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Interview with Leonora Whildin [06/13/2006]

Ann Kelsey:

It's Tuesday, June 13, 2006. Leonora Whildin, whose birth date is December 7, 1926, and who resides at [address redacted], is being interviewed at the County College of Morris, Learning Resource Center, Randolph, New Jersey, by Ann Kelsey, Associate Director, LRC. Michael O 'Hagan, Media Producer, LRC, is filming the interview.

Ann Kelsey:

When and where were you born and raised?

Leonora Whildin:

I was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and I lived in East Boston. And then my college years, my mother and I lived in the Back Bay, the Fenway Section.

Ann Kelsey:

What did your parents do for a living?

Leonora Whildin:

My father was a barber. My mother had six children. I'm the youngest of six. She was home, naturally, caring for children. And then when the Depression came, she went to work in a chocolate factory.

Ann Kelsey:

How many brothers and sisters did you have?

Leonora Whildin:

I have two brothers. Well, one is now dead. And four sisters, and one of my sisters is dead. She was in the army, by the way, for a time.

Ann Kelsey:

Did any other family members live with you-- grandparents or other relatives?

Leonora Whildin:

No, I never knew any of my grandparents. My father's father had died in Italy, and his mother died in Italy in 1938. I never met them. My mother's mother died in New York in 1902. Her father died shortly before I was born, so I never knew him, but she did have a stepmother, and I remember her vaguely.

Ann Kelsey:

Describe to me the neighborhood that you lived in when you were growing up.

Leonora Whildin:

Well, East Boston was still an island, and I can remember when the Sumner Tunnel was being built. I was about nine years old, and I used to go down and watch them, and wonder how they could get under the water and stay dry. And the area was pretty self-contained, in a sense, because we still took a ferry to Boston. They did have a bridge to Lynn, and I can remember as a child, and as my parents' grandchildren came along, we used to have a little.... You know, it was post-Depression, or during the Depression, really, and money wasn't available, and the children didn't have the toys they have now. And so to entertain the children, they'd put them on their knees and sing, "Ride, Ride, to Boston. Ride, Ride to Lynn. Watch out little girlie, you might fall in!" because bridges were, you know, before engineering know-how was too well known. Then there was a drawbridge to Chelsea. They used to have some barges or bigger boats come in, and they'd lift the bridge, because the mast wouldn't go under the bridge. And there weren't the oil tanks that are there now. The airport wasn't built. They just had a small landing field. But what they did have, that kept the people in the area employed was a huge General Electric factory that made light bulbs. But we did have a beautiful park area and a swim beach. It had hills, and we could ski there, but you had to walk up yourself, or herringbone your way up the mountain. It wasn't really a mountain, but as a child, it looked like one to me. That area, during World War II, that was called Wood Island Park. That area, during World War II, was leveled. The fill [dirt from the hill] went to expand the airport. And barracks, troops, were there during World War II. I wasn't there at the time; I was in Boston at Boston City Hospital. But the neighborhood was very stable because if people did move as their rental needs grew-- not too many owned the homes. They called them flats, which were larger than most apartments. But they would move within the island, so the families knew each other, and the teachers knew the families. So by the time I got along, they all knew my brothers and sisters.

Ann Kelsey:

Was there any particular ethnic group or groups that lived in the neighborhood?

Leonora Whildin:

There were a lot of Jewish people that settled there. There's a Jewish cemetery there, which is one of the few that are there. There were Irish and Italian, and we had some Eastern-- you know, the Syrians had to leave at the time, so it was pretty diverse. There were just a couple of Oriental or Asian, and a couple of black people. For the age, it was diverse, but it was overwhelmingly white, until World War II, and then they had the Negro barracks there.

Ann Kelsey:

Describe the schools that you attended-- the elementary school, the high school.

Leonora Whildin:

Well, I'm one of the few that went to a daycare center, because my mother was working full time, and I was the only one that wasn't in school full time. So I was given a quarter for my lunch money. And I was at the nursery school all day. I had lunch, and then they had a rest period for the children. My first kindergarten school was in a clapboard house. It was called the Shelby Street School. It's now gone, but it was a one-room kindergarten, wooden floors and a clapboard house. It was on the same land as the grade schools, and the grade schools were one to six at that time. And even in Boston they had an entrance for boys and an entrance for girls, because I guess they kept the toilet facilities separately. We had cloak rooms. Most people wouldn't know what they were, but they were cloak rooms and we had hooks where we.... Because we had to walk to school, so the clothing was heavy. Most of the time you were within walking distance, so you went home for lunch and back to school. It was good exercise.

Ann Kelsey:

What about your high school?

Leonora Whildin:

My high school, I was younger than most. I went from the first grade to the third grade. I remember going to be tested, so at that time they did allow students to skip. So I did, I went from first grade to third. I was given some books to read over the summer, which was nothing new for me, I liked to read, and I could read pretty well. My high school, I was younger than most. I was thirteen, and my sister was working at Hood Rubber Company during the war, and she had a baby. She had a child at nineteen, and she was divorced then. So after school I took care of her daughter. So I didn't have much of a social life as a young girl. When I was younger, I was the youngest, and I was at nursery school most of the time, so I didn't have too many playmates. I did, for a while, when I went to the first grade school. In my sixth grade, oddly enough, the school I went to was the Patrick J. Kennedy School. The name is still there on the school-- whether it's used as a school or not, I don't know. But I was only there for one year, because we moved, and then I was at the Chapman School, which later became the Joseph P. Kennedy School, when he was killed. And then I went to the high school. My high school, you wouldn't even know I was there. Even as a senior, I did go to the prom, but I didn't date in high school, so I wasn't too much interested. I didn't have time.

