Indy’s Rosies | Weekly View


Of all the months that could have been designated Women’s History Month, it may seem ironic that March, named for Mars the Roman god of war, was selected. However, it is in some ways a fitting recognition of the important contributions that women have made to our country in times of crisis.
When most think of women in wartime, the iconic World War II image of Rosie the Riveter comes to mind. While women made up 34 percent of the workforce in Indianapolis area war plants during the Second World War, it was not the first time that women in the Hoosier capital had entered the workforce to aid in the national defense. In the summer of 1861 during the early months of the Civil War, 150 women worked alongside 50 men at the new State Arsenal, north of the State House, producing 40,000 rounds of ammunition daily. Other women, not content just to keep the home fires burning, offered their services as nurses to the Indiana Sanitary Commission. Catharine Merrill and other society ladies like Emily Beeler Fletcher, Jane Merrill Ketcham, Jane Graydon, and Bettie Bates cared for wounded soldiers at the City Hospital, at field hospitals in Kentucky and Tennessee, and on hospital steamboats plying the Mississippi River. One Marion County women, Lovina McCarthy Streight, earned the title “The Mother of the 51st” for her legendary devotion in caring for soldiers as she traveled with her husband, Col. Abel Streight, and his 51st Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment across Southern battlefields.
A new generation of Indianapolis women answered the call during the Spanish-American War organizing the Indianapolis Soldiers’ Aid Society to provide basic comforts for Indiana soldiers. In addition, two graduates of the Indianapolis Training School for Nurses at the City Hospital volunteered to help care for US troops. Kate B. Stansberry and other women Army nurses met hostility from the chief surgeon at Camp Cuba Libre, Jacksonville, Florida who suggested that “women volunteering for intimate contact with male soldiers were ‘camp followers’ (ie, prostitutes).” Despite this slanderous remark, Nurse Stansberry cared for soldiers with typhoid fever for a little over two months before she succumbed to the disease at age 29. Stella P. Lodge, an Army nurse at Ft. Thomas, Kentucky, also cared for soldiers in a typhoid fever ward.
After the United States entered World War I, Hoosier women formed the Indiana League for Women’s Services to enroll every woman in Indiana for such war-time service as she may be able to render. One of the first calls was for Indianapolis seamstresses to work on already cut army shirts from the quartermaster’s depot at Jeffersonville, Indiana. Later, 125 young women “clad in blue and white bloomer suits and sporting the sauciest kind of cap to match,” under the supervision of Irvingtonian Louise Kendall Huston, were employed at the Nordyke & Marmon aviation factory inspecting parts for Liberty aircraft engines. Other single young women formed a platoon for infantry drill at the Statehouse with the encouragement of Angeline Cullity Cook, of the woman’s section of the State Council of Defense, who organized military units so women could receive training to protect themselves in case of invasion. Hoosier women were also organized for food conservation, planting “war gardens” and learning canning techniques to preserve the harvest. As in prior wars, Indianapolis women volunteered as army nurses. Among the first were Mary Bostwick, Charlotte Cathcart, and Mary Beaty Herod who served with the Eli Lilly Base Hospital in France. Disease and illness took the lives of Indianapolis army nurses Florence LeClaire and Flora Ruth serving at camps in the United States and Grace Copeland serving in England. Other women like Grace Hawk did volunteer work for the Red Cross in France. The war also produced cracks in the color line as Indianapolis African American “girls” were hired as elevator operators and bell-hops at the Claypool, Washington, and Denison hotels to replace white men called to the Army. White girls replaced men as soda fountain operators at several downtown locations.
Over two decades later as the United States confronted foes in the Pacific Ocean and in Europe, Indianapolis women offered their services at home and abroad. Mabel M. (Mrs. James C.) Todd was chair of the 650 member Irvington Unit of Bundles for Britain (after Pearl Harbor, Bundles for Bluejackets) who made knitted garments, under the direction of Lulu E. (Mrs. Harry T. ) Lindstaedt, and other sewn items. Other women — cadettes, in tailored clothes, wearing red and white arm bands with canteen insignia, and sporting jaunty red caps, greeted soldiers, sailors, and marines at the Union Station Canteen, handing out coffee and orange juice, donuts and cookies, and cigarettes under the direction of Dorothy F. Buschmann.
More than a third of the employees in local war plants were women helping to produce vital military material. African Americans Estella (Mrs. Jesse W.) Tabor and Naomi (Mrs. Charles D.) Weathers worked the “housewife shift” in the battery department at PR Mallory & Co, while at the Real Silk Hosiery Mills Rosemary (Mrs. Harold) Grubb tied parachute knots, “securely and tightly,” along with other women who made protective mosquito netting and tents. On the assembly line at United States Rubber Co, Elsie P. Cline and Wilna Eller built automobile tires and over at Curtiss-Wright Corp. Blossom (Mrs. Norman John) Mueller worked on the “burr” bench assembling aircraft propellers. Among the mostly female workforce at RCA making radios for the army and navy was Eileen Stutz while at Packard Manufacturing Co. Catherine Krischak assembled carbines. Allison Plant 3, the main production facility for Army airplane engines, found Lucile Decker an inspector in the bearing department and her roommate, Regina Morgan, worked at Lukas-Harold, the maker of the Norden bombsight. Also at Lukas-Harold, artist Helen Batchelor was doing precise operation drawings in the drafting department and over at International Harvester Co. Betty Bickers inspected truck engine valves and Bonnie Lefteras was head inspector in the toolroom. The thousands of “Rosies” working in Indianapolis were industries made significant contributions towards thirty-four local plants receiving the Army-Navy E Pennant for excellence in production.
Other Indianapolis women chose to serve in active service. Ann Hall, editor of the Irvingtonian, left the paper in the capable hands of her sister and joined the WAACs (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps); Winona Yap set aside her studies at Butler University to join the United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve along with former fourth grade teacher Virginia Lee Fillinger; Rosemary Forsberg left her job as an elevator operator to join the WAVES (United States Naval Women’s Reserve — Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service); Ruth Bodily was sorting salvaged rubber at the United States Rubber Co before joining the SPARS (United States Coast Guard Women’s Reserve — from the coast guard motto Semper Paratus [always ready]); and high school teacher Ann Morgan was a pilot for the WAFS (Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron) “flying army planes from factory to field.”

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