|Oral history interview with Gloria Miner by Brad Larson for the Oshkosh World War II project. She discusses her experiences in Oshkosh on the homefront. A transcript is on a computer file in the archives.
INTERVIEW WITH GLORIA MINER
SEPTEMBER 20, 2001
BL: Okay, it's September 20th, 2001 and I'm sitting in my office with Gloria Miner and we're going to talk a little bit about World War II. So, are you ready Gloria?
GM: As ready as I'll ever be.
BL: All right, we can start if you can just give me your name during the 1940's. You're maiden name, date of birth and where you were living.
GM: Gloria Rowlands, I lived at 123 I think it was, Cherry Street. It's now 919 Cherry and as I walked past on my way to high school which is now City Hall I dreamed of perhaps working in that beautiful Frank Stein and Company someday.
GM: Well, it had the reputation of being unique and special and it was such a beautiful home. When you had out of town guests, you would take them there for lunch and there was just a special aura about it. I was thinking, perhaps as a clerk or something but after a year and a half in offices, I realized I didn't have enough training to do too well in that field, so I went to business college for ten months and then answered an add in the paper for a stenographer/secretary at Frank Stein and Co. So here was my first goal in my career.
BL: What year would that have been?
GM: That was 1943.
BL: Right in the middle of WWII.
GM: Mmmhm, and I started working there in July of "43" and I remember taking a typing test at the business college that morning. I was all dressed up as I should have been, in a suit and hat and I had to wait for a Sioux train and I had soot spat upon me as I stood there waiting. So the first thing I did was check out my face and wipe off the soot before I went in.
BL: That's something we don't think of today. Is it?
GM: I know. The thick black smoke and there's no place to hide, you're just right there.
BL: Were jobs hard to come by at that time?
GM: Uh, no. I don't think so.
BL: Well, lets talk a little bit about WWII. What do you remember prior to Pearl Harbor? Tell me what you remember about the world situation prior to Pearl Harbor? Did you keep up on world affairs very much?
GM: Well, we just had radio, you know at that time. We always listened to the news, and the boys in class were concerned about the possibility of having to go to war. The man I married in "49" tried to enlist right after Pearl Harbor and was told his eyes weren't good enough. Later in "44" he was drafted and it was surprising how much his eyes had improved. (Laughing) Um, but he wasn't in the front lines because of his sight, he was in the quarter master division.
BL: It was a very important part of the army, the Quartermaster Corps.
GM: Yes, there was a lot of paperwork involved in the shifting of companies and so forth.
BL: You know almost everybody I've talked to can remember what they were doing when they heard the news about Pearl Harbor. How 'bout you?
GM: Yes, we had a neighbor, bless her heart she was a dear, sweet person, but she had this voice that carried and she would sit on her front porch and visit and everybody in the neighborhood could hear what she said. It was through her that we heard about Pearl Harbor and of course turned on our radios but she notified us that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. It was a Sunday morning.
BL: She just shouted it out?
GM: Yeah, mmmhm, to the nearest neighbor, to whoever was out.
BL: Do you remember what your reaction was? How old would you have been?
GM: Oh yes, I forgot to tell my age. I was born April 18th, 1922 so in "41" I was nineteen years old.
BL: What was your reaction, do you remember?
GM: Horror. Nobody saw that coming, especially Japan you know our concerns seemed to be more with Germany as I recall. Of course, we heard the president in his fireside speeches talking about the war. The son of this woman across the street was in the service and um, he was co-pilot on a plane and it was struck by lightning and crashed and he was killed. It was during the war, but it happened in this country, so she lost a son and that really brought it home. I hadn't been that close to it before because my brother was a little too old and had a family and responsibilities and was in a business, he worked for Carnation Milk and milk was vital to the war effort. So it had never been brought home in that way until Glen was killed.
BL: Do you remember Gold Star Flags hanging in people's windows?
BL: Do you? Did everybody know what that meant?
GM: Mmmhmm. I think Mother Miner had a star in her window, not a gold star but I believe just having a family member in the service there was something that you hung in your window. Do you recall?
