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tv   Womens Roles During World War II  CSPAN  December 1, 2018 10:30pm-12:01am EST

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diseases. why not do the same with the disease of prejudice? this is our hope, our real hope for the future. ♪ [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2017] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] ♪ films can watch archival in their entirety on our weekly saturdayel america, 10:00 p.m. and sunday at 4:00 eastern, here on c-span tv. >> next on american history tv, historian gretchen skidmore and talkalist denise kiernan about women's roles during world war ii, from joining the workforce to using their
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political influence to help european jews and refugees. the u.s. holocaust museum and the women's history museum cohosted this 90 minute event. mr. kaiser: my name is tim kaiser. i'm the deputy director. thank you so much to the national museum of women's history for cosponsoring this program with us this evening. also thank you for attending, whether you are here in the editorial more weather you are watching or listening through our live stream. join thege you to conversation through social media and you can invite your friends, your family to follow along on facebook and twitter tag ask why or hash
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tag women's history. this is part of a series of programs that focus on that arise questions out of our exhibition, americans and the holocaust. what did such as, americans know about the rising threat of not see aazism? how factors influenced americans responded or did not respond to this threat? and if so much information was available, why is it that the rescue of the jews was not a but only for a few people who went against the grain and decided to help?
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has been five years that it took the museum to create this exhibition. in many ways it fulfills the of the museum's original, 1979 founding president's commission. the commission stated museum, with its place on the mall as a national memorial, attentionhave special given to americans and the american response. 2018,is fitting that for which is the museums 25th anniversary -- the museum's 25th opened americans in the holocaust as a way to commemorate 25 years of the museum. tonight's program focuses on the role and the range of roles women played in the 1930's and
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1940's, as the u.s. responded to war. the personal stories you are going to hear tonight, and in the newsreels and in the videos they explore what was expected of women at the and how those expectations change does america moved from to oneationist society that responded and eventually joined world war ii. we will be guided by our moderator, who i would like to introduce. , i lori ann, help me out
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apologize for that, dr. lori an educator,s a museum and works to create and develop programs that focus on the stories of women that transformed the united states. in so doing, she and the museum worked to educate and empower andshape the future, present a complete history of the united states. so we are thrilled to be the national with museum of women's history. welcoming dr. in
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terjesen to the stage. [laughter] [applause] dr. terjesen: good evening. of educationctor at the women's national history museum. we are honored to partner with the holocaust museum, which aligns with our own mission to tell the stories of women who transformed our nation. various waysre women supported and impacted the country during the 1930's and 1940's. despite the diversity of our nation, there is a commonality women shared ring this era.
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lived in challenging times that changed traditional roles and required courage, selflessness and the aim to make a difference. we will highlight a few women who demonstrated these attributes. stories, review newsreels and films and explore first-hand accounts of these women's actions. our discussion will last 60 minutes and then we open the conversation to your questions. i encourage the audience to submit questions on the index cards provided when you entered. audience, post your questions on twitter and , andook using the #ushmm museum staff will collect questions to pose to the experts at the end of the discussion. i would like to introduce our is ansts, denise kiernan
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author, journalist and producer who has been a writer for more than 20 years. her work has been published in the new york times, wall street journal, village voice, ms. magazine, readers digest, discover and others. she served as head writer for abc's who wants to be a millionaire during its first season, and has produced for espn and msnbc. previous two books, the last castle and girls of atomic city were instant new york times best sellers in hardcover and paperback. the last castle was a wall street journal bestseller. the girls of atomic city, which we will discuss this evening, is available in seven languages and was named one of amazon's top 100 books. it was awarded the 24 teen american medical science association woodrow wilson award
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for the best book published in the u.s. on government, politics and international affairs. ms. skidmore leads outreach and and isoms nationwide, leading the effort to engage teachers, students and citizens across the country with containedking content in the exhibition, americans and the holocaust. she earned her graduate degree in modern german history, was a fulbright scholar, and has taught in secondary and college level classrooms. thank you both for being here. [no audio] -- [applause] setting the scene and focusing on traditional
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roles of american women in the night team 30's. thechen, what is significance of talking about american women during this. -- during this time, and why now? we've been asking those questions about how americans responded to the holocaust over the past five years, how did we respond, what more could have been done. you are seeing onscreen what the exhibition looks like on site. an onlineve exhibition. normally does questions would be iswered through th traditional lens, government, leaders, maybe military leaders, others in society who sat that narrative. we wanted to ask whether responded in a way
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that open new understanding about americans lives at the time. that meant we could unpack some stories of american women. we are very excited about how these stories give us a sense of what agency was possible, what resilience it took to make a and what the overwhelming expectations were on people to get through that time and fulfill societal expectations. we have a video that gives us a little sense of the mindset of the 1930's. ♪ [video presentation] >> housekeeping remains the most important in the world, each woman faces it single-handedly. she must know how to cook. she must know how to set her
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table attractively. she must know clothes, how to buy and how to make them. she must bring children into the world. she must be a, companion, a sweetheart, a wife, a mother. she must keep success from hurting him. >> what do you want for supper? >> whatever you give me will be ok. you are running the house. ms. skidmore: there is that uh. denise, i enjoyed your book. frame this in the context of women's contributions. i was working on a
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totally different project and was having one of those days when i got distracted by the internet. i found myself on a department of energy website, as one dies, i'm sure everybody ends up there. down in the corner is this oftastic photo of these these women, it is up on the screen now. it was the history corner for the department of energy. caption, these young women, many high school graduates from areas of tennessee, are enriching uranium for the world's first atomic bomb. many may not know this for years. and i thought, that is interesting. you journalist or writer, ask, is this really a story?
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was i just asleep that they in history class and everybody knows about it? so i started looking into things and it became very clear very quickly, and i had already done a couple of history books, i love reading about world war ii and the early 20th century. perspective,d my and most people i talked to, their perspective on the manhattan project and the development of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy was a handful of really brilliant men in the desert in new mexico, and that was it. and the fact is there were thousands of people involved in this aspect of world war ii, many of them people of color, many from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, many, many, many of them women.