Ann Kelsey:

What year did you graduate from high school?

Leonora Whildin:

In 1943. And at that time we had-- one of the fellows left to go in the RAF [Royal Air Force] before the United States was involved in the war. He went to Canada and joined the RAF. Maybe it was Joseph Kennedy, I don't know, (laughs) A lot of the boys, who were eighteen, went to war. They were given their degrees if they stayed 'til January, I guess.

Ann Kelsey:

Did you want to go to college, did you think about going to college?

Leonora Whildin:

Oh, yes. Yes, I did. And it was expected I would, because I think they were told that I could do it. I took the college program and I did get straight "A's" in chemistry and physics, which is a prerequisite usually. But I applied to.... At that time women only became nurses or teachers, and I knew I didn't want to work in an office. I was determined that I wouldn't do that. So I did apply. I didn't have enough money to go to college. Not many of us did, you know. We were just coming out of the Depression and everything. But I was offered a scholarship, so I did apply to Simmons, which was the only collegiate school of nursing at the time. And they thought I'd do better at a Catholic school, but I'd never been to a Catholic school in my life. So I was going to start at Boston University, and I had already.... After I had already applied to Boston City Hospital to become a nurse, and at that time you had to be eighteen, and I wasn't seventeen yet. So I did work. That's when I went to work for this small outfit making switches that was beside MIT. It was a little shop, very few of us in there.

Ann Kelsey:

We're going to get to that in a few minutes. Okay, looking back at how you lived at that time in the thirties and early forties, how would you characterize your economic situation?

Leonora Whildin:

I would call it-- and I think it's true-- genteel poverty, because we ironed sheets, we had tablecloths, we had a Sunday dinner in the dining room, and we had guests. But my older brothers and sisters had worked, so they had money. It's amazing, in just a few years, the difference in outlooks. I am probably more frugal than any of them, because my first job after the babysitting was 250 an hour to 350 an hour. I thought, "Well, I can't spend more money than that in an hour, if that's all I earned." So I have lived very frugally. But my brothers and sisters became spendthrifts, and they're doing all right too.

Ann Kelsey:

So you were too young to be accepted into nursing school when you graduated from high school.

Leonora Whildin:

That's correct.

Ann Kelsey:

And the war was on.

Leonora Whildin:

Yeah. The Cadet Nurse Corps was my salvation, in a sense, because it got me into nursing a year sooner, and my applying before I was old enough was an asset, too, because they had all my papers. The government needed nurses, so they started another class at Boston City. They used to have only two classes a year, so they put in another class in December, and you had to be seventeen, but they took me because I was so close to seventeen, and had all the credentials.

Ann Kelsey:

And this was December of '43?

Leonora Whildin:

Yes.

Ann Kelsey:

But before you'd been accepted into that class, what made you decide to go to work at....

Leonora Whildin:

The little shop? Well, one of the gals I knew from high school had an opening, and she asked me if I'd be interested. It was in Cambridge, near MIT, and I said yes. She knew that I'd follow through on work and things, so it worked out pretty well. It wasn't advertised, so it helped. I don't know how successful I would have been, going out looking for a job, because I was still young and pretty immature for sixteen. But I had responsibility. I had learned responsibility at home, and responsibility for myself, so it helped.

Ann Kelsey:

During that time period, do you remember seeing any slogans or posters or newsreels that encouraged women to go to work in the factories, or join the military?

Leonora Whildin:

Yes. Well, they had posters all over the place. I think I saw the Cadet Nurse Corps one in a post office. They had on radio. Of course we didn't have television at that time, but the newsreels in the movies, the cuts, would have some recruitments. I didn't get to many movies, though-- I read about 'em.

Ann Kelsey:

Did seeing this advertising have any effect on your wanting to go to work in a factory or join the Cadet Nurse Corps?

Leonora Whildin:

I knew I had to earn money, because I couldn't afford to go to college. I did have a 200 dollars scholarship, which was, you know, one semester's worth at that time. But I'd need carfare and lunch money and so forth, so I knew I had to work in a job, and this one was a little better than working at F. W. Woolworth's. (laughs)

Ann Kelsey:

Did any of the rest of your family do war work?

Leonora Whildin:

They all did, in a sense. Even my mother worked at that time, and she worked in what's now Haviland Chocolates. It was Miller and Hollis. And they used to make some of the candy for the servicemen. And my oldest brother had two children by that time. He worked, and then owned, a leather business. My other brother was a Seabee and served in the Pacific. My older sister was a WAC, she served in the army. The next sister was the one who worked at Hood Rubber and had the baby. She married a sailor after that, and still lived there. My sister next to me was in Washington, doing secretarial work. So we all did.... My father wasn't functioning at the time; he was sick, [unclear].

Ann Kelsey:

Do you remember seeing any references to Rosie the Riveter then?

Leonora Whildin:

Oh, yes! One of my classmates, one of the ones, she was a year ahead of me in school, but lived near me, so we were friends. We both enjoyed ice skating. She worked at the Boston Navy Yard, and she's smaller than I am, and she actually did riveting. And she wore the hoods. Then, women always had to wear pants. So Blanche stayed with the navy right through the end, and she married a sailor and moved to Michigan.

Ann Kelsey:

When you were working, making the switches, did you think of yourself as a Rosie?

Leonora Whildin:

No. I thought, "Well, I'm helping." I did have that feeling that it wasn't insignificant, but I didn't know exactly what it was. But I have to tell you it was the nicest group of people. It was very small, and everyone was on a first-name basis. I guess-- I don't know what his technical name would be-- but he designed and made the pieces-- we called him "Doc." When I left to go into nursing, they gave me a Waltham watch for a going-away gift.

