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Where There’s a War, There’s a Way: Women Storm the Workforce

Co-ops graduated a little early that wartime spring of 1942 -- on April 10 to be exact. Recalled Florence Schroeder: The boys wore their ROTC uniforms under their caps and gowns and left immediately for the service from commencement. By April 20, I was on the job not as a secretary but as a statistical accountant. The employers hired us for men’s positions. They even gave us girls golf lessons.

Date: 8/10/2005 12:00:00 AM
By: Mary Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: D. Stover and provided by Florence Schroeder

UC ingot  

The traditional battle between the sexes was anything but uniform in those war years.   One GI ran as a candidate for UC freshman queen in 1943 and won the election, and overall, women found themselves summarily promoted.  As a war-emergency measure, two-year certificate programs began on the co-op basis in the College of Engineering and Commerce.  And for the first time ever, women were admitted into all engineering courses and programs. 

A cartoon from The Cincinnati Times-Star reads: Now Let's Get Busy And Straighten Out This Mess.

While saving bacon grease to make explosives and planting victory gardens, women by the millions – six million to be exact – responded to the call as Red Cross volunteers, pilots and even spies.  But most filled the ranks as laborers on the assembly line, soldiering on in the pitched industrial battle between Allies and Axis.  Co-op employers balked at first, but eventually began hiring women in greater numbers for production positions.  For instance, in 1943, the Frigidaire Company of Dayton, Ohio, employed its first UC woman co-op as a test case.  By October 1944, a total of eight women co-ops were with the company, then producing aircraft propellers and machine guns in lieu of  refrigerators.

And co-op made the difference in preparing UC women students to competently take on manufacturing jobs.  So recalls 1942 business graduate Florence Endebrock Schroeder.  At the time of her graduation, Schroeder wrote in a campus publication, “The co-ops have been able to adapt themselves to war industries more easily and have been better trained to begin immediate production due to their cooperative work.”  She then went on to prove her point by going to work, first for Carnegie Illinois Steel Corp. in Pittsburgh and then for Wright Aeronautical Corporation, one of the nation’s largest World War II employers (and a co-op employer), manufacturer of tens of thousands of aircraft engines. 

Day-Off Duties: Working in Pittsburgh by October 1942, Schroeder spent her day off serving coffee and donuts to servicemen at Pennsylvania Station from the back of this Salvation Army mobile canteen.

Looking back, Schroeder says, “The war absolutely helped women students.  Out-of-town corporations came to recruit us girls…. We’d previously been prepared to be secretaries…but I was hired out of school for $125 a month to do far more.  I was tracking the company’s financial operations, keeping stats, making financial forecasts, projecting sales and measuring cash flow.”  She laughs, “We were the ones basically telling the company [Carnegie Illinois Steel] when they needed to go to the bank to borrow more money.”

By the end of the war, Schroeder recalls that her salary had rocketed to $350 a month.  She’d also learned to play golf – courtesy of her employers who wanted the women to quickly get into the swing of traditional corporate structures. 

Return to main page of "Co-op Special Report."
Return to main page of excerpts from The Ivory Tower and The Smokestack.


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