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so i thought to myself, we are talking about one of the most significant developments in the 20th century, something that impacts our lives every day, don't we go it to ourselves to investigate this moment from as many perspectives as possible? perspective is fascinating but it is a top-down perspective. point of thew people who held all the cards. story, it ishat not as much about women's history as it is about complete history, just completing the history. aboutecame obsessed telling the story of the manhattan project through the of the a woman, like one women sitting on that stool with her perfect little hair and perfect skirt.
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what was the manhattan project like for her? i started tracking people down. the first person i interviewed was a man, but what are you going to do? it is one of those things where, if you feel like daydreaming let yourself daydream. if i had to daydream that day, i was working on something else but i would never have come across that photo. tell us about the status of women across america in the 1930's? we have done surveys of young people and i think there was surprise of traditional roles women found themselves in. the vote for women had only been ratified 10 years earlier. see that being celebrated in these images. aboutt of a population of 125 million, there were 11
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million women employed by 2 million were domestic servants. many ways we think about women working our traditional. we think about professional half were teachers, a quarter were nurses. and if we think about professions more broadly, lawyers for example, 99% were men. engineers, 99% were men. housekeepers, 99% were women. changes in the 1930's and 1940's are significant. is here that that will remind us, there was a preconceived notion that the red winter of the family should be the husband. polled said i'm married woman -- said a married
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woman shouldn't earn money if she has a husband capable of supporting her. 1936, but i think people should think back to that context and what the challenges of the depression meant for people. it is important. american society and culture telling women about how they should behave, what their roles were, what was expected of them and what was possible at that time? ms. kiernan: the level of expectation was incredible. that video captures it perfectly. so then the work comes along and they said, in addition to all this, you are now going to make to gos, you are now going into a factory you have never gone into before. there is a wonderful painting for the cover of the saturday
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evening post that norman thisell did, and it is woman and she has got five different hats on, a bus driver hat, a nurses cap, a compass on her head, she has a watering can because you were also expected to grow your food, have a victory garden, all of these things, and in addition she also has milk on her hip. it wasn't just that her role changed, it was that he got much, much bigger immediately. you go from 82% of people saying you shouldn't work outside the home, two people saying, we expect you to run the home and work outside the home. ready, set, go. for a lot of women i talked to that was exciting and freeing, but it could also be daunting. it was an interesting transition.
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one of my favorite stories, a woman in my book named colleen went to oak ridge with her extended family. she had uncles who were plumbers, her mom was working, younger siblings were working, and a younger sibling in school. the first time her younger sister saw her mother in pants she burst into tears, because everything was changing so quickly. you even saw younger generations be affected by this complete transformation of the workforce. host: it is interesting, following events in europe, the rise of hitler's, but many were acting on behalf of jews in german occupied areas. abouternan: we thought this, women stepping up with the
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war effort but knowing at the across thehat women country, americans across the country, are seeing a crisis about, trying to think what their role was in response to that. it depended on where your resources were, what you were able to do. he is rogers became the first woman elected to congress for massachusetts after her husband died in 1925, and she was active in veterans issues and all kinds of things, but was one of the first members of congress to nazi racial policies, withosponsored a bill senator robert wagner of new york that would have let additional children into the were german
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children, jewish children who were refugees seeking safety outside their own country. this is by 1939 after widespread violence. so at that governmental level, she had an opportunity to change the opportunity that our government was providing for people to calm in. we had restrictive immigration quotas but these children would have come in outside those quotas. when you think about anti-immigration sentiment, you can imagine where this bill goes. would you vote yes or no on a bill to open the doors of the u.s. to a larger number of european refugees? in said no and a survey 1939. they introduced the bill in february of 1939, and the bill doesn't come out of committee. she did many amazing things in
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her 35 years in congress. is moving to think she took advantage of the position she had. amazing storyr that shows women in communities across this country had opportunities to know what was happening to jews and other persecuted civilians under the nazis. one story was about a girl in a young pennsylvania, person living her life, going to school, and she becomes penpals with a friend that she makes in vienna, austria. and that friend is marianne winter. they get randomly connected through this penpal association, the campfire girls. you see them here when they are about 16. annexesr germany and
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austria, things get bad for marianne winter and her family. she and her family realize they have to leave. berger knowe bomb what is happening to jews in europe? she knows from her friend. marianne writes to her friend help, i ask you my dear, if it would be possible to get a connection with any rich man who would be able to they hadn affidavit, to get support from an american sponsor. "i know that will be very difficult, but as i have heard here in the usa, there are many people who want to help us."
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you can see at the top of that document, on the right, joseph berger is the one to put forward an affidavit for this family. who is the rich man that she knows? her father. they support the family and saying they will not become a public charge, they support their application for the visa and the whole family comes over. you see that big list of names in the middle. they meet them at the boat, take them into their home in reading, pennsylvania, and they also get to be good friends over time, as you see in the photo. we were trying to think about how we could highlight the range of responses from women about persecution abroad in the midst of a crisis at home. that we thought stand out. story, that's a great
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these people meeting with their children, essentially. great story. can you describe more broadly how american society in general was reacting to the information coming out of europe, and why the women we are highlighting .onight are so exceptional the majority the country did not want us to get involved in this war abroad. but at the same time, caring about individuals and children. it sets the stage for that. >> it is interesting how these girls were finding ways to act during this challenging time. early 1940's, we have another short film clip to
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watch. [film clip] ♪ : in a number of communities, selling rooms have been established -- sewing rooms have been established, making them better housewives and possibly opening up a source of income. instruction is given in an interesting and useful craft. part-time employmen is offered in many kitchens. employment iscts, provided for 600 teachers, nurses, dietitians and cooks. these household training courses have sent hundreds of girls out into the world, well equipped to command skilled workers wages. we have some
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polling data we want to share with you. from 1939 shows only 39% of the population supports women working outside the home. when war broke out, attitudes changed. from 1941 shows a jump to 68% of the american population being in favor of women working. women were being recruited for these opportunities to join the war effort. topic, the holocaust museum and asked for stories about the contributions of female family members, and the museum received dozens of supplies. here are a few we would like to highlight to show the ways women faced the nazi threat. forucing medical supplies
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the red cross, working out as a secretary in an ammunition depot, and serving as a gunnery instructor with the wave, the female division of the navy during the war. suddenly women were thrust into positions across the professional spectrum, and again, they were being recruited, where just a few years before that was not that place. let's look at some of the recruitment efforts in newsreels across the country. [film clip] andhe axis was ready, forecast this army, this air force and this navy. wrong. axis was >> have you considered the possibility of woman labor? >> american women? [applause] clear,r: the poll was
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wake up, miss america, wake up, mrs. america. millions of women who never lifted a finger outside their own homes now or salt to set the world' as house in order. cutting dresses, this woman stamps out the patterns of airplane parts. there be jobs in the defense industry that can be done by women today and officials are advocating more extensive job training for women and girls. this woman is a modern pioneer, a scientist. she symbolizes the tremendously important work of women. >> many of these women came from walks of life not previously considered. he mothers, the young, the aged. when asked why they had joined the ranks of the hidden army, these women gave a variety of reasons. >> i had a son on the arizona. that's a good enough reason for anyone. >> i have a family to look
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after. i have done cases of these every week. they help them to get home soon. >> i go to college but i arrange my classes so i can help out the war effort. this way i'll get my diploma and war bonds. >> do you have to have a reason? we're in a jam, aren't we? i'm sorry, but you have to excuse me. i'm too busy to answer damn fool questions like that. >> without the help of additional thousands of women, we cannot build the mountains of materiel consumed in global invasion. we cannot make good the millions of man hours and woman hours that are lost in a fleeting second's smoke. as long as the nazi cancer exists anywhere in the world, this is also a woman's war, to be waged so no woman shall ever again clutch a star of david to her breast. so that no woman anywhere shall ever be the slave of a fascist fate that makes her no more than a brood mare.
