Camera Rolls: 318:37-39
Sound Rolls: 318:19-20
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Mary Poole , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on March 12, 1992, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
Mary Poole, take three.
Mary, I guess a good place to pick up is where we were talking a little bit before. People who didn't live through it have the sense that the Depression ended and then the war began. What really happened? How did it end?
The war began, and then the depression ended. That was the sequence.
Was the depression never going to end? Did you have a feeling in towards those days that if the war hadn't come along...?
Well, I don't know. We all had great hope and faith in Roosevelt, in his New Deal and all of that kind of thing. Of course, the war had started in Europe two years before, and some businesses were getting back on their feet because of that. Selling ammunitions and everything to Europe. But as far as my friends were concerned, there was still a depression until Pearl Harbor happened. And then you could get a job anywhere. Anybody could get a job anywhere.
Let's talk a little bit about the coming of war in those years, before Pearl Harbor, before we were involved. Were you and your friends—did you think we were going to be involved in a war? Did you favor...were you opposed to it?
Well I was waiting for us to be involved in the war, because I had read Hitler's Mein Kampf in German when I was in Junior College. And I knew what his plans were, but most people in the United States didn't seem to think that he was ever intending to come over here. Isolationism was the thing in the late '30s. In fact, in the school I taught in, it was mainly German and Japanese, that is, descendants of German and Japanese, and Italians. Of course, Germans and the Italians were the Axis, and their parents influenced them. There was no—apparently they didn't really think what Hitler was, they didn't know what we know now about what he was doing, or else they turned their backs on it. I don't remember. My parents, my ancestors were all English, so of course I'd been involved in the war since 1939. But I don't think the United States would have got in it for years, if ever, if hadn't been for Pearl Harbor. That was the big mistake.
When you were—you said that you have these children from these different groups, these different countries. Was that a subject that you would discuss with them, about the war? Did that ever come up in school? Did the kids talked about it, or would you say, "Today class we're going to talk about foreign affairs."
No, we didn't do it formally like that, but in discussions you could figure out how they felt. And it wasn't just the people there. It was all around me. I had a lot of Italian friends. They all said, "Its Italy's and Germany's turn this time."
So people really, when they thought about the war, they didn't think about Japan, did they?
Well,the fellows who'd been in the Merchant Marine did. They thought about Japan. And
at the time my boyfriend was in the Merchant Marine, and he told me about how they were, the United States was selling scrap metal to Japan. He said, "It's gonna come back as bombs."
** So I was worried about them, and of course I can't say for very many people.
You were saying that, actually you and your boyfriend went to the fair once, and noticed the Japanese Pavilion and that was when it came up. Does that ring a bell, out at Treasure Island?
Well, I do remember noticing the Japanese Pavilion. He probably said something about it. I probably reacted to what he said. I can't remember exactly what our feelings were towards Japan. I know Pearl Harbor was a terrific surprise. Although it shouldn't have been.
Before we talk about what happens after Pearl Harbor, let's talk a little bit about the fair. You went a few times, and just spent some time there. You didn't work there but you visited. What was that like? What was the fair like?
Oh, the fair was wonderful. I didn't go as many times as I wanted to because I didn't have the money. The fair was in 1939, which to me was the height of the Depression.
** I was still in school. It was glorious. There was one thing that was really fascinating, and that was the thing the telephone company had. It was a model of a man, and he talked. I don't know how they did it, but it was..I remember he said...oh, what was it that he said. Something about "Something was necessary, so is experience." Now how they did it I don't know. It was something putting sounds that the telephone company could make together. That was the most popular exhibit, I think, at the fair. You had people with their mouths open watching this guy, "Voter", I think they called him. The Voter, and he could talk. Not very much. A few sentences, but he could talk.
And they had that funny sound, right?
Yeah. Then another thing the telephone company had, they'd give you free calls, long distance calls. Now in those days long distance was very expensive. Now its cheaper than short distance. And I wanted to make a long distance call, and I didn't know anybody to call. [laughs][clears throat]. So I didn't.
Does that—I mean the fair has this sort of fantasy land, you know when we see pictures of it now its like The Wizard of OZ or something.