Ann Kelsey:

How many people actually worked in this shop?

Leonora Whildin:

There were only about five to six women, two young boys, and two older men.

Ann Kelsey:

Young boys too young to be in the service?

Leonora Whildin:

Eighteen or nineteen or something. Their numbers hadn't been called probably. And they lived nearby. Or, I don't know, maybe there was a reason.

Ann Kelsey:

Did you all have job titles?

Leonora Whildin:

No. Just Nancy, my friend, she was an inspector, but that's all.

Ann Kelsey:

Did you have on-the-job training where they showed you what to do?

Leonora Whildin:

I don't think we needed it for what we did, because whenever we had a new batch of switches, we'd know we'd need so many rods and some spaces. So each switch would be a different size. I don't know. We did use a lathe and a drill press. When we first used those, we were shown and supervised doing a couple. The work had to be done, so.... I kind of think they looked for people that would follow through, and dependable.

Ann Kelsey:

Was there shift work? Did you work shifts?

Leonora Whildin:

Not there, we didn't, no.

Ann Kelsey:

It was all essentially a day job, regular day hours?

Leonora Whildin:

Yeah. I kind of think they probably did-- I don't know. It would probably be difficult to get people to work there at night, because it's not like Cambridge is now. One Hundred wasn't there, the beautiful buildings and apartment houses. There were tall concrete factories, so it would be dark at night. But our little shop was closer to the river and right by MIT, but the transportation, you'd have to go by subway, and you have to realize they'd have blackouts. That was one of the reasons we had our high school graduation in the morning, because of the blackout.

Ann Kelsey:

And where were you living when you worked in the shop?

Leonora Whildin:

In East Boston.

Ann Kelsey:

So you took the subway?

Leonora Whildin:

Yes.

Ann Kelsey:

You had to get over into Boston first, though, right?

Leonora Whildin:

Well, they had the subways to Boston before the bridge, but the ferry was a penny and more fun. (laughs) But the subways were there. The subways then, and I believe today, can take you to Walden Pond. You could travel anywhere by subway-- the same in New York, but it's harder now. They ran more often and they cost less money, and they were more efficient, really. I think it's the attitude of people. They feel that they had to earn their money, it wasn't a given.

Ann Kelsey:

So were you assembling switches?

Leonora Whildin:

Yes.

Ann Kelsey:

You got the parts, the pieces, and you put them together?

Leonora Whildin:

Yes.

Ann Kelsey:

Do you know what these switches were used for?

Leonora Whildin:

I don't know, but I know they were used for electrical connections, because they all had little holes to put wires through. And they were different sizes. So at that time computers used to be a full room, so they would use switches like these, but bombers would too.

Ann Kelsey:

But they never actually told you?

Leonora Whildin:

We didn't ask. "Don't ask, don't tell."

Ann Kelsey:

"Loose lips sink ships."

Leonora Whildin:

Right. That's another way of saying it.

Ann Kelsey:

Working in this shop, do you think you were being paid better?-- well, you mentioned than working at Woolworth's.

Leonora Whildin:

Well, let me tell you, my salary, it wasn't what the Rosie the Riveters got, but I kind of think political clout has a lot to do with pays, even through the federal government, because on that flyer I gave you, the salaries they mentioned for cadet nurses didn't match what I got. I would say I'd get about 30 dollars a week, which to me was a lot of money then. Of that, I would give my mother 15 dollars, because we had rent to pay. There was no one else in the house. And when I went to nursing, she had to give that up. And with the rest I had carfare, lunch money, and clothes.

Ann Kelsey:

Did you wear uniforms, or anything to cover your clothes, or you just wore your normal clothes?

Leonora Whildin:

Washable street clothes.

Ann Kelsey:

Just regular street clothes. Did you think that the job you were doing was important?

Leonora Whildin:

I think so. I don't know. You know, they used to do so much work for clearances during the war. I know when....

Ann Kelsey:

You mean security clearance?

Leonora Whildin:

Right. When I lived on Queensbury Street in the Back Bay, they used to come and ask about neighbors and things. So whether they did or not.... I kind of think-- at that time we all thought any job was important. So yes, I think it was important.

Ann Kelsey:

The job that you were doing, before the war, was that normally done only by men?

Leonora Whildin:

I believe so, yes. I guess, in a sense, it would be called like an unclean job, and women didn't do unclean jobs then. But it required forge work, and the lathes and the drill presses. I'm pretty sure.... The sit-down part, maybe they would have had some women do, but not too many. If they had women, they'd be in the office. Come to think of it, I don't know anybody-- I didn't meet any office women in that little shop. Isn't that interesting? You know, in terms of payrolls and things. Hm. That's surprising, because when I worked-- people will be shocked to know this-- when I worked at the five-and-ten, they used to give us one of those little manila envelopes with cash in it, for our pay.

Ann Kelsey:

But you did get paid. Do you remember how you got paid?

Leonora Whildin:

Yes.

Ann Kelsey:

At the shop, did they give you a check?

Leonora Whildin:

I believe so. They must have. It had a name, the company had a name.

Ann Kelsey:

Do you remember the name?

Leonora Whildin:

I saved almost every check I've earned as a nurse, but, you know, I didn't have access to a lot of the household stuff, because I was in nurses' training.

Ann Kelsey:

Were any of the women that worked there supervisors? You mentioned one was an inspector.

Leonora Whildin:

That was my friend. We were all the same level. I imagine she would get a little more money.

Ann Kelsey:

Who was in charge?

Leonora Whildin:

She was. She would mete out the work load and everything. So she, today, would be more of a manager than an inspector.

Ann Kelsey:

And who was in charge of the whole operation, the entire company, do you know?