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that is why the women of america, like the men at their side, must flock toward jobs and stick to their jobs until that day when an end has come to the devastation of the earth. >> women have always been the guardians of the home and the children, the future of our country. and they are determined that our democracy shall survive and that our precious freedom shall e preserved. >> these clips reveal a lot about the important changes taking place in terms of women in the work place and it illustrates your point about women taking on all. >> i don't have time for these damn fool questions. >> however, we don't get a full picture of how difficult some of the work was and how much women had to sacrifice to do it. denise, you found incredible examples of opportunities presented to women and wrote a
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best selling book. before we dive into the book can you tell us what life was like for women entering the work force in the early 1940's? ms. kiernan: for the majority of women that i interviewed, it as a very, very difficult, trying, they were from very rural areas. they were going to school and then going home and working on the farm. a lot of them did not have indoor plumbing. even some of the women i talked to who managed to go to college came from homes that didn't have standard plumbing. they had this level of expectation to not only help out at their home but to prepare to help out whoever their husband was going to turn out to be at their home and hey also were constantly being encouraged and, you know, a lot of these messages came through in the video clip and some of
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the e-mail responses you guys got. one of the women i interviewed, her brother went down on the arizona. you know, a lot of the women i talked to had brothers, boyfriends, cousins. everybody. it is very difficult to understand the impact this war had on everybody unless you lived through it. the war was in the comic strims. the war was on the radio. there were scrap metal drives. there were u.s.o. dances. and women were expected to show up for all of these. in addition to doing everything else that they were expected to do at home. and then also being presented with these new challenges and new expectations, many of which were, again, exciting for them, but many of which were a little bit scary. and very different. and you had to -- coleen, who i talked about before, she found herself climbing on ladders and pipes that, you know, were 10 feet in diameter.
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she said i had no idea what i was doing but i knew i had to do it. i knew i had to do it. so there was this expectation not just of what your country wanted from you, whether you were hearing it in the newspapers or on the news reels or in signs everywhere, you know, all over town and recruitment efforts, you were also, you know, getting that message from your family. and you were also still a lot of these women holding on. you mentioned the depression earlier. none of these people had forgotten the depression and a lot of them had, you know, just barely gotten through. and the idea that there was a limited work force, now, at home because so many people were away fighting, they now felt this expectation to earn money. so not just you get to earn money. you need to earn money. and with that kind of real economic need and those horrible memories of not so
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long ago, all of this combined to -- it was a very challenging and trying transition and there wasn't a lot of time for them to adjust to it. it was, you know, they kind of had to dive in and the resilience of some of these women and really kind of the adventurous spirit and just willingness to do something they'd never done before and take risks they'd never done and go places they'd never seen made a huge impression on me. >> great courage there. >> you know who really is similar to that in sort of our understanding of women who took risks, right, talking about danger, we have a couple of stories of women who actually, because of their affiliation with their religious organization, right, they decided this woman lois gunden for example was very closely connected to the men knight -- mennonite organization and they
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were trying to provide relief in southern france. she ended up going over because she was a french teacher. she ended up going over to just help with a school there where they were really putting a home together to take care of children who maybe came from spain or southern france. wanted to provide safety. some of them were jews. her main job there was to take care of kids in this house, but in the end, once it gets much more intense, either as it did here in the work place or as it did for her work place, which was a home in southern france, police started coming to the door, looking for the jewish children. and she kept them out at one point and said, no. sorry. the laundry is not done. you must go away. we'll come back in a couple hours. something that she managed to pull off to keep them at bay. she ended up getting arrested by the way because she was an american citizen in southern france once the nazis occupied southern france and was a prisoner of war exchanged. went back home and started being a french teacher in indiana. so there was a lot of risk
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these women took but they heard about need and they went to where they were asked. ms. kiernan: need was such a driver for so many of these women. it was the need to help someone they heard about. ms. skidmore: right. ms. kiernan: it was the need to help a pen pal. it was the need to do something, anything to get my brother home safely. ms. skidmore: yep. ms. kiernan: so there was such an emotional drive for so many of these women. many of whom were so very, very young. and it never -- had never left home, had never been out from under their parents' watch. ms. skidmore: right. ms. kiernan: then you combine that emotional need with a very real economic need, and then on top of that, you have this sense of duty that is being communicated to them over and over again. ms. skidmore: right. ms. kiernan: it was a very star l, very powerful