I don't really remember what the theme was. But, it just seemed strange that San Francisco had the International Exposition in 1915, and then got into a war, and then they had it in 1939, and got into another war. Maybe they'd better not have expositions in San Francisco anymore. But you went by ferry boat to the fair. There was no other way—well you could have got, I guess a lot of people went on the bridge. But that was a nice trip too.
It was just a lot of fun. It kind of got you away from the Depression.
Like a breath of fresh air.
Let's go back to what happened after we got involved in the war, Pearl Harbor. Do you remember anything about the day when you heard the news? What you were doing or where you were when you heard about it?
Yes. It was a Sunday. My father and mother and sister and I were getting ready to go to church. Excuse me, not my father, he didn't go. And
we never turned the radio on, so we knew nothing about it until there was a knock on the door, and our neighbor Mrs. Bowman had run over in great distress, and she just yelled, "The Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor,"
** and ran back again. Well, our hearts went through our boots because my brother
** was on the Saratoga, I mean the Lexington, at the time, which was supposed to be in Pearl Harbor. And then the reports came that they'd bombed everything there, and the, five ships were sunk, and it got worse and worse and worse.
** But finally about two weeks later we got a card, a form card, they had hastily printed where the guys could check off what the situation was, and you could say that "you were injured," or "you were OK" or "you were sick." There wasn't anything for "you were dead," obviously. And he was OK. But we didn't find out 'till he got home what had actually happened. They had, the Lexington had been moored there, and was intending to stay there. He had, he was supposed to have liberty that Sunday. And all of a sudden on Friday they said, "OK, cancel all leaves and liberties. We're going out." They went out to sea.
That must have been an incredible two weeks before you found out.
It was a very incredible two weeks, yeah. And the fellow next door, unfortunately, had been on the Arizona. And he was killed. He's still there, on the Arizona. It was a very bad time. But it was an exciting time.
And then of course you got the good news note.
Yeah, that made it a little better, but that didn't really stop the worry. I mean, you gotta remember your family on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. It was worry all the time.
Was he on the carrier the whole war?
No, he transferred to the Saratoga, then the Lexington got sunk. So I'm glad he transferred. And then he was there for two years in the Pacific. And then, all of a sudden they came in through the Golden Gate. They came home, and from then on he, I don't think he went back. He was a teacher, he taught some kind of thing. Radar or something. It was funny how he became a radar man. He'd been a carpenter, and you'd expect that he would remain something of that nature. Now he, poor guy, had these big, thick fingers and everything—
Mary Poole, take four up.
—supposedly on a planned trip. But he says they simply went out and went back and forth.
No, not on patrol. They just went back and forth. They wanted to get out of Pearl Harbor. Obviously somebody knew something.
There's always been all these stories—
—sure it was, but I was operating on a shoe string at that time.
Just enough to get in—
Just enough to get over there and get in, and that was about it. I didn't even go to any of the exhibits that cost money.
Yeah, some of them charged admission.
Yeah, a couple people told me about that telephone exhibit.
There was another one where they recorded your voice and played it back to you.
Yeah, yeah. Can you imagine that? That was something really astonishing, to have your voice recorded and played back to you? Now every little kid has a tape player. [coughs] It was something.
Tell me that thing you just said before we started again, about once the war was on, going out to the shipyards and looking at the newspapers everyday. Tell me that story again, about how you'd go out every day and just get ready to look at the headlines, and see what—
Well, how do you want my...complete sentence to start? [laughs]
Just say, "I go out everyday, everyday when I come out of the shipyards..."
Well every day when I left the shipyard, that was when I was on the day shift, I'd go out through the gates and there would be newspaper racks with their blaring headlines. And I would have to brace myself to look at them, because you never knew what might have happened. I thought it would say, "Saratoga Sunk" or "Britain Falls" or something like that. It was, I think it really was a very stressful thing that we didn't realize at the time. There was always a worry, mo matter what you were doing. In the back of your mind you were worried about something. At least I was, and I guess most people were.
Up until the end of the war, there was really no sense that it was an easy victory, or anything else like that. It was in the balance, right? We could have lost, couldn't we, do you think?
Well the sailors all said the only reason we didn't lose was that the Japs were more fouled up than we were. You don't need to quote me on that.