Leonora Whildin:

I would think it would be Doc. I think he designed a lot of the.... They have a name for what he did, and I'm trying to think. It's an engineering term. And then one of the other men was a doctor, Ph.D.

Ann Kelsey:

It was right next to MIT. (

Leonora Whildin:

Yes.) Was it connected with MIT in any way? Did these men come from MIT?

Leonora Whildin:

If they did, I don't know. At the time, there were Quonset huts at MIT where servicemen were. Actually, they were working on radar and the oscilloscopes, which are the.... But interesting enough, the one school tour I had in high school was to MIT: my physics class went to MIT. We got a lecture on the magnesium bomb. And I have the sketches I made. I never made one, though! (laughs)

Ann Kelsey:

So you lived at home all the time you were working in the shop?

Leonora Whildin:

Yes.

Ann Kelsey:

And then how did the war-- well, you were in high school when the war started.

Leonora Whildin:

Yes, my fifteenth birthday was on December 7, 1941.

Ann Kelsey:

I know, that's your birthday. When the war started, did that change things that you did? Did you have to do things differently? Like you mentioned the blackouts. Did it change your routine?

Leonora Whildin:

Well, before December 7th there was a feeling on the coastal areas-- remember, I lived on the coast. We had blackouts. My sister was what they called a street warden, the one who became a WAC. So we had to keep the shades down, lights out. So it affected a lot of people. But I can remember I was ice skating with Blanche and they had a blackout. We couldn't walk the streets, so we stayed ice skating. It was a bright moonlit night, but I froze to death nearly. I think I got frostbitten on my toes that night, because we had to wait 'til the clearance to go home.

Ann Kelsey:

So you had to stay where you were.

Leonora Whildin:

Yeah. I was a junior in high school, because Blanche graduated the year before me. So it was significant, because I was supposed to be home before dark when I was in lower grades. So I didn't get chewed out on that one.

Ann Kelsey:

All right, now, you had applied to the Cadet Nurse Corps, and then at what point did you find out that they were going to actually admit you into that program?

Leonora Whildin:

I had applied to a school of nursing before I knew about the Cadet Nurse Corps. I think I have a letter in the papers I brought, saying to report and bring a urine specimen.

Ann Kelsey:

And that was the end of '43?

Leonora Whildin:

Yes. I had graduated in June, so for that short span I worked in the switch [factory].

Ann Kelsey:

So when did you give your notice at the switch shop?

Leonora Whildin:

It probably was.... They knew I was waiting to hear, so as soon as I heard that I was accepted and would have to start December 1st. I would imagine it was maybe even two weeks, if that. I'm wondering, you know, if my age delayed a decision or not.

Ann Kelsey:

In terms of getting into the nursing program?

Leonora Whildin:

Yeah.

Ann Kelsey:

But they waived the rules to let you in earlier?

Leonora Whildin:

Yeah. To fill the number of days, I was supposed to stay seven days longer than everybody else, but start with them so I wouldn't miss the orientation.

Ann Kelsey:

Oh, because of your birth date being on the seventh.

Leonora Whildin:

We followed all the rules.

Ann Kelsey:

And that's when you turned seventeen?

Leonora Whildin:

Right. So they got full graduate nurse services.

Ann Kelsey:

Describe the training that you went through in nursing school.

Leonora Whildin:

Well, they were tough times, but our first lecture was "doors swing both ways." So it was pretty rigid. The section that I started with started with twenty-five. We graduated thirteen of us. So you had to pass academically. You had to pass the physical demands, and you had to pass the sacrifice of a social life, because we lived in the nursing home, and the lights were out at ten the first six months. You had an enforced study, seven to nine. It was probably as stringent, if not more so, than a convent, (laughs) You know, scrubbing floors was not unknown either. It took a lot of determination to stay with it. The thing that they had in our group that was unbeknownst to other nurses was we were taught some of the martial arts. Isn't that significant? Jujitsu, we called it. There was an aspect of genteelness with all this demand, because we had a choral group, and we had concerts, and every once in a while we'd have a dance and they'd invite the USO soldiers and sailors. Of course we lost a lot of nurses to marriage that way, too.

Ann Kelsey:

At that point, if someone got married, they automatically had to leave the school?

Leonora Whildin:

I believe so. They were so stringent, one of the gals who was in the second year and would have been a good nurse, wanted time off because her boyfriend was home on leave, and they wouldn't give her, so she left. She was never accepted back. You know, you couldn't have any indulgences, of sorts. But it was hard, because at that time, toward the end, in '46, some of the doctors who had been in the battlefield were back, and they still looked at me as a kid, because I was still young.

Ann Kelsey:

When did you actually graduate from the nursing program-- before the war ended, or after?

Leonora Whildin:

In 1946. I was in a three-year program. The Cadet Nurse Corps was two and a half years. The whole Class of 1946 had three sections, and I was in Section 3, the third class that was admitted in December. And that whole group was the Class of 1946.

Ann Kelsey:

So the purpose of the Cadet Nurse Corps was to free up nurses who were already trained, that joined the military, is that right?

Leonora Whildin:

That's right.

Ann Kelsey:

Nurses that joined the military as military nurses, and the Cadet Nurse Corps took their places in the domestic hospitals?

Leonora Whildin:

You have to realize that most of the large hospitals in cities were run by nurses, or had student nurses, because that kept the costs down. But those nurses went to war. And as student nurses, we had to be charge nurses lots of times, lots of times. And the load was tremendous, because people didn't go to doctors too much then. We had some wonderful family doctors that would see families at night, and even make home visits. But the majority of people went to the emergency room. In the wintertime, the beds were mainly all filled, and we had people on cots in the corridors at Boston. And I'm sure that was true in Bellevue [New York City] and in Cook County [Chicago], and all of the big city hospitals. So the Cadet Nurse Corps really carried the hospital load at that time. It worked. The government wanted to make sure the people got care so it did fulfill that job.

