Document Sample
ellison Powered By Docstoc
					                          WomanPower   1


Lexington’s Driving Force

            During WWII

   Michelle Lynn Elison

       History 471

      Dr. Freehling
                                                                        WomanPower        2

The most important source for the personal aspects of this historical perspective came from

hours of oral interviews with my grandmother, Etta Louise Bietz. Her unrelenting attention

                      to detail became this works greatest attribute.
                                                                            WomanPower        3

       It was a beautiful afternoon in Lexington, especially for early December. Still in her

Sunday best, Etta Louise Bietz, not quite sixteen, sat in the living room of her family’s

small house on Carlisle Avenue. Her uncle and his family were paying a visit, and Etta was

enjoying delightful conversation with her cousins. They were interrupted by the sound of a

young boy running up the street yelling, “Extra, Extra, read all about it!” Etta’s mother

anxiously handed her a quarter and sent her to fetch the paper, expecting to read about the

latest discoveries in the famous Miley murder case that the Herald had been following so

closely. When Etta read the headlines, however, she found not the Miley murders, but

“Japs Bomb Manila, Pearl Harbor; Naval Battle Raging Near Hawaii”. At first Etta

did not understand the headline; she had never heard of Manila or Pearl Harbor. As she

read further, she began to realize the gravity of this event. Japan had just attacked America.

Her mind raced through different ways that war would change all the people she knew. It

never occurred to her that she was about to play a huge role in events that would forever

change her family, her community, and women everywhere.


       On the eve of the Second World War, the country was only beginning to recover

from the Depression, and still trying to hold on to traditional values. The decade of the

thirties tested the fortitude of American families’ fight for survival in the face of

unemployment, poverty, and uncertainty about the future. Etta Bietz’s folks were among

the many who struggled against the economic hardships that often tore families apart. Mrs.

Bietz, along with her husband and five children, had moved to Lexington in 1930, to be

closer to her parents. With the birth of their sixth child in 1932, Mr. Bietz’s job in the

slaughterhouses barely provided enough income to support the family. Although funds
                                                                         WomanPower            4

                       were tight, Mrs. Bietz stretched the resources from a single income

                       to provide the necessities for her four girls and two boys. The Bietz

                       family during the Depression years was not indicative of American

                       families in general; they were able to find the resolve to endure the

                       old fashioned way. Many

                       families differed from this

                       traditional model of the husband

                       as the breadwinner while the wife

                       takes care of domestic duties.

                              The emphasis on

                       traditional roles in the home
     Mrs. Bietz
resurfaced when American jobs disappeared during the                   Mr. Bietz

Depression. Just before the Depression, women had made great strides towards attaining

more rights and equality with men. They had begun to strive for careers by entering

universities and the workforce, breaking down the traditional roles of women as mainly

domestic workers. However, with the onset of the Depression women were encouraged to

resume their traditional roles since jobs were scarce, and by working, they might contribute

to male unemployment rates.

       The position assumed that men alone faced the problem of unemployment. Women

allegedly had husbands, brothers, or fathers who were taking care of them.1 Although this

was the case for Etta and her mother and sisters, for many other women nothing could be

further from the truth. At the end of the era more than 11.5 million women were employed.

A large number of women were heads of household and had to balance duties of
                                                                          WomanPower          5

motherhood and employment without the help of a second income. Jobs were difficult for

women to attain and wages, working conditions, and hours were still unregulated.

Regardless of how many hours they worked, women were expected to come home and

spend another fifty hours or more tending to their families and household duties. 2 Contrary

to the perceptions held by many Americans about the Depression Era, some families were

solely dependant on a woman’s salary for survival. Often mothers were forced to rely on

government handouts because holding a job in a world before childcare was very difficult.3

       Even those women who did have husbands during the thirties often had to work

outside the home. By 1939, the median income for families was only $1,100 annually.

Many wives went to work because their husbands’ incomes barely reached half of the

median. By 1940, economic necessity forced 15.5 percent of all married women to work.

After laboring long hours, they still contributed less than two hundred dollars a year to their

family income.4 But those two hundred dollars provided the basic necessities—food,

clothing, and shelter.