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spangled part. ms. skidmore: exactly. it was those kinds of messages that were coming at them from every direction. but so much of it, like you said, really started with a real sense of needing to do something to make things better, wh it was in a small way for a loved one or in a much, you know, larger way for what they felt was the movement, the duty of the time. dr. terjesen: tell us about oak ridge, tennessee. ms. kiernan: oak ridge was a fascinating place. oak ridge was, you see it up there on the map. it's about 25 miles away from knoxville. it would not have been on a map in the early 1940's. and oak ridge was a purpose built town. it did not exist before world war ii. there were many communities there. we talk about sacrifice thrfment were about a thousand families that via eminent domain were moved off their
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land. some of them were given as little as two weeks to uproot everything. these are people who have lived off the land for generations. literally had family buried on the property. a lot of people didn't get a chance to get their harvest in. very, very difficult time. nd they -- oak ridge went from groundbreaking in late 1942 -- so basically not existing -- they get everybody off the land and start building factories and housing and between late 1942 and mid 1945 it went from basically not existing to having close to 80,000 residents using more electricity than new york city. and it was not on a map. dr. terjesen: they needed so many people --. ms. kiernan: this is one of my favorite pictures, one of the main enrichment plants, the k-25 plant. this was and remained for many
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years the largest building on the planet. it is more than 44 acres of floor space. messengers would ride bikes from one end to the other for communications, interoffice communications. but it just cracks me up that this top-secret city not on a map, you know, built this enriching uraniuim, built the building that can practically be seen from space, shaped like a giant "u." that, to me, seems like a design flaw. [laughter] ms. kiernan: so you think about the speed with which this place came to be, which meant you had a lot of those families that were moved off their land. they were basically going back to work. some of them within a mile of their own -- what used to be their property. and so, you know, again, that sense of duty, that economic
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need. it was, you know, had seven gates. this were badges and passes and restrictions. so, i mean, it was beyond an adjustment for a lot of these women, young, young women when they showed up there. dr. terjesen: when you were interviewing these women what did they say about what it meant to them to be directly a part of the war effort? you mentioned duty and they had family abroad and would do anything to help them come home safely. what did it mean to them? ms. kiernan: for someone like dot, she remembered very clearly the day -- she remembered hearing about pearl harbor on the radio and then she remembered the day when somebody knocked on the door and they hadn't found her brother as so many were never found. but her brother was gone. she was looking for a way to do her part. she said, i wanted to do my part, do my part.
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and she had always wanted to get out of her little town of horn beak, tennessee. she said i really wanted to go to paris but i went to oak ridge first. but she said when she was on that bus and she was, you know, 17 years old, she said she was on that bus approaching the security gate and, you know, getting ready -- you know, there are guns and bashed wire and inspections and those sorts of things. she said i wanted to get off that bus right that minute and start running back the other direction on that road. she said even though i couldn't because so many of them working there did not know what the urpose of the entire area was. they might have understood their job, very much about compartmentalization. they were constantly told it was for the war effort. it would help the war effort. so for her, coleen, same thing. her older brother, jimmy, was away fighting. celia, same thing. when she left to go to oak
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ridge one brother was in the pacific. another brother was in italy. and they always knew they wanted to do something for the war effort, but to be able to do something they felt like might actually bring their family members home, it was by and large the biggest driving force for them. it meant everything to them. dr. terjesen: so the motivations were a sense of duty or mission and it wasn't exclusive to the war, though. gretchen, what about the threat against jews in europe? was there a sense of duty or responsibility to save jews that seems to have motivated some american women to act on their behalf even during war time? ms. skidmore: we thought about how hard it is for us at times to measure what motivated people but in some cases it is clear there was a connection to an organization that requested their help. a lot of times we talk about people who were part of networks like the americans
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trans service committee or the quaker workers or other organizations that worked together, often had women in elle:. in some cases we're asking people inth congregations to come over. martha sharpe, for example, went with her husband to a very dangerous sort of situation in prague where they were providing relief on behalf of the unitarian church. i think that is another example of people who felt compelled ased on religious convictions. she also got very involved in politics afterward and helped women and children get milk in southern france. she took her own beginnings and built on it while she was there. she tells the most amazing story of the risk it took, too. she got to prague thinking she would run an office, provide relief, things that were normal frame of mind and immediately when she got there they said, ok. here's how you lose a tail if somebody is on you.
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here's what you do. if they come and get your documents here's what you need to do to destroy them in the basement before they get this to your office. you know, encryption was another thing she had to pick up on so they wouldn't understand what work they were doing. i think that's another element to it, which is surprising to a lot of people how they stepped into roles that weren't always known as they said yes. dr. terjesen: to that point, whether the women we're discussing went to work in america or traveled across the atlantic, they seemed to have known very little about what they were signing up for. what was so appealing about virtually undisclosed opportunities? ms. kiernan: i think it's that -- at least with the women that i talked to -- and it's hard to imagine any situation where people knew less about what was going on than the people who were working on the manhattan project at that level.