Ann Kelsey:

So when the war ended, when V-E Day and V-J Day, you were in the middle of your training?

Leonora Whildin:

I remember V-J Day very clearly, because I was, of all places, on Maternity. And my classmates knew....

Ann Kelsey:

You were working on the maternity ward?

Leonora Whildin:

Right. My classmates knew I was there, and they hollered up, and I went to the nursery window and they said, "We're going to Boston to celebrate!" And I said, "Bye bye!" So I took care of the mothers and babies.

Ann Kelsey:

So when the war ended, and then the nurses who had been in the military, most of them probably were discharged-- was that the case? Did the women who had joined the military to be nurses, did they then come back to their old jobs?

Leonora Whildin:

Not too many, because they were replaced. Some of the nurses who never left stayed there 'til they were incapacitated, I'm sure. But they became house mothers in the nurses' home. But some of them did come back. Where I met most of them was when I was at Boston University, because a lot of them came back for their degrees. And as they had the G.I. Bill, they were able to continue their degrees.

Ann Kelsey:

So this was a very different scenario than what happened in the factories, where the men were discharged from the service and most of them came back and reclaimed their old jobs-- at least for a time period. And all the women who had gone to work in the factories were laid off.

Leonora Whildin:

Right.

Ann Kelsey:

But in the case of their situation, where women were replacing women, when the women came back, they didn't necessarily, and often did not reclaim their old jobs?

Leonora Whildin:

No. But what they did was necessary, because there was a great transition in the education of nurses. The early nurses realized they were used for service, and they were. But they did get an education, but it wasn't consistent throughout the country. The big city hospitals had the other medical schools near. There weren't too many medical schools at the time. People fail to remember this. So that in the big cities they had a better education, and the requirements were higher, because they had to be, for safety reasons. So the nurses, having experienced all that, realized the unfairness of it. So they wanted to bring nurses up to a professional level, so they could have the salaries they earned and deserved. So it was not only that, but the whole shift of care, because during the war when they did physicals, they realized how little healthcare people had throughout the country. It was better in the cities, because we had a lot of caring people, and a lot of donations. But when you get to the plains and the sparse areas, there was a lot of neglect in dental care, mental care, physical care. So there was a need. We could appreciate the times were changing, and had to. So in a sense, the nurses from the war probably helped contribute. And those of us who worked through the almost penal (laughs) system of nursing, felt the need to be fair, and change it for the needs of all the people.

Ann Kelsey:

So then a lot of these nurses, because then they were able to take advantage of the G.I. Bill, because they were veterans, they were able to go to a four-year nursing school.

Leonora Whildin:

They didn't need to do four years-- neither did I. I did three, but I didn't need to. I got extra credits, because I was curious, (laughs) One of them was an admiral, back for her degree. And some were captains. They started out as ensigns and lieutenants, but they had been in long enough to have a higher rank. And we sent out a lot of teachers to colleges and so forth.

Ann Kelsey:

When did you graduate from the nursing program, what year?

Leonora Whildin:

In 1946.

Ann Kelsey:

And that was the Cadet Nurse Program?

Leonora Whildin:

Yes.

Ann Kelsey:

Then did you continue on?

Leonora Whildin:

Yes. Well, you had to take boards. So I stayed at Boston City and I wound up as assistant head nurse. And then they had an emergency in Neurosurgery, and one of the doctors said, "You can do it." So I went in and scrubbed and they asked me to stay in the neurosurgical O.R., so I stayed there for a while. Then this job came up, they were looking for-- the government wanted someone to go overseas and help with the dependent children.

Ann Kelsey:

Were these American children, or....

Leonora Whildin:

That's a good question. I wasn't sure, (laughs) Children are children.

Ann Kelsey:

What year was this?

Leonora Whildin:

This was in '47. By that time I had been at Boston City, right along. So I signed up. One of my classmates signed up with me, and at the last minute she backed out, and I stayed on.

Ann Kelsey:

Who did you work for, that sent you overseas?

Leonora Whildin:

The Department of the Army, U.S. government, Department of the Army.

Ann Kelsey:

You were a civilian?

Leonora Whildin:

Yes.

Ann Kelsey:

You were a DAC, one of the army civilians?

Leonora Whildin:

Yeah.

Ann Kelsey:

So where did you go, and how did you get there?

Leonora Whildin:

I was told to report to Chicopee Falls in Massachusetts. I was going to Germany, I knew that. I went from-- I guess it might have been Fort Devins , up to Newfoundland. And when I got to Newfoundland, they handed me a parachute.

Ann Kelsey:

So you were on a plane?

Leonora Whildin:

It wasn't just a plane, it was a C-54 transport plane. There were no seats. The parachute was my seat. Then we went from there-- the government's very loose about giving you information, you know. We had to work for a Freedom of Information Act. But anyway, from there we went to the Azores. Beautiful! What a beautiful country it was. I don't know now-- every country's crowded now. But we landed by radar. So MIT did its job. And from there I went to Paris in the night, and then to Frankfurt.

Ann Kelsey:

And you flew? You were flying in a C-l 54 the whole way?

Leonora Whildin:

The reason I mention this is, you have to remember, it was the beginning of the Berlin Airlift. So we had to (gestures with hands), instead of zooming right across.

Ann Kelsey:

And how many hours did it take to make that trip?

Leonora Whildin:

More than a day, almost two. Well, planes weren't that fast. It was dark when I got to Newfoundland, and then morning when I got to the Azores, night to Paris, and morning in Germany, so two days probably.