       Despite the obvious need for many families to have two sources of income, society

responded to the Depression by urging women to resume domestic roles and stay out of the

workforce. The growing unemployment rate gave rise to much fear and many people lashed

out at working women for taking a job away from a man who needed it. In the public

opinion polls of 1939, 78 percent of the population was opposed to married women


       The government also attempted to pressure women out of the workforce. FDR’s

New Deal programs, although intended to help everyone during the Depression, instead

strongly discriminated against workingwomen, specifically married women. In 1932, the
                                                                        WomanPower         6

government announced that only one family member could hold a government job.

Naturally, Work Progress Administration (WPA) jobs were given to men first, and many

states refused to hire married women altogether. Francis Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of

Labor, was a strong supporter of workingwomen and recognized the unfairness of the

government’s policies towards women. Mrs. Perkins, a pioneer herself as the first woman

on a President’s cabinet, apologetically commented: “ We had no choice in the Federal

Government but to limit one job per family. It was meant to discourage nepotism, but it

discriminated against women.” She also acknowledged: “It is a well known secret that

married women just took off their wedding rings and pretended to be single. How else can

you account for the actual increase in the number of married women working during the

Depression?”6 Examples to the contrary not withstanding, American society feared women

working, single or married.

       America’s fears were unwarranted. In actuality, working women had no effect on

men’s employment opportunities because segregation had already been established in the

workforce. Women had traditionally dominated the service industry while men had always

been recruited for the manufacturing industry. A look at the classified section of

Lexington’s Herald or Leader during the Depression years demonstrates that help-wanted

ads had always been a matter of gender. The want ads were clearly divided between male

help and female help wanted, and even within the ads ‘colored’ and ‘white’ were specified.

For example, under the heading of Male Help Wanted are ads such as: “Wanted—

Experienced mechanics; Delivery Boy—Colored, must have own bicycle; Experienced man

to work in dairy near Paris, splendid new house for home.” Women would have been

laughed at had they tried to apply for any of these male dominated positions. Similarly,
                                                                          WomanPower           7

men would never have tried to obtain any of the jobs listed under Female Help Wanted:

“Wanted—Saleslady for ready to wear chain store. Experience necessary; Beauty

Operator—Good salary and commission; Wanted—Girls to work in Laundry.” Even WPA

jobs spread segregation; women were the typists, secretaries, clerks, and packers.

       For women, the depression had the undesirable effect of crushing whatever strides

they had made towards more independence in the twenties with the woman’s movement.

Their efforts to establish careers and transgress the gender biases in employment came to an

end. Once again, on the eve of war, women were expected to stay at home and care for

their families, just as their mothers had done a generation before. Upon hearing the

declaration of war on December 8, 1941, few Americans could foresee that in only four

short years, America would be altered forever, and all attempts to return to the traditional

values that emphasized domestic life would ultimately be in vain.


       In the spring of 1941, Lexington remained grounded in its agricultural heritage.

After the Depression, life became more centered in the rolling hills and wheat and tobacco

fields of Central Kentucky. As summer continued, Lexingtonians knew of the growing

hostility in Europe and around the globe only through intermittent headlines in newspapers.

However, America was still concerned only about America. Public sentiment supported

isolation from world affairs and a return to the prosperous days of the twenties. A peace

treaty with Japan seemed possible, and the U.S. involvement in another global theater of

war seemed unlikely.

       As autumn approached and diplomacy waned, the seeds were being planted that

would soon thrust Central Kentucky to the forefront of wartime industry. Lexington
                                                                         WomanPower             8

architects were working with various War Department offices in Washington. They were

drawing up plans to transform 784 acres of farmland, equidistant from Paris, Lexington and

Winchester in eastern Fayette County, into a military supply depot. The area they had

chosen was the small farming community of Avon.7 By the spring of 1941, only a select

few Kentuckians knew that the War Department, sensing growing tensions in U.S. foreign

policy, had already begun building this new Army Post. “Lexingtonians were not aware that

within a few months more than 1000 families would be connected directly with the “small

town” to be known as the Lexington Signal Depot.”8

       The Lexington Signal Depot was created as a part of one of the seven technical

branches of the Army, the Signal Corps. The Depot’s original construction included the

building of eight 180’x 720’ brick warehouses, a power plant, an internal telephone

communications network, an internal railway system, a motor pool building, a fire

department, forty wood framed temporary buildings, and an Administration building.9 The

Signal Corps was the “eyes and ears” of the Army, and it was to be the mission of the

Depot to receive, store, and ship supplies, parts and equipment throughout the world. It

was also responsible for the repair and upgrade of many crucial army radio systems. Jobs

at the Depot ranged from Warehousing and Inspection to Plant Maintenance and Security.