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and their willingness to kind of put aside the natural curiosity, which they all had, about what they were doing and what the results were going to be, and how they were playing a part in this larger scheme. it was frustrating sometimes because in some of those clips we saw, you know, you could see this woman is making gears, cooking gears i think they said, for a very specific thing. like a lot of people have the satisfaction of knowing i am, u know, cutting out patterns for a bomber. i am -- i know where this work is going. and so there was a definite level of frustration for a lot of the people, young women working in oak ridge that they were turning these dials or moving these levers or doing this, that, or the other. they had no ideas -- no idea
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what that impact was going to be, but what they were constantly told again was that it was extremely important to the war effort. you know, and again, that was enough for many of them to just say, ok. i'm not going to -- because you weren't supposed to ask any questions. you weren't supposed to get too nosey about what was going on or anything like that. and for a lot of those women that was enough for them just knowing that they were contributing on some level but still a little bit of a frustration that they can't say, hey, yeah. we just finished that bomber and it's going to go to a certain destination. something tangible. dr. terjesen: how was this work different than the work many have been doing before the war? you alluded to encryption and having to lose a tail. obviously that didn't come up at home. what were some other examples? ms. kiernan: the -- i think about some people did things
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that were very similar if they were in administrative roles for example. a typist or someone who had worked in an office setting. it would have been more natural transition. the environment of oak ridge would still have been very unnatural and strange, but the work would not have been that different. for someone like coleen, i mean, she was -- she worked in that big k-25 plant -- she said you were just trained to do your job to the best of your ability and you were given the minimum amount of information that you needed to do your job well. and that was the way they tried to keep a lid on what was going on there. the compartmentalization, again. she said, so that meant, you know, you weren't often given the names of things. she said, you know, she worked as a pipe tester. she tested pipes for leaks. she said, i worked in one room, a door would open, pipes would come in. a millwrite would ferry a pipe
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over. i had a probe i would run over various field. if the machine beeped, there was a leak, i put a circle around it and it went through that door. if there was no beep i put a check on it. it went through another door. she goes, that's all i knew. and then it was climb on top of these pipes and we're going to check, know, larger -- and she said it just became this, you know, you're going to wear pants now. ok. i'm going to wear pants now. so everything was constantly changing, but she would always say, we were all in the same boat. and there was this sense of -- so she didn't feel like and other women echoed this as well -- i wasn't the only person who didn't know what was going on. there was a sort of comfort in that. you know, dot, who worked in y-12 on the electro magnetic separation units. if the needle goes this way turn the knob that way. if needle goes this way turn the knob that way. if things start to spark call
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the supervisor. that's it. and it was, you know, a brave new world for them in so many different ways. but they felt at least like this were so many thousands of them there. they weren't alone in their lack of understanding of their new world. but they proved to be -- and there was so much written about this from supervisory positions that they were an incredible work force. and, you know, just supremely capable and focused and really quite remarkable when you think about just going from being a high school girl in rural tennessee and then in the middle of the largest building on the planet. i mean, it's just a huge transition for so many of these people. >> it was interesting as i was reading your book how comfortable i became with sort of lingo 6: -- the hingo and
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not knowing ok. -- 're making alloy for the ms. kiernan: the product. that went higher up the chain to even higher level scientists who did know what was going on. there was an office of censorship during the war as well so just that controlling the language and therefore attempting to control the information and how it was or ideally was not dispersed. dr. terjesen: denise, let's talk about the issue of personal agency. tell us what every day life was like and how it differed from the jobs and lives we've touched on a little bit, but the lives the women were accustomed to. because definitely the every day community was very different from where they came from. ms. kiernan: it was. and at the same time, this were so many things that were new and different. there were reminders like this up on the screen absolutely everywhere about, now, loose
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lips sink ships. the idea of being quiet about troop movements and things of that nature, that was throughout world war ii. it was just taken to a whole other level in oak ridge. you know, if you were caught chatting on the job, everybody had a story about somebody who was, you know, taken off the job and never seen again. so you had this level of secrecy and mystery that infused every day life everywhere you went. you had a badge. you had a badge that indicated where you lived within oak ridge. you had a specific badge or pass that dictated where you worked. so, for example, if you worked in k-25 you would have a badge that would say that. you weren't even allowed on a bus that would go to y-12. there were colors and numbers and different coding that dictated which bathrooms you could use, which floors you were allowed to be on, so your
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movements were constantly in many ways watched and controlled. helen, one of my -- this young basketball player who was working at a diner before she was recruited -- within two weeks of landing in oak ridge she was asked, recruited again to spy. this was quite common, too. so in addition to this ever present -- these reminders and ecurity briefings and a very visible security force that would constantly check, you know, your papers, your documents, your badges, where you were going, there was also this entire sort of civilian force of people who had just been recruited like helen so she is at her dorm. she literally gets called outside by these two men who said, you know, we're wondering if you might be interested in just paying really close attention to the conversations going on around you in the dorm or in the cafeteria and at work and if somebody is a little too
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chatty or, you know, here is a form you can fill out what they were saying and where they were and there is an anonymous drop box. no one will know it's you. a lot of people got approached like this so you were walking around in many ways living a life that you're living in a dorm, eating in cafeterias. it is almost like you've gone to college but you really haven't. and then people are asking you to spy. and so it was this, in a way sort of the duality of their experience there that made it all the stranger sometimes. because they were also such a young work force, they were trying to keep them happy. you didn't have to stay there. they didn't want people to quit. it's very hard, not good for production if you have constant turnover. they would have dances. and they would have roller skating. and they had bowling. and they had all of these activities designed to make everything seem so very normal. and so to me it was that kind of contrast between the secrecy
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and the encryption and the writing in code and being approached to spy and, you know, 24-hour roller rinks and dancing and all of that sort of stuff. it was that contrast that made it even stranger for some of the women. dr. terjesen: but it seemed even less than the intimidation they were ng working toward something that would bring an end to the war that seemed to motivate them to stay. that was the impression i took away. ms. kiernan: it motivated a lot of people to stay. it was, you know, some people did not want to stay but, again, economic need often encouraged them to stay. if you were dedicated to doing something for the war, you could try and find something else, where although the pay in oak ridge they made very good because they wanted people to stay. they didn't want them to leave. ut the -- there was a stress
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for people. because it operated 24 hours a day. the town. working so hard around the clock. and you know there is a deadline but you don't know what it is. and you know there's an end to this and they're trying to achieve something, but you don't know what it is. whatever you're building is never finished because you don't know what it is. and that, you know, that took a toll, which is why they, you know, they wanted to make sure there was such a robust recreation department. and they eventually one of the most fascinating aspects -- i love that picture -- one of the most fascinating aspects of the research i did in the national archives was coming across the logs and reports of the psychiatrists that they brought to deal with people who were getting particularly stressed. they didn't call him a psychiatrist. he was the nice doctor you talked to if you were too tired.