Ann Kelsey:

How many people were on this flight?

Leonora Whildin:

Maybe four.

Ann Kelsey:

Four passengers, total, other than the crew.

Leonora Whildin:

The pilot thought I was a dependent, (laughs) I looked young at twenty-one. I've got my passport, you'll be able to see. When we went over Mont Saint Michel, he said, "Why don't you come up and take a look? And I looked from the cockpit, down. It was a thrill for me. I think he thought I was a dependent, so that was all right.

Ann Kelsey:

And the four passengers, were you all civilians?

Leonora Whildin:

No. There was another couple, husband and wife, and one other person, an officer or something, hitching a ride back or something.

Ann Kelsey:

So you finally arrived in Frankfurt, and then what did you do, what was your assignment?

Leonora Whildin:

Who knows? I didn't know what to do. (laughs) There was a Jeep there to take me to the station hospital. I got in the Jeep. I hoped that was the way. Fortunately.... I'm joking. There was a major, Major Myers was on the plane with me, and she....

Ann Kelsey:

This was a woman?

Leonora Whildin:

Yeah. When we landed in Frankfurt, she took me under her wing. Her husband was an officer there. So thank goodness for her! She saw me on a train to Bremerhaven from there.

Ann Kelsey:

So your final destination was Bremerhaven?

Leonora Whildin:

Right.

Ann Kelsey:

Which was a port?

Leonora Whildin:

It was the only submarine port that the Germans had-- the only port. It was very vital to them during the war. Look at what they did with it! They got the whole northern....

Ann Kelsey:

And then what did you do when you got to Bremerhaven?

Leonora Whildin:

There was someone in a Jeep that picked me up and took me to the hospital. Then I met the chief nurse. Her name was Goodale [phonetic]. And then I was like a fish out of water. The main compound was at the marine headquarters in Bremerhaven. So I would take the bus down to find out what I was to do. I kept working as a nurse at the hospital there.

Ann Kelsey:

Was this a military hospital?

Leonora Whildin:

It certainly was.

Ann Kelsey:

An army hospital?

Leonora Whildin:

It was an army hospital. One of the doctors there, I had known at Boston City, and his wife, so it was sort of not that strange to me-- but it was, in a sense, because the army nurses didn't know what to do with me, because I didn't have to take orders from them, (chuckles) The surgeon general came by, and everybody saluted him, and I shook his hand. They didn't like me in white, so I had some old army nurse's uniforms. No ranks or anything.

Ann Kelsey:

Were you the only civilian nurse?

Leonora Whildin:

There.

Ann Kelsey:

In that hospital, you were the only civilian nurse?

Leonora Whildin:

Yeah. Then another two came. But the other gal went to Belgium, because her brother was buried there. We didn't see much of each other.

Ann Kelsey:

And you took care of children there?

Leonora Whildin:

No! Soldiers.

Ann Kelsey:

These were American wounded?

Leonora Whildin:

Yeah.

Ann Kelsey:

Or Allied wounded?

Leonora Whildin:

American. They had others to come in. In any situation, any hospital, you don't deny care to people in need, or you shouldn't be in the business. I lived with a captain and a lieutenant. They had a room together. I had a room. And then there was another lieutenant that had a room. And then downstairs was the Red Cross.

Ann Kelsey:

And Red Cross were these Clubmobile, recreation workers?

Leonora Whildin:

Yeah.

Ann Kelsey:

Was there a rec center there at the hospital for the soldiers?

Leonora Whildin:

Yeah, they did letters, communications, and recreation and that sort of thing. But they were waiting to [decide] what to do with me. I used to go down to the marine.... Well, they had a library at the marine compound, so I would get books at the same time.

Ann Kelsey:

Was there a librarian there?

Leonora Whildin:

No. There probably was. Yeah, there'd have to be, because I'd take some books out.

Ann Kelsey:

How long did you stay there?

Leonora Whildin:

Not even six months. It didn't seem right to be in an army hospital and not, you know, have.... I could have been in the army, you know. It wasn't what I had planned on.

Ann Kelsey:

So then did you resign there and come back?

Leonora Whildin:

Uh-huh.

Ann Kelsey:

Did they pay for your-- you had to pay your own.... Had you signed an agreement to work for a specified period of time?

Leonora Whildin:

No, I don't think so. I signed an agreement to a job description that I didn't have. I did find out that the job I had applied for was given to a captain's wife, so that's why I resigned.

Ann Kelsey:

But you had to pay your own fare?

Leonora Whildin:

Right.

Ann Kelsey:

Did you fly back, or did you take a ship back?

Leonora Whildin:

I took a tramp steamer, because I couldn't afford the plane fare.

Ann Kelsey:

And where did you land?

Leonora Whildin:

New Orleans. The only touring I've done! People wonder why I don't want to travel, (laughs) I'd wind up on a camel somewhere!

Ann Kelsey:

How long did it take you to get from Germany to New Orleans on a steamer?

Leonora Whildin:

I enjoyed that. I love the sea. Two days, maybe. I have it in a journal somewhere. I don't recall offhand. It was almost a week. Probably a week. Because I got into New Orleans in December and it was warm there, but when I got into New York, it was freezing cold and I had a summer suit on.

Ann Kelsey:

And so that was 1948?

Leonora Whildin:

Yes. And I didn't realize, but I was over in Germany during the Berlin Airlift. But I did notice they had a different edition of Time magazine in Europe during the war. You probably know that.

Ann Kelsey:

So then what did you do after you got back to New York?