BL: A blue star. If you were trying to remember what the mood was, the average mood of people, how could you categorize the mood of folks during the war?
GM: Well, I think that everybody realized that Hitler had to be stopped. He was a madman and you didn't just kill people because they were a certain race. People were proud to fight for their country. There seems to be a patriotism with the incident that happened a week ago. (Interview was taken shortly after Sept. 11th terrorist attacks)
BL: Do you see any parallels between the terrorist attack a week ago and WWII. Is there any similar feeling in the air?
GM: Well, because both were so incredible, but I think we felt rather safe in our own country. At the time this was going on, it was an "over there" kind of thing, until Pearl Harbor.
BL: One of the things I'd like to ask you about is things like little ways that people participated in the war.
GM: Mmmhmm, the Gray Ladies at the hospital, the Red Cross Gray Ladies.
BL: What were the Gray Ladies?
GM: Well, they were volunteers for the Red Cross, they had this gray uniform and they still have volunteers doing the same things, only now they wear blue smocks. They would help people to go to the admission office, take flowers and deliver mail and tell you room numbers of patients and that kind of thing. My sister was a gray lady for a while but she was working so it was kind of hard to work it in to her work schedule. Mrs. Carlton Foster was very prominent in that department of the hospital. People would roll bandages, I remember going to Merrill School to roll bandages and I think some people did that in their homes. I was thinking about that the other day, here I sat folding bandages and I wondered about how sterile they were, if everybody was folding bandages on their living room rug or something, you know, but that's what we did.
BL: Were there other opportunities to help towards the war effort?
GM: Well, um, the Collin sisters Lillian and Lucille from our church were WACS and they had worked at Miles Kimball all their working years. Even now they dress alike but you would see them home on leave and they were always in step from their military training, but they're still hard working people.
BL: Do you remember a lot of women in uniform, or any women in uniform?
GM: Well, my most vivid recollection is the Collin girls. I think I saw some Navy women, WAVES, in uniform when soldiers were home on leave and that kind of thing.
BL: Was that very often that they came back?
GM: No, not too much. The Peacock Restaurant, the building is still there next to the old First National Bank building just north of Main and Washington, was the place to go because everybody who came home from the service would congregate at the Peacock Restaurant and so, if you wanted to see who was home, you went to the Peacock.
BL: Why was the Peacock so popular?
GM: I don't know? I know when John and I were engaged we would often meet at the Peacock for coffee after work and before we went home. It was just good food and it was a popular place. There was another Bungalow Restaurant on the corner of Waugoo and Main just a block to the south but that wasn't the popular hangout that the Peacock was. Well because the bar was connected to it I guess.
BL: Well, one of the things, of course there was a great need for women working in all the areas of business and industry and what have you during the war.
GM: Rosie the Riveter. But I don't recall knowing anybody who worked in a factory in my aquaintence but there were those songs…
BL: What songs?
GM: Well, Rosie the Riveter is the one that I recall the most, I can't think of any other titles.
BL: When you think of the war years, what kind of music or songs come to your mind?
GM: Uh, well Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me, uh, what were some of the others…. Oh there was one… I can't come up with a title; um…you hear it once in a while even now…. I can't think.
BL: Well one of your jobs at Steins, I know from the book, one of your jobs at Steins was keeping up with all the material that came from the office of price administration, let's talk about that a little bit.
GM: Well, when I worked at Stein's, Mr. Stein was semi-retired and, um a few months after I started there, I believe it was in November he was married to a woman many years younger than he. He was gone all winter and Esther Jensen was the manager and I worked most closely with her, so all those things were her responsibility but I remember this office of price administration was just on certain large items. Jewelry and cosmetics, those things as I recall were not involved. It was a monumental task to go back in the attic and fish out records to set this up, original invoices, and I remember even the auditor who did our books regularly, Elmer Rickman was his name, he was with Kimball, Lamb & Rickman and he was involved with that. There was some form we had to fill out, there was a booklet and I remember he said, "Don't erase anything, if you're changing something cross it out because there's so much chance for errors. Leave the original figure and cross it out." This was all finally set up in a neat booklet, but the word sheets took a lot of doing and I wasn't involved a lot in that particularly.
