “men who served the lost cause” in the U.S. Civil War. Worth considering: this was the era when Confederate war memorials proliferated. Memorials are typically built by the victors; what did they assume they had won?
I became a history major, in part, because I had excellent, compelling history teachers throughout my childhood. It seemed to me (although I didn’t have these words until I was much older) that they approached their lessons as historians first and schoolteachers second. I distinctly remember two different occasions in two different school districts in two different states with two different teachers when the history textbook was read aloud…and then the teacher(s) closed the book, threw it across the room in frustration, and stated, “Now let’s talk about what really happened.” Nowhere was this more evident than when the Civil War was the topic of study, and as a result, I missed many of the Lost Cause shibboleths that were being taught at the time. My high school history teacher did change things up, and he taught “the war of Northern aggression” from the Southern “perspective” so we learned the Lost Cause historiography, but we learned it as myth rather than as historical fact. So while I knew that some people viewed “states’ rights” as a proximate cause of the Civil War, I had read the primary documents of secession written by Southern legislatures with their unequivocal statements about seceding over their determination to preserve and expand slavery.
Unfortunately, my teachers were the exception rather than the rule, and too many of the myths perpetuated by the Daughters of the Confederacy are still found in history textbooks today. It’s largely understood today that this twisting of historical memory was intentional and done to serve the agenda of white supremacy. Studying the myths of the Lost Cause isn’t just done to establish the difference between myth and reality; it’s done to understand how historical memory is created.
…the study of memory allows us to understand the extent to which previous interpretations of the past were subject to political, social, and economic pressures, and how difficult it was for individuals and communities outside of dominant power structures to preserve and commemorate their preferred understanding of the past. (Levin, Kevin. Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder, University Press of Kentucky, 2017, p. 10)