Events that shaped us 

Valley Dental Center
Dr. Margarida R. Laub
Route 6, Coal Valley, IL

Sylvan Learning Center
1035 Lincoln Road
Bettendorf, IA

Marycrest International University
1607 W 12 St
Davenport, IA 52804

St. Ambrose University
518 W Locust
Davenport, IA 52804

Palmer College of Chiropractic
1000 Brady St
Davenport, IA 52803

Augustana College
639 38 St
Rock Island, IL 61201

H & R Block
1715 W Locust St
Davenport, IA 52804

E & J
200 24 Ave
Rock Island, IL 61201

American Institute of Commerce
1801 E Kimberly Rd
Davenport, IA 52807

Rock Island County Farm Bureau
1601 52 Ave
Moline, IL 61265

Hempel Pipe and Supply
951 S Rolff St
Davenport, IA 52802

McGladrey & Pullen, LLP
Certified Public Accountants and Consultants
220 North Main St Suite 900
Davenport, Ia 52801

McGladrey & Pullen, LLP
Certified Public Accountants and Consultants
600 35 Ave
Moline, IL 61265

1607 John Deere Rd
East Moline, IL 61244

John Deere Pavilion
1400 River Dr
Moline, IL 61265

John Deere Store
1300 River Drive Suite 100
Moline, IL 61265

Birdsell Chiropractic
1201 5th Ave
Moline, IL 61265

2484 53 St
Bettendorf, IA 52722

17th St and 5th Ave
Moline, IL 61265

2132 E 11 St
Davenport, IA

1422 5th Ave
Moline, IL 61265

Teske Pet & Garden Center
2432 16 St
Moline, IL 61265

Teske Pet & Garden Center
2395 Spruce Hills Dr
Bettendorf, IA 52722

Moline Welding Inc
1801 2 Ave
Moline, IL 61265

Barnett's House of Fireplaces
1620 5th Ave
Moline, IL 61265

DeGreve Oil Change
2777 18 St
Bettendorf, IA 52722

DeGreve Oil Change
3400 State St
Bettendorf, IA 52722

DeGreve Oil Change
3900 N Pine
Davenport, IA

DeGreve Oil change
2125 53 St
Moline, IL 61265

Women in battle on homefront during war

By Sarah Larson, Dispatch/Argus Staff writer

Bev Baker, oiler at International Harvester

Katherine Findlay, bootmaker at Servus Rubber.

Cherie Lynn, cashier at a grocery store.

Martha Wahe, forklift driver at the Arsenal.

``I was gung ho. I thought I was helping win the war.''

Bev Baker, now 72, was 16 when she went to work at International Harvester. It was 1942, and Quad-Cities manufacturers were working around the clock to feed the ravenous machine that was World War II.

For the United States, World War II was a war of production above all else. The country joined the war late and had little time to catch up to the equipment and weaponry levels of its Axis enemies.

Manufacturers across the country switched from civilian products to war essentials. Materials were stretched to the limit, as evidenced by rationing and scrap drives. But labor was in short supply, too.

As Quad-Cities men were called to fight on foreign battlefields, Quad-Cities women were called to fight the production war at home. Their move into the work force is reflected by employment figures from the Rock Island Arsenal.

The Arsenal employed 4,151 workers on Jan. 1, 1940, 181 of them female, according to Arsenal Museum figures. By Jan. 1, 1944, the island employed 14,294, 4,597 of them women. In four years, the percentage of female Arsenal workers jumped from 4.4 to 32.

That women were working outside the home in the 1940s was not new. Women had always worked, whether in New England's textile mills or as teachers, nurses, maids and in other low-paying jobs.

During World War II, though, well-paying manufacturing jobs opened to women, including middle-class housewives. Jobs traditionally considered a man's domain were taken by Ms. Baker and thousands of women and girls who did not have to work, but wanted to.

Ms. Baker went to school at United Township High School by day and worked at a telephone company at night. It was when she worked weekends at International Harvester, though, that she felt the fierce satisfaction of helping her country -- and proving a woman could do ``a man's job.''

``I started in the steel shed, lifting heavy bars up to be weighed,'' Ms. Baker said in a cozy room at Oak Glen Home in Coal Valley. ``Then I got promoted to oiler. I climbed 25-foot ladders high into the air to oil the machines. Now I get on thick carpet and I get a nosebleed.''

That same year, another young woman was putting her talents to war use at the Rock Island Arsenal. Martha Wahe began work at the Arsenal as a mule operator. She remembers how a co-worker reacted to the title.

``She came in for a job and they asked her if she wanted to drive a mule,'' Ms. Wahe said, beginning to chuckle. ``She said, `Heavens, no, I'm afraid of animals!'|''

The war soon taught such women that ``mules'' were shop vehicles that pulled trailers of materials between shops. Ms. Wahe quickly mastered it and graduated to driving forklifts with capacities of up to 6,000 pounds.

Other women took war jobs at the ordnance center, in the maintenance department, and as stock handlers, machine operators, metallic-belt-link testers and guards, according to Kris Leinicke, curator of collections for the Rock Island Arsenal Museum.

Women also worked to keep soldiers warm and ready to fight. Katherine Findlay, now 80, lashed boot soles together at what was then Servus Rubber Co., in Rock Island. Later, she set sleeve seams into soldiers' winter coats at Rock Island clothing maker Gibberman Bros. & Co.

Cherie Lynn's work helped the war in a different way. In 1944, Ms. Lynn, then 14, cashiered at her godparents' grocery store in Rock Island. She tallied ration cards and sent them to the government every month. Still, she yearned to do more.

``I wanted to get into the factories and win the war,'' Ms. Lynn said from her present home at Oak Glen Home, ``but I was too young. I couldn't get a work permit.''

As women assumed new roles in the workplace, they were met with varying degrees of acceptance by male co-workers. Ms. Findlay remembers getting along fine with male workers at Servus Rubber.

Ms. Wahe said some men at the Arsenal tried to protect the women from doing too much. Others were skeptical of female workers' abilities until they saw them in action. Once, when men from another division worked in Ms. Wahe's department for a few hours, they asked to drive 2,000-pound loaders.

``They said they didn't want to drive the heavy-loaders, because they were mankillers,'' Ms. Wahe said, laughing. ``I looked at them and said, `I drive one of those mankillers 9 1/2 to 12 hours a day.'|''

The women's quality work did not go unnoticed at the Arsenal, according to the October 1943 issue of its monthly publication, the Arsenal Record.

``The war has forced most of us to change our minds about one thing or another -- and among the foremost is our conception of a woman's job,'' the Record said. ``Women have invaded man's domain in ferrying bombers, piloting riverboats, riveting, drafting, and heaven knows how many other occupations.''

Ms. Baker, though, remembers some openly hostile male co-workers at a time when about 75 percent of the Harvester work force was female.

``A lot of them thought we couldn't do it,'' Ms. Baker said, chuckling. ``They said, `Sure, watch her fall off that ladder.' I never did. Dropped an oil can on a guy's head once, though.''

When the men came back from war, most women lost their high-paying jobs -- willingly, or unwillingly. In that way, World War II was much like World War I.

``My mother-in-law worked during World War I, and in World War II she was a Rosie the Riveter,'' Ms. Wahe said. ``She riveted airplane wings together in Bettendorf. She said WWII was just like WWI. When it ended, the next day the supervisors went through the shops handing out pink slips.''

Copyright 1999, Moline Dispatch Publishing Co.