BL: What was the purpose of that?
GM: To control prices. It seems to me, if my memory serves me, there were about five rules and when you received an item it had to fit into one of those rules regulations and you used that in your pricing. If you had it before, it was the same price. If it was a new item then there were other rules by which you had to price it. Esther marked the merchandise and checked it in and she would call my office and say "Gloria, do you have got some time, we've got some prices to figure." I was on third floor and she was on first floor and I'd go down and this was before you had all those handy-dandy computers, you know. You had a big, the bookkeeper had a big calculating machine and we had adding machines but we just sat down and figured it out longhand. If we came up with the same answer, that was great, it was a giant pain but it worked, you know. It kept inflation level and it really worked. Now whether people today would protest going through that, I've wondered about that, but we did it.
BL: But were the goods themselves hard to come by? Let's say for example in either what you could get or the quantity you could get.
GM: Nylons were invented during the war and that was the only, nylon-hose was the only items that I remembered being in limited supply. Um, otherwise I don't recall that there was much difficulty getting what you wanted.
BL: Did you keep a waiting list for the nylons?
GM: Well, we wondered what to do because there was such a small shipment, um, and before that silk stockings were fairly decent, they stayed well but they had rayon in them and rayon stockings would wrinkle around your ankles and you looked horrible. So, nylons were a wonderful invention and um, Mr. Stein was in Florida so we decided to horde them in his closet, the closet off of his office and we thought it was a well kept secret, but word kind of trickled around the store that we were doing this. Finally when we thought we had enough to notify our largest customers, we did so, well, right after that they were in ample supply and it was never a problem again. They were great because they stretched and would cling to your legs and looked ever so much better. But that's the only thing I remember.
BL: Clothes or shoes, you don't recall?
GM: No, I don't recall shortages in that, in those categories.
BL: Well that brings up an interesting point and that being rationing. Food rationing in particular. What's your memory of that?
GM: Well, my mother roomed and boarded college students, so she went through that. Sugar was rationed, um, gasoline didn't affect us, it affected my brother, he was the only one who had a car.
BL: Why didn't it affect you?
GM: Well, because we didn't have a car unless my brother was home. He was going to college at the University.
BL: See, there's another something, we all have cars today.
GM: Right. Well, when Mr. Stein was on Main Street, one in ten people had a car. Now you have two to three cars in one family. My brother was engaged for seven years because he worked and then he went to school and he worked and went to school. His fiancée taught but in those days, if a teacher was married she had to resign. Now that was kind of a stupid law and some other businesses too, if you were married, you were out. So, he worked until he got a job with promise and then they were married.
BL: So you didn't have to deal with gasoline rationing at all. What were the hardships during the war?
GM: Well, we had every thing we needed but not everything we wanted. I'm sure it presented a lot of problems with cooking for my mother because we roomed and boarded six or seven students. But she didn't complain, it was just something you got through.
BL: Do you think most people felt that way?
GM: Well there's always the complainers I suppose, but it was just something we had to do and we did it.
BL: Did it seem long to you, the war?
GM: Yeah, mmhm. I know some of my friends in Business College were in the war. One was in the Air Force and the other was in the Navy. We were just kids when we went to Business College, well, I guess I was a little older than some because I had worked.
BL: You had worked?
GM: Yeah, a year and a half.
BL: Where did you work before that?
GM: Well, I worked for Mr. Hathaway at Hathaway Oil Company. He had had the Hathaway Buick Company and the building is still on Main Street across from Burger King.
BL: I know where that is. Yeah.
GM: Yeah, and um, my oldest sister worked for him, well then people weren't buying cars during the Depression and so he lost his franchise and went in to the oil business, gas and oil business and had filling stations. He drove his own tank truck. He still kept his diamond ring and he always drove Buick's but I think driving that driving that bouncing Tank truck back and forth to Sheboygen may have shortened his life. It wasn't easy for him but he was a fine man and he was my first employer. He was looking for a bookkeeper and so he gave me my first job. It was wonderful having him as my first employer because he was such a fine gentleman and he was the grandfather of Terry Hathaway who has the Oshkosh Community Band and is a music teacher. But Terry never knew him because Mr. Hathaway died before Terry was born.