The Depot was a fully functional autonomous community, complete with police, grocery,

recreation and health care facilities.10 Construction of this key element of the Signal Corps

began July 1st, 1941 and was completed within eleven months.
                                   WomanPower   9

Two Views of the Entrance to the
    Lexington Signal Depot
  Taken Nine Months Apart
                                                                        WomanPower          10

       Only four months after construction of the Depot began, Senator Alben W. Barkley

announced that the army would purchase more Kentucky land, this time in Madison

County, to build a munitions storage base named the Blue Grass Ordnance (BGO). The

Senator’s announcement brought harsh criticism, and apprehension spread through

Lexington and surrounding areas. Hardly anyone desired more Kentucky land to be taken

for government use, and seized taxable land would no longer generate county tax revenue.

Many folks feared that new families would flood the area, and distress over the possible

influx of persons to an already uneasy labor market was apparent in the voices and faces of

Central Kentuckians.11 Few could foresee the opportunities for generating new jobs and

creating economic expansion from increased retail patronage. Only some saw the chance

for mutual growth between the depots and the community.

       Despite the negative reactions by Kentuckians, on November 5th, 1941, one month

before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Army purchased a 14,499-acre tract of land on which

to build the second military installation.12 Construction plans for the BGO included over

900 “igloos” for ammunitions storage, a general supply building, base utilities, and an

administrative building. The original purpose of the BGO was to receive, refurbish, store,

and ship ammunition and supplies all over the world. The BGO was also instrumental in

developing new technologies for both the military and private sector. The addition of the

BGO in the area meant that Kentucky was not only pioneering the advancement of the

Signal Corps, but would soon be neck and neck with war industry in the North and West.

       When the United States entered the war, the War Department had to act fast. All

over America, seemingly overnight, towns began transforming into defense and industrial

centers. As a result, consumer production of automobiles came to a halt in early 1942.13
                                                                          WomanPower          11

Auto factories were converted into aircraft plants, new factories were created, and

shipbuilding industries expanded.14 The many new jobs in the defense and war industries

ended high unemployment. Numerous jobs opened up for the urban unemployed, and the

high pay and high demand also attracted people from rural areas and small towns to the

cities. Nationally, migration flowed to the North and West, the traditional centers of

industry.15 Although the nation was heading towards prosperity, the migration caused

overcrowding in many cities and often rioting.

        However, Kentucky’s groundbreaking strides toward the forefront of wartime

industry avoided this problem. Industry drew people out of Lexington and surrounding

areas, into the sparsely populated and traditionally agricultural community of Avon. A

great factor in the success of the Depot and productivity in the area as a whole was that

people weren’t displaced or drawn into overcrowded cities. As opposed to most other

wartime industrial centers, which suffered from overcrowding, Central Kentucky benefited

from the Depots sustainable growth.

       More workers were needed to speed construction of the Depot and the BGO

following the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. The War Department brought in workers from

different states, and also went on a hiring spree locally. Military personnel and civilians

alike were recruited to begin training for jobs at the Depot and the BGO. Training sessions,

teaching the use and repair of radio equipment, were held all over Central Kentucky.

Training sites in Lexington included Lafayette High School and the Old Johnson School

Building, Mayo Vocational School, and the University of Kentucky; additional sites were

also established in Paintsville and Paris. More training schools were opened later in

Covington, Paducah, Ashland, Owensboro, and Harlan.16
                                                                           WomanPower        12

       By May of 1942, the BGO alone employed over 6,500 workers, drawing a

combined salary of over $312,000 a week.17 The Depot employed as many as 3,600

personnel at one time.18 In the nearby towns, retail revenues boomed. Local clubs, hotels,

and restaurants saw many new faces coming in. With the increase of retail patronage and

the beginning of rationing, shops were often sold out of favorite items. Folks had to stay in

close contact with stores to be kept abreast of products arriving daily.19 Although the Depot

was built in anticipation of hostilities abroad and plans for the BGO preceded the attack on

Pearl Harbor, no one anticipated that change would come so hastily to Lexington.