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and one of the -- a wonderful man, bill wilcox, who i interviewed extensively and he became a friend -- he was getting an award. he was 90 something at the time he was being presented with this award. i was giving one of my presentations before he was given his award and i was talking about these psychiatrists' reports. he gets up. he's 91, 92 at the time, i think. and he says, i went to that doctor. i didn't know until today he as a psychiatrist. [laughter] and so, yeah. it was very interesting to hear ome of those perspectives. ms. skidmore: that is interesting and as part of community segregation was very much a reality. it was the 1940's and the experiences of african-american men and women were very different from their white counterparts. dr. terjesen: the poor living
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conditions, separated from their spouse or children. lack of access to quality food. this were some stories you described in your book. and generally find that african-american women's participation and contributions to the war effort are often overlooked. ms. kiernan: absolutely. dr. terjesen: but you made sure katy in your writing. ms. kiernan: katy. there is katy with her biscuit pants. she was remarkable. and i thought it was very -- i thought it was very important to make sure there was a voice that spoke to the african-american contribution n oak ridge and in the war and katie was incredibly generous with her time and her stories and opening up to me because as a writer you want to make sure you're presenting as much information as possible, as complete a story as is possible
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in the case of someone like katie, though, you are asking them to give as much detail as possible about what was really a pretty horrible experience in many ways. and, you know, she was committed to sharing that with me. which was wonderful. so she had -- she lived in a hutman area. she came with her husband. they were not allowed to live together, so that's about a 16 foot by 16 foot hut. mostly plywood. doors didn't lock. there was a little pot belly stove in the middle. she lived -- people, would be four to five people in one of those huts. there was a women's area and a men's area. katie said they called her area the women's area the pen. that's what she and the other ladies started to call it. there were curfews. there was a very limited amount of time she was allowed to spend with her husband. the jobs that were available
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re limited to domestic work, janitorial work, and construction. you know, it was a very, very --. she was not allowed to bring her children with her to oak ridge. you know, so the question, of course, i asked is with all of this that you were facing, why did you guys do this? and she said, the initial salary they were offering, the pay they were offering me was more than twice the best job i could have gotten in auburn, alabama, which is where she was from. so she left her children with her mother. they stayed with her grandmother. her and her husband went and every week like clock work they took their pay and sent a bunch of money back, you know. to support the family. so, i mean, having her offer that perspective and just give an authentic voice to that experience was very, very
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important to me. i was very fortunate that i was able to talk to her. dr. terjesen: we are quickly coming to the end of our discussion. just as a reminder if you do have questions and you would like to share with our experts, please go ahead and write those down. pass those note cards to the ushers in the aisles. again, if you are submitting a question, be -- via social media the hash tags are ushmm or # ask why. or # women's history. we'll check them all. multiple ways to get in touch with us. ok. gretchen, women were pushing back against formerly accepted boundaries for their gender within history and to offset the unspoken rules that were socially acceptable. how did that play out? ms. skidmore: as i was listening to denise, thinking about a woman who really lived and worked in a profession where there were a lot of
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rules, she was a librarian, and she found herself in new york approached by a rabbi who was a leader in the jewish community in new york. her name was florence mendheim and she was actually approached to spy on the supporters of the nazis who were in new york. they were called the friends of new germany. and as i was listening about the spying at oak ridge, un, there are so many ideas about threats, right, at the time, d threats to security, threats to really our nation's security. and she was asked, will you go to these meetings? maybe we need you to change your name. you can be gertrude mueller. and if you go to these meetings, just try and take some notes. make some friends there. you know. let us know what's happening. and this was really risky.
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a lot of these things were asked of people who -- she didn't step outside her job. she kept working as a librarian. but as she writes in her quotation it was very hazardous. they openly spoke about violence against jews at these meetings. it is just interesting that even if you didn't change jobs, even if you kind of stayed in the lane, there were still challenges and sort of learnings that took place that we're just now uncovering. i liked what you said about so glad she sat and told me that story. been o lucky that we've able to see people at all levels who were really thinking about the nazi threat in the united states and doing what they could even on american soil. dr. terjesen: and one of those women who was sort of in an elevated position of power is eleanor roosevelt. and it's difficult to have a discussion about american women in the 1930's and 1940's without acknowledging her influence.
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how did the first lady wield her influence and power, so to speak? ms. skidmore: so you guys can stay another hour for that, right? no. we really think about the -- world war ii we think about eleanor roosevelt and rosie the riveter. those are the women in our minds. many s very much as people know on the ground looking for ways to report back to the president when he couldn't get places, talking about people in america who needed help. she was an advocate for african-americans. i grew up in west virginia and there are many examples of times where she went to advocate and help unemployed minors for example. in terms of the refugee crisis and how america was responding, she did speak out when the wagner rogers bill came up and she encouraged the president to do that.
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he said, i can't, but you should. and in the end she also chaired a u.s. committee on the care of european children to bring child refugees when that bill was and of course instrumental in the u.n. declaration on human rights. we can't really have that conversation about resilience and agency. i'm glad we got to bring her in. dr. terjesen: denise, fast forward us to the end of the story. talk about the women when they finally learned what they had been working on. ms. kiernan: one of the things the main thing when it came time for the men and women in the book to learn what they had become part of was i worked ry hard to have them stay in august of 1945. how did they feel that day? so most of them, most people
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didn't have phones. newspapers were hard to come by. so a lot of people found out via word of mouth or were told the president is going to give an address. get to a radio. get to a radio. the president after the bombing of hiro shima gives a very long address toward the end of this speech that everyone is just glued to, so they're -- already there is a huge impact. something very big has happened with the war is all they know. that was enough to pull many of them away from work. then at the end of this he mentions oak ridge. well, people are then just flabbergasted. then, un, this started to be press coverage so this very secret place limited press coverage but started to be talked about. some people were still very
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using table actually that language that they thought they could use now. there was one particular scientist who just drove up and down the street shouting, uraniuim, uraniuim. he felt like he was allowed to ay it now. everybody's reaction -- like don't say that. language was a very big part of this. people were trying to finance the information. for a lot of people on that day it was just oh, there has been a really big development in the war. we were part of it. a lot of the images that -- what i found so fascinating about these people is they lived in two completely different worlds. a world without nuclear weapons and a world with nuclear weapon onls. i don't hwan it is like to live in a world without nuclear weapons. you say the bomb. i have a whole catalog of images and, you know, pictures and ideas and language, nuclear winter and all of these things.