BL: So you had experience going into the business college so that was a little different than most.
GM: In fact, I think maybe that gave me the advantage over some of the other applicants because I had had experience. Actually the test letter that Mr. Stein gave me was about the only time I took dictation from him because as they say he was semi-retired at that time. He dictated a letter and I read it back and he said, "Well, we'll try it for two weeks, if we like you and you like us then you have a job," and they did and I did so that was that.
BL: You do recall that with great fondness don't you?
GM: I'd probably be working there today if the place hadn't burned. There were no moral problems, everybody enjoyed working there. We were close friends; it was a big happy family.
BL: So it must have been a very sad day when you heard it.
GM: Oh, yes. I heard about it in a strange way. I was taking a refresher course in ballroom dancing with a friend of mine who was in a bicycle club I belonged to and we were getting on the bus at the First Methodist Church corner, it later became the Boys Club and Father Carr's and so forth. The fire trucks came down Main and turned down Church and my friend said, "Do you suppose it's Stein's?" "No, I don't see how anything could get started there, the cook lived in the apartment above the Carriage house." I went home and went to bed and didn't think anything more about it until a cousin of mine called the next morning and said "Gloria, did my suit burn in Stein's Fire?" My mother said the color left my face and she couldn't imagine what news I was receiving. My cousin had chosen a suit for her step daughters wedding and it was in the alteration room and of course she had to select another suit because everything became the property of the insurance company. I had a dress in the alteration room that I never saw again. I thought, I didn't know whether I should go to work or not, you know and I thought I'd better go, but I just walked down the driveway crying because it was such a sad sight. Mr. Stein had called the store a "beautiful lady" and his comments that morning were "My beautiful lady is an old hag now." We all felt that that loss had affected his health because he wasn't a well person after that and he died. That was '47 and he died in '51. The switch-board operator who wrote her memories in the Stein Booklet was on the bus, she lived out on Vinland and people on the bus were teasing her and saying "Well what are you going to work for, Stein's burned last night." She thought they were just ribbing her and then she got off on the corner of Church and Main and as she walked nearer to the store she realized they weren't kidding, it had burned.
BL: I know what that sinking feeling is like from the fire here, it's just an awful feeling.
GM: Ohhhh, and I remember that I saw it….Well, they broke in, it was in the late morning wasn't it? I was watching television and called John… I'm trying to think if he was on the Board at that time… I don't think he was…. No. We just sat glued to the TV and radio for the rest of the day and he said, "I don't think we should go because we might get in the way." I just can't imagine how that could happen.
BL: It was bad. To get back on the Second World War for just a minute, what do you remember about the end of the war? Were there any parties celebrating, do you remember anything like that? Was there a celebration at Stein's, for example, at the end of the war?
GM: No, I don't recall being involved in any parties myself but I knew there were. It was just a joyous feeling.
BL: Some people recall going to special church services, do you recall anything like that?
GM: Well, we belonged to a church on Washington and Bay, we were a long way from church and it was either walk way cross town, we couldn't very well get there by bus, it wasn't on the bus route. We would sometimes ride with relatives, but I don't recall going to church, it may have been simply because we didn't have a way of getting there.
BL: Well, that's all the questions I have, how about you, do you have anything more you want to say any recollections you want to get on tape.
GM: No, I think my most vivid ones are the ones I have at Stein's.
BL: You know what's going to happen is you're going to go home and all of a sudden you're going to say "Geez, why didn't I tell him about that!" Well, we can do another one if you think of that. Well, I'd like to thank you Gloria, thank you very much. It's always a lot of fun for me to talk to folks and kind of learn their memories and share their memories.
GM: Like I say, we had everything we needed but not everything we wanted during those years.
|Oral History Interview with Gloria Miner
-WORLD WAR II
-Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
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