       As Kentucky became the vanguard for wartime industry in the South, Lexington

families remained unaware of the drastic transformations beginning to manifest throughout

America. In the face of employment highs not seen in decades, men were soon called to

fight and taken out of the labor pool. As a result, for the first time in years, jobs exceeded

workers.20 Wartime industry had to replenish the workforce by responding quickly and

without regard to race or gender. Employers seemed reluctant to hire from the pool of labor

that remained—blacks and women. In President Roosevelt’s Columbus Day speech in

1942, he acknowledged this problem: “In some communities employers dislike to hire

women. In others they are reluctant to hire Negroes. We can no longer afford to indulge

such prejudice.”21 The War Department quickly realized that new workers must emerge and

old prejudices must die, to meet the new demands of society.

       Potential women workers could no longer be ignored. The War Department

recognized this and campaigned to appeal to women for the cause. The War Manpower

Commission began sending out a new message to American Women: Get a Job!
                                                                          WomanPower      13

       A call has gone out for millions of women to exchange kitchen aprons for

       overalls; for women whose hands are skilled in sewing, in cooking, to turn to

       handling latches, cutting dies, and running drills; for women whose eyes are

       used to fine sewing to learn to trace blueprints, test precision instruments,

       and inspect plane parts. All kind of women are needed, young and old,

       women who once worked and can work again, and young women new to the

       factory or job. 22

       America experienced a revolution on the home front, as over three million women

went to work in defense plants; another 350 thousand women joined the military. 23      The

first episode of Wonder Women by Charles Moulton appeared around this time. “At last, in

a world torn by the hatred and wars of men,” Moulton wrote, “appears a woman to whom

the problems and feats of men are mere child’s play.”24 Once again, the same societal

pressure that only a year ago influenced women to

uphold traditional values in the domestic sphere, were

now urging them to fulfill their patriotic duties; to help

their brothers and husbands. How quickly society’s

urgings change!

       Beginning in 1942, women entered war

industries in large numbers, leaving behind the

traditional female jobs of a domestic or service nature

for the higher wages of the once male dominated manufacturing jobs. Men had always

been the nation’s welders, forklift operators, and factory workers. Now women worked at
                                                                          WomanPower        14

these posts and had to work harder to gain respect. Often they performed a man's job better

than the men did. For the first time many women felt like they were doing something

important by being employed, whereas before their ideas of a career had always been

devalued. Ultimately women became as essential an aspect of the war effort as any other.

But who were these women?


       The women of the Bietz family would soon find themselves forerunners in wartime

industry and spending long hours laboring to see the US through a World War. Margaret,

Etta’s older sister, was the first woman in the family to respond to the call to war jobs. Half

of the women defense workers had been in the nation’s workforce before the war and

Margaret was no exception. She had been employed at Woolworth’s Dime Store for more

than a year, during which time she met a young man, fresh out of high school and working

in a slaughterhouse. They soon married, and had just begun to start a new family when he

was drafted in March of 1942. Margaret had her baby in the fall, and soon she applied for a

                                       job at the Depot and was hired on as a

                                       warehouseman, or clerk.

                                               Margaret continued to live at home while she

                                       worked at the Depot and Mrs. Bietz looked after her

                                       baby. Her new job came with a large pay increase

                                       and, being a sturdy woman, she was well suited for

                                       her work. Margaret worked at the Depot until her

                                       husband, stationed on the beachhead in Italy, was

                                       shell-shocked and returned to the States. He was
                                                                          WomanPower          15

taken first to Memphis and naturally Margaret wanted to be with him. Her immediate

supervisor at the Depot, a bitter woman named Ruth Calabatt, had told her that all leave

from work had been frozen and she couldn’t go. Margaret, devastated and on the verge of

tears, ran into the head of her division, Major Perkins. He asked why she was crying and

she explained her husband’s situation. He acknowledged all leave was restricted, but

lowered his voice to add, “If I had just gotten back from over there, I would want my wife

to come to me, whether she had a job to come back to or not.” Margaret went to her

husband and they came home to Lexington months later. When Margaret returned to the

Depot, she got her job back.

       In 1944, at the height of war production, almost one in three women defense

workers had been full-time homemakers. Their addition to the workforce meant that

married women outnumbered single women workers for the first time in U.S. history.25

The duties for wives and mothers during the war years were tremendous. After working

twelve hours a day at their defense jobs, women joined long lines at stores because most

items were rationed, and arriving late meant the selection would be slim. When they got

home they cooked, cleaned, and tended to the children, only to do it all over again the next

day. Childcare was a major dilemma during the war. Government agencies began to

recognize the need for nurseries and childcare facilities, but it would be some time before

new policies would take effect. Most moms formed babysitting collectives and family

members or neighbors were relied upon to take care of children.