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there were some people running around that day talking about the automatic bomb because they just -- the language wasn't there. so repercussions and the real magnitude of what happened sunk in for some people a little more slowly and people's reactions varied. e woman i talked to, she was talking about her brother and said it was so interesting because i was so happy this my brother was going to get to come home. she said, but i was so sad because so many people died and i had something to do with that. so she was actually able to hold on to both of those feelings at the same time and another man who actually witnessed the first test in new mexico said it was a time of horrors. it was a time of constant horrors. this was another horror that ended the other horrors which i thought was a very interesting
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way to put it. a wide variety of responses and reactions. >> i think we have one last clip to show if we could and then we'll move on to the q & a. what this is showing is that between 1940 and 1945 the female percentage of the u.s. work force increased from 27% they ly 37% and by 1945 won -- one out of every four married women worked outside the home. a poll taken in 1984 showed 80% of the population felt women who held war time jobs should be fired with some caveats and in 1945, 50% of the population believed a woman's place was in the home. gretchen, any final thoughts on that? ms. skidmore: another statistic we probably should put on the screen is there were 13 million veterans coming home, looking for employment.
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by 1947 i believe 8 million are unemployed. so the pressure to find and secure a nuclear family in the traditional way was a real xpectation that society set. and to ensure domestic security and well being of the economy, much of the moves we saw are reversed in an economic sort of demanding way. really based on economic need. dr. terjesen: ok. we'd now like to invite our audience into the conversation with your questions. we encourage you to continue submitting your questions. please keep your submissions to ust questions.
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all right. this one -- these two kind of relate to one another. can you quantify in any way the number of women who made efforts to help jewish people in europe? is this a true rarity or something that happened on a large scale? why didn't we take in the efugees? why did polling show that american attitudes were still against that? ms. skidmore: i think one of the words we used in the program is outliers, that these women are truly outliers. for the majority of the polling we know took place in the 1930's there was a great deal of public opinion that reflected resistance to raising the number of refugees that came into the country. some of that is driven by antisemitism, some driven by other some driven by
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ideas about what would compromise the health of our nation and so i think you put national security with all of those other strains in the society at the time both to the public and the congress were that ntiimmigration and drove policy and that drove decision making on that issue t drove policy and that drove decision making on that issue throughout the 1930's into war time and certainly it became much harder for people to leave once war broke out because it was very hard to find place to get your paperwork in order. it was very hard to get the money. it was very hard to find a ship that would take you. so i think that answers the question. what is it that is really getting in the way of more people coming at the time and t was the complicated range of factors that have really had us thinking about how this has been a debate in america for a very long time. we think in each period what
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are the motives and pressures on people causing them to see this issue one way or another? how do they think about debating that in the midst of what's best for our country? dr. terjesen: and harder to answer is can you quantify the number of women who made efforts to help jewish people? ms. skidmore: we haven't done that because i think the numbers are very small and yet of course we've highlighted me of the ones we find to be sort of representative of the type of work women did. dr. terjesen: ok. denise, did any women at oak ridge feel regret later for contributing to the creation of such a terrible weapon? ms. kiernan: it varied. regret would be -- this is just going to be based on the women -- i talked to, of course even women that i knew who went shall we say peaceful movements, sort of
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understood when i would talk to again, trying to get them to stay in their 1945 indset, there was a lot of instances where they were almost sort of -- trying to think of like -- dot would be a very good example. so, dot, when the bomb was dropped, she said she thought it was bad that there were so many people who had died but at the same time she wanted the war to be over and that was it. years later she is working in he 1960's as a docent in the museum and somebody came up to her. d started yelling at how can you -- don't you feel horrible about everything you did and don't you feel terrible about working on this particular weapon? and she said that made me feel
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horrible. she said, but then i said to them, well, they killed my brother. so it depended on people's individual experiences. some people had zero regrets. some people had very uncomfortable instances where they were sort of being held accountable for a decision that wasn't theirs. and sort of asked to be the face of a decision that was taking place so many leagues bove their head. so, again, it really kind of varied and even if their war and toward weapons changed, and many of them said, i hope we never have to do anything like that again, that didn't necessarily mean for a lot of the women that i talked to that they regretted what they had done at the time because their motivations at the time felt very real to
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them. dr. terjesen: one of our audience members has noted this discussion has many similarities to the national building museum's secret cities exhibit. are you familiar with this? ms. kiernan: sure. of course, yes. i actually haven't been, but yes. dr. terjesen: ok. ms. kiernan: i don't live here. if i lived here i would have gone. dr. terjesen: gretchen, are you familiar with it? ms. skidmore: i also haven't been but i had hoped if i did go i would go with denise, yes. ms. kiernan: that's what we'll do. dr. terjesen: and then there was an additional question about was there any partnership between the holocaust museum or the national museum on that particular exhibit? not from our museum. not from the holocaust museum, no. separate exhibits.
