LIMA — Deep in the winter of 1915, the 50 members of the newly formed Perry Township Improvement association got together at the township house to decide if they should allow women to become members.
After a “warm discussion,” which included an argument by J.S. Severns that “the strength, and also charm” of the women would benefit the group, it was decided the “matrons and maids of Perry Township” would not be eligible for membership,” the Lima Republican-Gazette reported on Feb. 2, 1915.
“The opinion of most of the members was that the women would not care to have part in the association since it was organized for purely business purposes,” the newspaper explained.
It wasn’t long, however, before, “for purely business purposes,” women were needed to keep the American economy running. Because of manpower shortages brought on by World War I, and repeated in World War II, women entered the workforce in force during the first half of the 20th century.
Typical of these women was teenage Patricia Burke, who joined a half dozen other young women who donned distinctive uniforms to work at the Sohio service station on the northwest corner of North and Elizabeth streets in the early years of World War II. Today, the site is occupied by Wenger Insurance.
Burke, who also served in the Civil Air Patrol and worked at the International Harvester Plant in Fort Wayne, Indiana, during World War II, would marry Richard A. McAdams in 1949 and become an accomplished artist working in watercolors. She died in the Toledo area in 2007 at the age of 82.
The path for Burke and her colleagues of World War II was paved by the many women who went to work during World War I.
“Women are taking the place of men in Lima factories,” the Lima Daily News reported Dec. 2, 1917, some 10 months after the U.S. entered World War I. “They wear overalls and go to work when the whistle blows at 8:30 o’clock in the morning.” The women, the Daily News added, were employed “at work a year ago thought impossible to be performed by women. But the war, the shortage of men workers and the absolute necessity of production has driven the fair sex to the factories to work in stock rooms and operate drill presses.”
The predecessors of Burke and her colleagues arrived in August 1918. The Daily News noted on Aug. 5 of that year that “the work of managing gasoline and oil filling stations is an entirely new field which has been thrown open to women in this city.” The newspaper noted the Standard Oil Co. had seven women operating three Lima filling stations.
Ten days later, the Lima Sunday News reported female hotel clerks had made their appearance in Lima, with the Norval Hotel hiring the first two. “Women as hotel clerks are accommodating and more apt to please the guests difficult to suit because their patience is not so easily exhausted,” the newspaper opined.
Women also began working other jobs in the hotels. The Daily News reported on Sept. 29, 1918, that the Barr Hotel, in addition to employing women as elevator operators, now had them working as bell hops. “The hop-ettes take the mail to and from the post office and perform exactly the same work as the bell hops, whom they have displaced,” the newspaper reported, adding that “a girl elevator operator is now on night duty at the Barr. This is the first instance in Lima in which a young woman has been assigned to the all-night operating of the elevator …”
Industrial and railroad jobs, too, were filled by women. On Oct. 18, 1918, an ad in the Daily News sought “women to learn railroading.” The job, according to the ad, offered “good pay and a chance to serve your country. The Baltimore & Ohio, lessee of the C.H.&D., has directed that vacancies in the Lima railroad shops and yards be filled with women wherever possible …” The positions to be filled by women included car inspectors, shop workers and coach painters.
In that same day’s newspaper, it was reported that “women are now working in every Lima factory engaged in producing articles for the United States government. The East Iron and Machine Company started women to work in its big plant on East Market Street Friday. They are employed on drill presses, lathes, shapers and other light factory work.”
Some women sought to do more direct war work. On May 8, 1917, shortly after the U.S. entry into World War I, the Republican-Gazette wrote that “two young women, slight of build but with determined chins, invaded the Naval recruiting office yesterday afternoon and applied for enlistment — on a battleship, if you please. The spokesman was a schoolteacher from a country school, with a packet of books under her arm.” The recruiter, the Republican-Gazette reported, offered the women jobs as clerks — on land. “Decidedly NOT! Real sailors or nothing, and out flounced two miffed young women.”
Lima native Edna Jameson, a graduate of St. Rose High School and avid fan of baseball, landed a plum job. Early in the 1917 baseball season, the ownership of the Cleveland Indians made the 29-year-old Jameson, who had worked for the team for five years, the only woman in the country to operate a Major League ballpark. “Day after day Miss Jameson is in the office of League Park,” the Daily News wrote. “First of all she must handle all the tickets and this is a real job, especially on Sundays and holidays when close to 5,000 seats are reserved.”
Thirty-two years later Jameson was still with the ball club. “Miss Jameson said her early experience with the Indians was mostly secretarial, although she operated the switch board and also made out the player contracts, releases and agreements,” the Lima News wrote Nov. 27, 1949.
With the onset of World War II, women again were sought to fill employment rolls. One of these, a housewife and mother of four from Lima named LaVerne Sommer, filled a unique position. Sommer, who took a job at Ohio Steel on Dec. 7, 1942, the first anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, was one of only nine people in the country to operate a sand-slinging machine, which was used to fill molding flasks with sand. “She also was the first woman to be employed in the plant’s foundry,” the News wrote. “There are more than 300 women working there now.”
In May 1944, C.C. Shutt, division manager of Lima’s Westinghouse Plant, praised the work being done by Lima’s women war workers. “The electric motor and generator have been a large factor in the scientific progress which has come about during World War II,” he told the News on May 8, 1944. “I am proud to say that these electric motors, a good many of which are made in Lima, show the effort put forth by the women war workers of our community.”
Shutt added that “with the necessary loss of men in the Armed Forces it has become more important than ever for us to employ more women to meet the requirements which our country is asking us.”
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.