       Mrs. Bietz felt that she could help the war effort best by serving her family first.

With warm blue eyes and reddish-blonde hair, she was soft talker, but also a brave and stout

woman. She was unaffected by the ranting: “Put those housewife skills to use in the
                                                                             WomanPower         16

                                                factory! Do it for your husbands and sons!”

                                                She did some volunteer work, but knew her

                                                most crucial role was to be the center of the

                                                family. Mrs. Bietz’s two youngest daughters

                                                weren’t yet old enough to have the option of

                                                staying in school or working. Otherwise,

                                                they would have proudly followed their older

                                                sisters’ lead and done their part to help the

                                                war effort. By 1944, one out of five women

                                                defense workers had been students on the eve

                                                of the war, and it was hoped that the press of

wartime needs could induce them to temporarily postpone further education.26 However,

Mrs. Bietz knew the importance of finishing their education and her second youngest

daughter, Jean, graduated from Lafayette High School. Nonetheless, she encouraged the

dedication her older daughters, Margaret and Etta, felt to the war effort.

       Etta started babysitting while she was in high school, earning around two dollars a

week. She used that money to buy pretty material, which she would give to her mother to

make her school clothes. Etta’s family always had the necessities, but she often felt self-

conscious because her parents couldn’t afford the store bought dresses that other girls in her

class wore. In fact, a feeling of shyness had plagued her life ever since she lost her left eye

in an accident playing stick ball as a child. Growing up with a glass eye, Etta felt like she

stood out amongst her friends and became increasingly introverted.
                                                                          WomanPower           17

       Etta finally quit school all together in the 10th grade, being confident that she

already knew more than her teacher. Her parents gave her the same option they had given

her older sister—stay in school or work and pay rent. Etta went to work at a laundry up the

street, which was about the only type of job that a girl with her education could get at the

time. In 1944, Margaret encouraged Etta to put in an application at the post office, but she

was reluctant. She liked working at the laundry since she didn’t have to be around people.

Besides, she had recently earned a nickel an hour raise and was now clearing over eleven

dollars a week. Six dollars went to her mother, for room and board, but that still left her five

dollars to spend on clothes, lunches and car rides.

        Before long, however, Etta came to recognize the advantages for women in

government jobs. Tall, robust, and single, Etta Bietz was exactly the kind of woman the

War Manpower Commission was looking for. “Single women in their late teens were

natural recruits for the new jobs. Since they were usually short-term workers who would be

employed only until they were married, they presented little threat to the status quo. It was

assumed that they would be willing to relinquish their jobs at the war’s end to the returning

servicemen.”27 At her sister’s urging, she applied at the post office, but was turned away

because she was not quite eighteen.

       Before she had walked out the door, a clerk stopped her and asked her how much

she weighed. Etta, being a full-figured girl, told the woman that she weighed 188 pounds.

The clerk asked her to come back and explained that the Depot had just sent word that their

packing room desperately needed workers. Only strong women could fill the strenuous

position—women over 150 pounds. She was hired on the condition that she would obtain

parental permission, and was told that she could not work nights or overtime until she
                                                                         WomanPower         18

reached eighteen. On the same day, feeling the call to work for the effort, Etta quit her job

at the laundry without notice. She was thrilled knowing that soon she would be making $29

a week, over twice as much as she had made before.

       Etta’s work at the Depot was difficult, dirty, but very rewarding. She was the

youngest girl in the packing room, and the only one still unmarried. She was making good

money and the long lasting relationships formed between many of the women reflected the

unity in the workplace. Etta met her best friend Hazel while working at the Depot. Women

like Etta and Hazel wore pants in the workplace and were considered less lady-like by the

women who worked in the office. They often rode the bus home together, and believed that

the women who held office jobs looked down upon them. The bus first picked up the

employees at the Administration Building, and then traveled down to the warehouses where

Etta and Hazel worked. When the warehouse workers boarded the bus, the office workers

moved to different seats to avoid sitting next to them. Etta and Hazel didn’t mind, since

they preferred sitting together anyway.