The sense of tension.
Well, for instance you take what happened in Africa. Rommel's corps chased the British back. Then they chased Rommel back. Then, back and forth and back forth, and you had that feeling that it was never going to end. Or that we were going to lose. I never really thought we were going to lose, but I thought it was going to be a long, long war. Which it was.
It's sort of interesting, coming out of the Depression, the Depression had been this one kind of strain, and the war sort of kept up the pressure. It wasn't like "everything's fine", just because you had a job, right?
Oh, of course not. I mean, yes the Depression was a quite different kind of strain on you. The war changed it, but it was still there. They talk about the stress of modern business, flying around in airplanes and all of that kind of stuff. People should've lived through the Depression and the war. They would know why so many people died of heart attacks afterwards. And yet, you can look back at it as a very interesting time, a very nice time in a way, because of the way that people were working together, and just being good citizens. It didn't seem to me that there was any split of any kind of that time. I hate to say it, but I kind of enjoyed it.
It wasn't all bad.
No. It wasn't all bad. Of course I was here where it was fairly safe. And we had a lot of fun in the shipyard.
Now, let's go back a little bit to right after Pearl Harbor. What was it like in San Francisco and the Bay Area the next day?
I don't have the foggiest notion.
You said that...
Oh, as in here? See it was—no I had gone back to teaching in Galt. See it happened on a Sunday and I had to go back on Sunday night and so by Monday morning, which would be the next day I was up in—
But where was that blackout?
That was in the Oakland bus station. I used to go back by—you know people need their cars to go everywhere these days. To get back to Galt I would take—the ferries were gone by then. I'd take a bus to San Francisco, and then another bus to Oakland, and then a bus to Tracy, and transfer at Tracy to a Galt. I never thought anything of it.
Tell me a little bit more, let's talk a little bit after Pearl Harbor. The last time we were talking you said that people really didn't understand how afraid people were that other things would happen, that there might be an invasion. I'm talking about the period where the Japanese were taken out of the West Coast and put in the camps. And you said that you couldn't understand that unless you were there, that people really were afraid. What was that like?
Well, I would say that most people who were around here at the time the Japanese were moved into the Internment Camps, most people agreed that that was the thing to do because they were afraid. Although every single one of us had a Japanese friend that we were sure was never going to do anything, was perfectly loyal, and we would try to keep those people here. But,
you can't understand it unless you lived through it.
** You really can't understand it. Now it seems like a dreadful thing to do, but we didn't know. I mean all of a sudden this attack had come, we didn't know. It was obvious that somebody was telling them where the warships were,
** and all of that kind of thing. I don't think we realized that, I didn't know at the time that so many of the Japanese lost their businesses and had to sell their land and whatever it was at such a loss. That was definitely unfair. But, as for the rest of it, we were frightened. We were, here we were, we were on the West Coast. Japan had managed to reach Pearl Harbor. They could easily, somehow or other, reach the West Coast. And I'm sure that's why the whole thing happened.
It was real.
Mary Poole, take five up.
I mean, the thing about the Japanese, sort of like the thing about living through the Depression. The experience itself, unless you were there you don't understand.
One other comment you'd mentioned before was this worry that people were photographing things. The Japanese always had cameras. Did that seem like a real part of the fear that...?
It was true that whenever you saw a Japanese tourist you saw a camera. I never had a camera. Of course I was never a tourist either. But they just, I don't think anybody thought anything of it at the time. But after the war started, people starting saying, "Well, you know, they all had cameras," and you know they were taking pictures of Hamilton Field and Fort Mason and all the rest of the places around San Francisco. They probably weren't, maybe some of them where. But the feeling was still there. They did have all these cameras, and so I'm sure that was part of what happened, why they were rounded up, sent to the camps.
I think there was a period, actually, at the end of December where all the Japanese had to turn in their cameras. Do you remember that?
I don't remember that, no. I don't remember that. That might have happened.
Let's move on to some general stuff. Looking back at the Depression, and at what Roosevelt did, what are your feelings about his role, and getting us through that period? What do you think? What did you think of Roosevelt then?