Leonora Whildin:

I needed money, so I did go back to Boston City. We had routine checkups, you know, and they found I had a spot on my lung, and they looked at some earlier X-rays, and it was there, but it had grown. I had been back in Neurosurgery and scrubbed in Neurosurgery. So I wound up in a tuberculosis [center]-- I haven't discussed this too much-- for a year. I was twenty-three at the time. They didn't have any medications for tuberculosis at that time. It came out in the fifties, but I had what they call pneumothorax. They created a pneumothorax by compressing the lung. And to keep the lung compressed.... Well, I was on bed rest for a year, flat bed rest. And the next few years-- well, all the while I was at college, I used to go and have pneumothorax every two weeks, to check it.

Ann Kelsey:

After that year that you had to stay in the hospital, then you went back to college?

Leonora Whildin:

Yes.

Ann Kelsey:

In Boston?

Leonora Whildin:

Yes, at Boston City.

Ann Kelsey:

And what were you studying?

Leonora Whildin:

Nursing. I had a major in nursing and a minor in public health. And that's why I had more courses. I had about eight more credits than I needed.

Ann Kelsey:

And when did you graduate?

Leonora Whildin:

In 1954. I had first applied to Boston University before they had a school of nursing in '49. And I was taking two courses a week, when they found out I had tuberculosis. So I finished my degree.

Ann Kelsey:

And then what did you do, after you got your degree?

Leonora Whildin:

I did public health in Brooklyn.

Ann Kelsey:

And then you moved to New York?

Leonora Whildin:

Yes, because I was going to go to the maternity center to be a midwife. I was interested in maternity, pediatrics. I did very well on my state boards in pediatrics, so I thought it would be....

Ann Kelsey:

Where along the way did you meet your husband?

Leonora Whildin:

I met him when I was doing public health in Brooklyn. The gal who was to become my maid of honor, drove me to New York, and we had a little kitty for my friend's little girl. And Bill was there and had a little toy for [their daughter]. So that's how we met, and then he took my number.

Ann Kelsey:

And then when did you get married?

Leonora Whildin:

That was in-- '54-- in 1956 I was married.

Ann Kelsey:

So not too long after you went to New York, you must have met him.

Leonora Whildin:

Right. I was there for two years.

Ann Kelsey:

All right, going back just briefly to when you were in Germany, what would you say was the most memorable thing that happened while you were working at that hospital when you were working with the soldiers? The most interesting story, the funniest story.

Leonora Whildin:

Well, I told you when the surgeon general came by for inspection, and they all had to salute, and I just shook his hand and had to tell him I was a civilian. We did have a foreigner as a patient. This is where having been a civilian came in handy. I looked at him, and they had given him a spinal, but he was flat, but his color looked bad. So I said to the ward, "Let's turn him," because he was looking terrible]. He made out all right. They were right, on a spinal you shouldn't move 'em. But you don't let people have a straight spine and be dead, either. You have to make decisions. But they didn't scold me, because he was all right. They had a baseball team, the doctors there, and it was nice. Also, being a civilian, I didn't have to stay with all the officers, either, so I could go to some of the movies they had for the G.I.s. I enjoyed being with them.

Ann Kelsey:

What kind of injuries? All different kinds of injuries, these soldiers that were waiting, that had to be stabilized before they were transported back to the States?

Leonora Whildin:

No. See, this was '48, so most of those, hopefully, would have been cared for. But some of these were ordinary physical. But they had-- well, I hate to tell you, but this is true-- they had a separate ward for V.D. [venereal disease]. But they used to give penicillin-- and they still do some[times]-- but we had to save the urine, because they would collect it and reclaim the penicillin from it. The Germans would do that.

Ann Kelsey:

The Germans?

Leonora Whildin:

Yes. But also, the times were terrible in Germany at that time. The shops were empty, and they had not much to eat. So most of the people that worked for Americans wanted goods instead of money. Money was no good to them. Cigarettes were a major bartering thing. But while I was there, they had a change in the scrip, and I was able to see a complete turnaround of the economy. They started to have bread in the markets and things. And that's the beginning of the Marshall Plan, I'm sure.

Ann Kelsey:

So these were soldiers, basically, who were assigned to occupy Germany?

Leonora Whildin:

Right.

Ann Kelsey:

And they just had-- these weren't war wounded so much as just general illnesses that they would have?

Leonora Whildin:

Right, that might have been overlooked in civilian [life]-- you know, some of them got better medical care than if they'd been home. And they always do have injuries. You know, if they have sports, you're bound to have some injuries.

Ann Kelsey:

All right, so going back to Brooklyn now, let's see, you met your husband. Did you keep working after you got married?

Leonora Whildin:

Yes, I stayed with the.... Well, we lived in Elmhurst, Queens, and Brooklyn was a long drive, so I was asked to teach at Helene Fuld's School in New York. So that was a shorter commute.

Ann Kelsey:

And that was a nursing school?

Leonora Whildin:

Yes. So I taught there until I became pregnant.

Ann Kelsey:

And then did you stop working?

Leonora Whildin:

No. No, I stayed working, but they said after six months you had to leave then.

Ann Kelsey:

Did you go back and work after your baby was born?

Leonora Whildin:

I couldn't, because I had no family nearby. But I did work on weekends when they'd just finished Elmhurst General. It was simply.. .it was awful, because the staffing was terrible. I'd work on weekends only, so....

Ann Kelsey:

Was your husband a veteran?

Leonora Whildin:

Yes. He went to Rensselaer. He was with, I think, the ASTP in the army, because he was at Maryland, you know, proving grounds and stuff.

Ann Kelsey:

Aberdeen?