       After working twelve long hours, Etta was excited to see her family and spend time

doing the things she enjoyed.   She took great pleasure in her new freedom and delighted in

shopping and courting her new boyfriend. Etta’s increased pay allowed her to indulge, and

she was finally able to buy fancy dresses from department stores. She often went out to

dinner on Saturday evenings with other ladies from the Depot. As part of her support for

the war effort, she purchased some war bonds. However, she enjoyed spending more than

saving and often cashed them in. Etta was aware that many women during the war years

took their liberties too far. Excited to marry a soldier, some women participated in furlough

weddings, which prevented boys from going to war unwed.28 Etta happily dated her new
                                                                         WomanPower         19

boyfriend, seven years her senior, until he was drafted in 1945 and sent to Kansas. She

missed him and wrote often.

       Women felt a strong sense of duty and were answering the call to work for the

effort. Still expected to tend to domestic duties, women had to learn the juggling act of

career, family, and self. Much the same as women all over the country, Etta and Margaret

Bietz had become a part of the war effort and felt a growing sense of achievement and

contribution. Womanpower had become the greatest driving force in America, providing

the necessities for U.S. soldiers fighting in two theaters of war.


       On August 14, 1945, the Depot Commander in Lexington verified that a

representative of the Imperial Japanese Army had surrendered unconditionally, under

demand of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Force. After years of war, loss of

thousands and thousands of young lives, and billions of war industry dollars spent, the

Allies restored justice in the world and American soldiers came home as heroes. The word

of the surrender brought great relief, but for workingwomen, the news also came with a

heavy heart. Despite their contributions, women working in wartime industries knew their

employment would only be temporary. Returning soldiers would be in need of jobs, and

women were naturally expected to step aside.

       A reversal in public sentiment now faulted women for having been in the workplace

and not at home. The public felt working women contributed directly to the rising divorce

rate, to cases of child neglect, and to increasing juvenile delinquency.29 Most Americans

believed that since the war was over, women must to return to traditional domestic roles.

Even though a 1945 Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau survey found that 75% of
                                                                         WomanPower         20

working women planned to work after the war, the War Department campaigned for

women to return to the home so that soldiers could get back to the male role as breadwinner

of the family.30

        In 1946, the Depot in Lexington, forced to follow the nation’s lead, laid-off most of

its women workers. But while private industry preferred men for employment, the Depot

remained loyal to the women who had made it such a shining example within the Signal

Corps. It initiated benefits unheard of in women’s jobs previously; for example, it had

taken retirement out of the women’s salaries to provide assistance once the war was over.

When the Depot dispersed the funds, most women had never seen so much money at one

time. Etta was thrilled, and with the two hundred dollars she received she bought herself a

new bed, a lamp, and contributed some to the family. The Depot’s loyalty to these women

was apparent as it continued to hire women back to their posts during every American

conflict that required a call to action.

        Etta Bietz and most other workingwomen knew of the temporary status of their jobs

during the war years. While Etta happily relinquished her post at the Depot, it didn’t take

her long to become restless not working. Shortly thereafter, she was back working, now as

a billing clerk for a wholesale grocery store on Main Street. While working there that she

met Pete Sipe, then thirty-seven years old and fifteen years older than Etta. He had been

drafted into the Army Air Force, and was released on December 7, 1945, exactly four years

after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. As a returning veteran, he quickly got a job in

Lexington, working as a cooper, or maker of barrels. Etta and Pete dated for a couple

years, and finally were married in 1949.
                                                                        WomanPower         21

       In the 1950’s birth and marriage rates

skyrocketed. Returning soldiers were given good

deals on buying homes and families were being

raised in the comforts of suburban life. Women

were getting married and adopting a life centered

around homemaking, packing lunches, and boy

scouts. Life magazine celebrated the American

woman by portraying the ideal wife and mother as

a suburban homemaker. 31

       As the nation entered the 50’s, Etta soon

found herself in the midst of the baby boom. She
                                                               Pete and Etta Sipe
had her first child in February 1950, but chose not to stay at home as so many women were

doing. Instead, eight months after giving birth, she returned to the Depot to resume

working and contribute to the effort during the Korean Conflict. She was inspired by her

previous employment, and had taken strides to become a more valuable employee at the

Depot. She had taken a clerical typing class in an effort to become a “graded” employee.