Well, at first I was, I thought Roosevelt was wonderful. I mean, he was our hero. And he did do a lot of things that helped during the Depression. I mean, that's where Social Security started, and he had the WPA and the other things with all the initials. He had the [coughs] Civilian Conservation Corps, the CCC, which put a lot of young fellows to work, even from Belvedere. People say Belvedere and Tiburon didn't feel the Depression, but they don't know what they're talking about. And most of the young men who graduated from high school had to get jobs with the CCC. Afterwards, many years later, I used to wonder about what Roosevelt did, and whether those steps did any good at all. But they kept people from being completely starving. They did give some kind of jobs. One of our neighbors worked on the WPA.
Did they give people a sense of hope, or that the government cared about them?
Well, Roosevelt certainly did, in his Fireside chats over the radio, and all of that kind of thing. Yeah, they had...I'm sure that we felt that the government cared about us at that time.
Of course it's different from saying they cared to saying that they could really solve it. 'Cause it didn't get solved.
No, we always had the people who said, "Anyone who wants a job can get one." And that problem hasn't been solved yet. I mean, we've still...the ones who told me that in the '30s who are still alive are still telling me that. That's why I say, I don't know whether government aid does solve a thing like a Depression. I don't what causes a Depression in the first place. Of course ours was caused by the stock market crash, but there was a depression all over the world at the same time.
And you don't want to say that a war solves a depression either, do you?
Well it didn't solve...war didn't solve it. That's not the right word to use. It ended it, but it didn't solve it. I got a good job. Everybody got a good job, but that's not the way to end a Depression.
End of the sound roll.
Mary Poole, take six up.
I'd to hear a little more about a couple of things in your experiences when you were at Merenship working. Everybody all of a sudden—well you had a little more money, but some people had a lot more money than they ever had, and you told us some stories about how people would go out and what they'd spend their money on. What would people do with their paychecks?
Well, many of the people would go over to San Francisco after cashing their paychecks, and a great many of the women went over and bought hats. I can remember them telling me about the wonderful hats they had bought. What they spent their money on I don't know, but they didn't keep it. I remember when I had a crew of welders, there was a woman named Bessie Blaney, and she had a daughter who lived with her. Bessie had been, was from the middle west. She had been named after her mother's favorite cow, she told me. Anyway they lived in an apartment, I guess in Marin City, and they both were making about sixty dollars a week, which was very good pay in those days. And they came to me one day, and asked if they could borrow some money from me, because they wanted to make a down payment, the first month payment on another apartment, a better apartment. I said, "Well, don't you have any money?" She said, "No, we don't have a cent." I said, "Well you both got paid last Friday. What did you do with it?" "Oh, we spent it." They had been working there at that time for a couple of years. They didn't have a cent. From paycheck to paycheck they spent it all.
A lot of these people were people who hadn't had any money.
Yes, I don't think that those people had had enough money to spend. I guess they just went wild when they got their paychecks.
Actually, your money got you a little house, right?
Well, it wasn't just my—you're saying my—[coughs]
Once you're working you afford to do some things you couldn't do too. Didn't it change your life?
The money changed my life, but what really changed my life was being a defense worker, because I was able to buy one of the last houses built in Belvedere. Just a little house on the Belvedere Lagoon. They were built as summer cottages, and ours cost $5,000 dollars instead of $4,500 because we had an extra room. A little bedroom for me. Because they were built after...they had been started before Pearl Harbor, but they were finished after Pearl Harbor. And because of that, only defense workers could buy them. And it happened that we'd had to get out of the house we'd been renting for twenty years, and everything just fell into place. I bought this house on the Belvedere Lagoon for 5,000 bucks.
You said that on the job in general people got along well and in fact you were a supervising manager at times, but you told me there were a couple of instances were men had trouble working with women. It wasn't often, was it?
Most things went smoothly, I thought, in the shipyard. But I became a welder leadman because the man who had the crew couldn't stand having all those women on his crew anymore. I think I'd been on his crew for about two weeks. This was in the summer of '42. And I wasn't even a journeyman welder. I was a very new welder. But he heard that I had been a teacher, and he came to me one day, and asked me if I would take his crew. I said, "I can't do that." He said, "Oh yes you can." He said, "It's easy." I said, "Well why do you want to leave?" He said, "Well I can't stand working with these women one minute longer." He said, "I want to go down to the other end of the yard and never see any of you again." So he spoke to the foreman and he left, and I became the leadman.