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another combo question. did working outside of the home as part of the war effort result in women becoming more politically engaged? i think we've already touched on that a little bit. and also post war, do we know how women felt about being displaced after the war? did it impact their marriages? touched on this, too. and families being forced back into the home full-time? ms. kiernan: actually one of the interesting things about the oak ridge community of , you had all of these veterans returning and in so many cases there were factories who normally maybe made pots and pans but during the war were making munitions, sort of retrofit to fit a specific need. then when those workers came back they gotth jobs back and the women went their way. well, the women who were recruited to work in oak ridge weren't taking anybody's jobs. they were actually trained to
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do something very specific that took a long time to train them. so they were actually in a very different situation when you compare them to a lot of women sort of outside the project. a lot of the women i talked to -- and some were ready to go ome and some, you know, were wanting to go ahead and start families but a lot of them lived and worked and the jobs stayed there. it was very interesting. we went from there and then start building up the weaponary and get into the cold war and those sorts of things. so it was interesting for the women in oak ridge because they did not experience that in the same kind of stark fashion that so many other women did who that rking in positions a man vacated when he went overseas to fight. dr. terjesen: so that is true, the polling data we shared a moment ago, that showed
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attitudes saying women should return to the home and women should be fired. that was a little bit different in regards to the women at oak ridge. ms. kiernan: it was a little bit different. there were women who wanted to return and did. but, yeah. -- there were still jobs there. there were jobs that they had not "taken from somebody away fighting" and they had a very specific skill set that was still valuable and would have taken, you know, this was after they figured out -- i mean, a lot of people thought oak ridge was just going to disappear and not be there any more. like the war was over. it's going to go away. that didn't happen at all. the need was still there again. we talk about the economic drive. and so that need was still there and a lot of the women i talked to were happy to continue to fill it. ms. skidmore: i think it is
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true, too, that the changes in the work force, changes in the work environment, were not significantly -- trying to think how to say this -- didn't really encourage women to stay in the work force, right? the wages were lower. in many cases they were still in sort of gender specific roles and some of the ways they stepped into the work force, a lot of daycare wasn't available. so it made it on a lot of levels not so easy to stay in and a lot of expectations to get back out. ms. kiernan: absolutely. and there were, i mean, just because these women had these positions in oak ridge, some of them like jane who is in my book, she was in a managerial position. she managed a room full of computers which back then meant a room full of men and women going like this with a hand cranked calculator. she was in a management position. and when i interviewed her years later, we were sitting on the floor in her living room and she was in her late 80's at that point and had all these --
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she saved everything, which was fantastic for me -- and she had job reports and all of these sorts of things. one particular piece of paper she had, it was a pay slip. she had a little post-it on it. when her eye landed on that post-it she became immediately just furious. i said, what is this about? i looked at it. she said, i put that post-it on there about 10 years ago so when she was in her 70's because she said i didn't want to forget this. and it said, i had men working nder me making more than me. and she -- so you think about it. she put that post-it on in her 70's. she was working in oak ridge in her early 20's. oo years later she is still mad enough to write the post-it and 10 years after that, you know, still. so there was one of the things i found -- i find interesting about this moment in women's history is that, i mean, it was a transformative moment for women in the work force. but jane, to me, just kind of
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captured a lot had changed. here she was this young woman in a managerial position over men in a scientific capacity and, yet, a lot had, you know, not changed. and she sort of kind of experienced both of those things on many different helves. dr. terjesen: one last question for both of you. you both brought two very different perspectives on this subject. what do you individually want us to take away from this discussion? hat do you want us to learn? ms. skidmore: ail just say that for me it's about inspiration, really, and thinking about how men were willing to make changes in their lives, understand they had personal agency in very challenging circumstances and just to know about the choices that people made and to think about their courage. i find that inspirational.
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ms. kiernan: absolutely. and for me, also, it's about valuing people's stories and their experiences. when i started interviewing people and approached and asked if they'd sit down and talk to me, i was going to work on this project, the number of people who said, are you sure, you don't want to talk to me. i didn't know anything. it was just decades and decades of really kind of devaluing their own contributions and experiences because they hadn't gotten, you know, many other essages. history is not something that happened. history is something happening now. big moments in history and even small moments in history are not up to a handful of people. it is everybody plays -- many, many people play a part. the impact they have may not be known for many years on either their country, their community,
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their family. so just to value people's stories, get them in archives. do oral histories. get them to your libraries. just value those people whose stories are not often told. dr. terjesen: and it is just that kind of work occurring here at the hole cust museum and the national women's history museum. we value those stories. they tell the broader picture. ms. kiernan: absolutely. dr. terjesen: i'd like to thank our panelists, denise and gretchen for sharing your expertise tonight. thank you to you for enriching our conversation as well. before we close tonight i want to let everyone know that denise's book "the girls of atomic city, the untold story of the women who helped win world war ii" is available for sale in the lobby and denise is available to sign copies of her book. additionally, please stay tuned for upcoming programs at the museum available in studio and on demand including a daytime program marking the 80th
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anniversary. we'll end this evening with a thought provoking quote by eleanor roosevelt from 1946. gretchen, will you just provide us some of the context for this quote? ms. skidmore: right. we wanted to invite all of you, and thank you for coming, but invite all of you to learn more at our exhibition just down the hall. it is not open tonight but come back and go to the online exhibition. but being here at the united states holocaust memorial museum, thinking about the people in the country at the time who knew so much about what happened during the war, what sacrifices americans had made, what has been lost, eleanor roosevelt actually toured in 1946 a displaced persons camp and when she -- we pulled this to really have people thinking as they left a little bit about what the responsibilities we all have are and what potential we all have to make a difference as
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sort of part of her perspective here. i'll just read it and then we'll end the program. "i have the feeling that we let our consciences realize too late the need of standing up against something that we knew was wrong. we have therefore had to avenge it but we did nothing to prevent it. i hope that in the future we are going to remember that there can be no compromise at any point with the things that we know are wrong. the most important thing for us to realize is the great responsibility that lies upon our shoulders. " dr. terjesen: thank you and good evening. [applause] >> interested in american history tv? visit our website view our tv schedule, preview
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upcoming programs, and watch college lectures, museum tours, archival films, and more. american history tv at >> c-span, where history unfolds daily. in 1979 c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies. and today we continue to bring you unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court, and public policy events in washington, d.c. and around the country. c-span is brought to you by your >> sunday night on the presidency. eleanor roosevelt biographer thes with the director of franklin d roosevelt presidential library and museum in hyde park, new york. she has written a three volume
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biography of the former first lady. here is a preview. she really encourage the civil rights movement. she encouraged martin luther king. she encouraged the citizens, the student nonviolent coordinating committee. i invited eleanor roosevelt to the roosevelt house when i was a student at hunter. i invited her to come speak to us in 1961. aresaid wonderful things happening, go south for freedom. we took two buses and went to north carolina and eleanor roosevelt was supporting the citizens. students were supporting it and so are the -- and the civil rights movements from the 1940's until the end of her life. she was delighted.
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there is a wonderful new book, actually, three new books about eleanor roosevelt. she called eleanor roosevelt the mother of the women's movement in the conscience of us all. watch the entire program on eleanor roosevelt sunday night on the presidency at 8:00 p.m. and 12 midnight eastern. that is here on american history tv, all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. >> next on lectures in history. kent state university professor elaine frantz teaches a class about the experience of being arrested from the 1850s to the present day. she examines which groups were most likely to be arrested and how the process changed over time. with the introduction of police sidearms and posttrial -- patrol vehicles. the class took place at a correctional institution in ohio as part of the national inside-out prison exchange og


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