Graded, or skilled, employees held higher positions, enjoyed better working conditions, and

increased pay. Etta would return time and again to serve her community and nation, and

eventually she would be making more money than her husband.

       The Depot and Lexington went through many changes during the sixties. By 1960,

after almost twenty years as a part of the Avon community, the Depot boasted an annual

payroll of more than $9,000,000 and provided work for approximately 2,000 residents of

the area.32 The same year that President Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act finally
                                                                        WomanPower          22

giving women rights in the workplace and elsewhere, the Depot and the BGO were

combined to form the Lexington-Blue Grass Army Depot. 33       In 1965, Etta started taking

correspondence courses to finish her high school education. In 1967, one year before her

eldest child was to graduate from high school, she proudly received her diploma.

       Mr. and Mrs. Bietz raised their children to give completely of themselves to their

family, their community, and most importantly, their country. Their daughter Margaret

raised two sons and one daughter. Her daughter, Etta Mae has worked all her life, and is

now the co-owner of a successful auto repair shop in Lexington. The two youngest Bietz

women, Jean and Anne, both raised daughters who dreamt of careers. Jean’s daughter,

Betsy, is the proud owner of a local beauty salon in Lexington and Anne’s child, Mary

Janine, works as a Dental Assistant.

        Etta Bietz instilled her pride and sense of achievement working for the war effort

into her family. Her son Skipper served in the Army Reserves, retiring as a Lieutenant

Colonel. Etta’s daughter, Wanita, also served in the military and proved to be a pioneer for

the women of her generation. In 1975, Wanita married a fellow officer and one year later,

was honored by the Air Force Newspaper, the Skywalker, for being one of the first women

at Wright Patterson Air Force Base that chose to continue her military career after

becoming pregnant. While stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base in 1982, she helped to

organize the first annual “Today’s Women in the Military” conference, which brought

together women from all branches of the military, and addressed issues concerning

discrimination, medical care, legal matters, and child-care.

       Etta Bietz also became a catalyst for the next generation of women. One of her

granddaughters, Amy, is preparing for a career in the mostly male dominated profession of
                                                                         WomanPower         23

sports management, while her other granddaughter, Michelle, hopes to soon begin studies at

the Patterson School of Diplomacy in Lexington. From the endless stories Etta has shared

with her granddaughters and the example her life has become, the latest generation of Bietz

women is determined to live up to the words their grandmother always told them, “Make

me proud…”


       The early 1940’s proved to be a major shifting point in history of Lexington and

Central Kentucky. In the forefront of the changing face of historically agrarian based

communities into booming centers of production and wartime industry, Lexington was able

to meet the need for a safe, secure and reliable access point to store munitions and supplies

to be sent to unknown destinations thousands of miles away. The construction of the two

depots in Central Kentucky had brought with it innovative ideas in industry, community,

and employment. The effects of the depots in the area were far-reaching and long lasting.

The depots created almost 10,000 new jobs to Central Kentucky, without crowding

Lexington or any other surrounding cities. Good salaries at the depots allowed workers to

spend money in the area, stimulating the retail businesses that were ailing due to the

Depression. After the war, industry was brought to the area by companies such as General

Electric and IBM, offering technical jobs that were well suited for workers with experience

in vital and detailed projects such as those at the depots. As men were going off to war,

women were able to step up to the challenges facing the war industry. The tireless efforts

made by women in the workplace are now recognized as the greatest homeland contribution

to the decisive Allied victory.
                                                                                     WomanPower         24

           Women such as those in the Bietz family did not know of the changing world before

them on that early December day. As Etta read the headline announcing the bombing of

Pearl Harbor, she was yet to realize what would become her role in the future of her

community and her nation. By the age of seventeen, Etta was working for the war effort

and putting in the necessary hours to keep American soldiers supplied with equipment and

ammunition. Her compensation was not only the relatively high pay she received; her most

significant reward was contributing to the cause. The greatest heroes of any conflict largely

go unnoticed and are eventually forgotten. In this case that is not true. The women of the

Bietz family—Mrs. Bietz, Margaret Bietz and Etta Louise Bietz—should forever be known

in history as women who stood in the face of adversity at home with their hearts in remote

locations on the other side of the world.