Leonora Whildin:

Yeah. Then he went to a program at General Motors. Then he went to [get] his degree, too, under the G.I. Bill. And he had to take some courses at Lehigh. Then when there was an opening, he went to Troy. So he graduated from Rensselaer Polytech in chemical engineering. And then he went to work, which was Allied Signal. And that's how we wound up in East Aurora, New York. We moved from Elmhurst.

Ann Kelsey:

He was going to school after you got married?

Leonora Whildin:

Before.

Ann Kelsey:

So he finished his schooling before [unclear].

Leonora Whildin:

He finished his college in 1950. Then he was in Buffalo with Allied Signal, and then down to New York, had an office on Rector Street, and he worked there. Then when we were first married, we looked for a home in New Jersey because the rents were going up, and we needed the car, and we had two children. So we got a small house down in New Market.

Ann Kelsey:

Where's New Market?

Leonora Whildin:

It's between Plainfield and Bound Brook, in that area. It's part of Rutgers now-- yeah, Brunswick.

Ann Kelsey:

Part of that....

Leonora Whildin:

Johnson Park, I remember taking the children down there for play area. But he was able to get from our house in New Market, he could take the train into Hoboken, and the ferry, and walk to work, in less time than when we lived in Queens. So it was a good move at that time.

Ann Kelsey:

You did a lot of different things during the war.

Leonora Whildin:

Yes.

Ann Kelsey:

All of the different jobs and work that you did, did that change your feelings about the nature of women's work, and what women could and couldn't do?

Leonora Whildin:

Oh, indeed it did. I'm probably one of the few who had a working mother that wasn't a professional woman, but she, having four daughters, said, "You have to learn to do something, because you can't depend on a man anymore." And of course we all know that Prince Charming is a fairy story, and most men should welcome the change, because it takes the total burden off of them. But in some of it, I was.... My main interest was to make birthing a family affair. So in a sense, I think I've helped to do that, to give men the right to enjoy their children, instead of being the disciplinarian, which a lot of women used to charge them with which was very wrong, because the women spent most of the time with the children. Stupid! It was foolish.

Ann Kelsey:

You had a mother who worked. Do you have a daughter?

Leonora Whildin:

Yes, I do.

Ann Kelsey:

Do you think that your family history affected what she chose to do with her life?

Leonora Whildin:

I would have liked her to be a nurse. She said, "If I'm going to put in the years you've put in, I'd be a doctor." But she was interested in ballet, and she was at school, taking pre-med, and continued with her ballet. So she was doing well at school, but she said she really wanted to.... I said, "Go ahead, because you can always go back to school." So she did. A ballet life is short-lived, you know that. By thirty-five, you're over the hill. So she did fulfill her wish, and she wasn't tall enough to be a prima ballerina, and we weren't rich enough to afford her, so.... She did very well, and she was with the Bejart in Belgium, for about six months, and did dance for the king of Belgium. She's been to the Boston Ballet, the Tidewater. She's done quite a few, but it doesn't pay. She also earned money while she pursued her career, so....

Ann Kelsey:

Has she....

Leonora Whildin:

She went back to school.

Ann Kelsey:

So she finished her ballet career and went back to school?

Leonora Whildin:

She graduated summa cum laude from Hunter, and learned to use an electronic microscope, did some research with a doctor, a mentor there, and had it published. They offered her a teaching scholarship, but she said, "Well, if I did that, I'd have to get a Ph.D., so I might as well do...." Well, she went to medical school, didn't flunk out, but doesn't want to be a doctor. Now she's working at Starbuck's, and loves it! (laughs) But I tried to tell her, "You know, you could be a nurse midwife and do research." Well, she wanted to be a doctor, because the kind of research.... But I kind of think, you know, what really hit her was her age. And to do another three to five more years and have still-- she still has some student loans.

Ann Kelsey:

And you had two children?

Leonora Whildin:

Three. I have two sons. They both started working early. They're bright fellows, but one of them would have gone to college if he hadn't started working. He's now plant manager. He's had some courses here.

Ann Kelsey:

Here at County College?

Leonora Whildin:

Yes. I don't think he went through a degree. He didn't want to go to a four- year school, because he didn't want to take a lot of courses that he didn't want. You know, if that's the attitude.... But I think he would have done all right. But I don't think his father encouraged them to be in the corporate world. I don't think he was happy in it. And they'd been to the office and saw the cubbyholes and things. They had started working young, mowing lawns and things. They both went to the school in Denville, so they had a morning in Randolph.

Ann Kelsey:

Vocational, technical school.

Leonora Whildin:

Both of them made honor rolls and things. One of them's a plant manager now. The other one built his own home. He's dyslexic, so a paper job wouldn't appeal to him. He wouldn't be as fast or good at it. But he's smart, he's intelligent, and he reads. He didn't read, but he likes motorcycles, so I got him a motorcycle magazine, and he went in Enduro races and won a lot of trophies. And he's helping young kids now. He was asked to be an inspector for the world enduros [unclear]. So they're both productive. None are married, but none aredivorced, either. And everybody tells me, "Well, there's time," but it's running out for everyone.

Ann Kelsey:

Is there one thought about all of your varied wartime experiences that you would want to share with future generations?

Leonora Whildin:

How nice the people are that were once your enemies, supposedly. Because I found the German people very nice and understanding, and hopefully we'll do the same in the Mideast one day. Because people generally, if you could meet them one-to-one, there's never a problem.

Ann Kelsey:

That's a very nice perspective. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Leonora Whildin:

No. I just can never emphasize enough, because I don't think this generation understands how much earlier generations went without, so they could have. I don't think they'll understand it, until they get to a point where they no longer have it. And it may be sooner than they think.

Ann Kelsey:

Okay, thank you very much.

Leonora Whildin:

You're welcome.

 
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