But, apart from that, in terms of the actual on the job men and women working together, there weren't a lot of tensions, were there?
I never saw any tension at all. Of course maybe I was not very perceptive. Maybe I was wrapped in my own thoughts and the things that I was doing, but I certainly never felt anything myself, and I never saw anything myself that had to do with the men disliking having the women there. Probably that did happen in isolated incidents, but I never saw it.
And what about, did you ever see any tension between white workers who had never worked with black people before?
I never saw any tension between the whites and the blacks. I don't think there was any. I never heard of any either. We all got along beautifully. I admired the blacks. Good lord, they could work so long without taking a break. I remember those great, big, brawny ship fitters swinging their sledgehammers. I thought, "How did they get so strong?" But we all got along very well, I thought.
And everybody pulled their own weight there, right?
Not necessarily, no. No. We had a ship fitter boss. He was a foreman. I don't think he knew anything about ship fitting. And whenever there was something that needed to be done that was different, anything that had to be built, new jig or something like that, he took a vacation, and his leadman did the job. That happened.
And when you were actually the lead person working on the crew you had men working for you, didn't you?
Yes. Don't call me a lead person. I was a leadman.
A leadman. Did men mind having a woman as a...?
Not that I know of. Never said anything, no.
Mary Poole, take seven up.
[production discussion][slate marker visible on screen]
Yeah, tell us a little bit about what it was like learning about this country, and working with people from all over the country.
I've always told people that I got my education in the shipyard. I had been through college, five years of college, and I'd been teaching for two years, and I didn't know anything about the United States and the people that lived in it. I suppose Marin County was an isolated bit of nice kind of life. Of course in Galt I ran into the migratory workers, but still the shipyard was an experience that really opened my eyes.
We had people from all over the country, from all walks of life. We had people who couldn't read.
** I didn't know anybody couldn't read in this country, but there were lots of 'em who couldn't. People who never earned any money before, they just flocked in.
** It was a really valuable education. I went in a very shy person, and I came out—I don't know what the opposite of shy is, but I was not shy anymore. I'll tell you that.
It really gave you a sense about what this country is really about.
What it was about then, yes. It gave us a sense of what this country was about then, not necessarily now.
OK, let's cut.
Mary Poole, take eight up.
Well, it would all depend on what you were doing. The idea of the shipyard was that—
The idea of the shipyard, we'll just start right there.
The plan of working in the shipyard was that the steel came in at one end. It was cut into various shapes, sizes, or pieces, or just left in one great big piece. It went to the plate shop, where the smaller parts were assembled. From there to the sub-assembly shop or the skids, which were outside, the sub-assembly was covered. Thank goodness, because it rained a lot. And there the smaller parts were put into bigger section, and the biggest sections were made out on the hulls. So in welding you would be welding pieces together, joining big, thick pieces of metal, usually, with your welding rod. And then, from the sub-assembly shop or the skids the huge parts of the ship would be taken by gantry cranes to the hulls, where they would be assembled and made into a real honest-to-goodness ship. And
then would come that most exciting moment of all when they launched it.
** And this great big thing that you had been working on, just sitting there. They were really beautiful, honestly. There's nothing as pretty as a ship. And there would be the usual ceremonies, and the fancy ladies with their hats and the bottle of champagne and all of that kind of stuff.
** And then you'd hear them yelling, "Burn One! Burn Two!" What they were doing was burning away the things that were holding the ship on the ways, and you never knew what exact moment it was gonna go. And all of a sudden there'd be a big shudder.
** The whole ship seemed to just shudder. It's the only way I can describe it, and then she'd sail down the ways, and out into the bay,
** and the first time I saw a launching I though "Oh my golly. If they let go of her she's going right into my house, because my house was right across the bay from where the ways, where they were launched. Then she'd go a little way and kind of bounce up, and she'd be sitting there. Of course the ship wasn't finished on the ways. It then went to the outfitting dock to get all the rest of the stuff, but it was essentially a ship when it left the ways. I will say, a launching is the most exciting thing I've ever seen in my life.