    A century of women: Work and Family [Videotape]

    Gluck, S.B. (1988). Rosie the Riveter revisited: Women, the war, and social change. New York: New
           American Library. pp. 4, 7
    A century of women: Work and Family [Videotape]
    Gluck, 8

    Baxandall, R., & Gordon, L. (Eds.). (1995). America’s working women: A documentary history 1600 to
          the present. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. pp. 238-239
    FDRs secretary of labor is discussed in the documentary, A century of women: Work and Family
    Signal Depot planning began quietly. (1960, June 19). Lexington Herald. Signal section, 1.
    Signal Depot planning began quietly. (1960, June 19). Lexington Herald. Signal section, 1.
    Lexington-Blue Grass Army Depot
                                                                                      WomanPower         25

     Lexington Signal Depot 11
     Lexington Blue Grass Army Depot 1941-1991
     Lexington Blue Grass Army Depot 1941-1991
     Sklar, K.K., & Dublin, T. (1991). Women and power in American history: A reader Volume II from 1870.
            Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall. 216
     Gluck, 9
     Gluck, 9
     Signal Depot planning began quietly. (1960, June 19). Lexington Herald. Signal section, 1.
     Lexington Signal Depot
     War Years at the Lexington Signal Depot 83

     Army depot a catalyst for local growth. (1981, December 6). Herald-Leader. A-1, col.1-4.
     A century of women: Work and Family [Videotape]

21 Gluck 10
     Glover, K. (1943). Women at work in wartime. New York
     A century of women: Work and Family [Videotape]
     Brinkley, A. & Fitzpatrick, E. (1997). America in modern times: Since 1941. New York: McGraw-Hill
           Companies, Inc.
     Gluck 13
     Gluck 11
     Gluck, 101
   Wars Sudden Liberties Are Ending In Disaster For Many Of Our Girls. (1943, August 3). Lexington
Herald. Page 7, col. 4-6
   Anderson, K. (1981). Wartime women: Sex roles, family relations, and the status of women during World
War II. Westport: Greenwood Press. p10
     A century of women: Work and Family [Videotape]
     A century of women: Work and Family [Videotape]
     Signal Depot planning began quietly. (1960, June 19). Lexington Herald. Signal section, 1.
     Lexington Blue Grass Army Depot 1941-1991
                                                                      WomanPower          26

                                   Secondary Sources
       Anderson, K. (1981). Wartime women: Sex roles, family relations, and the status of

women during World War II. Westport: Greenwood Press.

AV-V3421. A century of women: Work and family [Videotape].

Baxandall, R., & Gordon, L. (Eds.). (1995). America’s working women: A documentary

       history 1600 to the present. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

 Breckinridge, S.P. (1933). Women in the twentieth century: A study of their political,

       social, and economic activities. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc.

Brinkley, A. & Fitzpatrick, E. (1997). America in modern times: Since 1941. New York:

       McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Frank, E. M. (1960, June 19). Women workers would shock old timers. Herald-Leader, 6-


Gluck, S.B. (1988). Rosie the Riveter revisited: Women, the war, and social change. New

       York: New American Library.

Helper, A. (1998) “And we want steal toes like men”: Gender and occupational health

       during World War II. Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 72.4, 689-713

Mandel, E. & Sinclair, B. (2002) Pioneers of production: Women industrial workers in

       World War II. Journal of Women’s History, 14.2, 158-161

Signal Depot planning began quietly. (1960, June 19). Lexington Herald. Signal section,


Sklar, K.K., & Dublin, T. (1991). Women and power in American history: A reader

       Volume II from 1870. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.
                                                                       WomanPower         27

Primary Sources

Army depot a catalyst for local growth. (1981, December 6). Herald-Leader. A-1,


Dix, D. (1943, August 3). War’s sudden liberties are ending in disaster for many of our

       girls. Lexington Herald, 7.

Lexington Signal Depot. (No Date). Lexington Signal Depot: History of the Signal Corps.

       Kentucky: (Author)

Lexington-Blue Grass Army Depot. (1991). Lexington-Blue Grass Army Depot 1941-

       1991: Still proudly serving America. Kentucky: (Author).

Many of Lexington Signal Company officers and men attained distinction. (1943, August

       8). Lexington Herald. 4, col. 1-3.

       Official Website of the Bluegrass Army Depot.

Post Civilian Welfare Council. (No Date). War years at Lexington Signal Depot 1942—

       1945. Kentucky: Post Civilian Welfare Council.