Monday, April 25, 2011

Margaret Singer, The Red Cross, WWII

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Margaret Singer, now 98, for The Washington Secretaries History Project.

Her story began in 1935 when she left her family home in Westminster, Md. in search of work in the nation's capital.

"During the Depression there were no government programs and no unemployment," she said. "If you didn't work, you didn't eat."

Ms. Singer was called a "girl friday" back then.

"I worked in pitily little jobs, anything I could do," she said. "I was working for three lawyers but they had no business. Then they told me that the Red Cross was taking on clerical workers."

Jobs with the Red Cross were created when a series of tornadoes left a swath of destruction along the Atlantic coast from Maine to Florida.

Ms. Singer was hired as a temp for three days. She ended up working for the organization for 12 years.

In January 1942, a month after Pearl Harbor, she was transferred to Iceland which had been set up as a staging ground for American ships during the war.

"Women went because they were unhappy in their jobs and looking for adventure," she said.

That they found. Job descriptions were expanded from strictly clerical duties to include sewing and even entertaining naval officers.

"I did a lot of typing and preparation of reports," she said. "The only thing I was not good at was dancing. I hated to socialize but that was a big part of the job."

Ms. Singer said liquor flowed freely and that partying took place in the officers quarters located on the top level of the submarine.

"They had potted palms and everything you could eat," she said. "But if you weren't careful they would grab you and drag you into their state rooms."

Ms. Singer's entire story will be included in The Washington Secretaries History Project.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for interviewing a 98-year-old woman before it's too late! As the author of two books on women and World War II, it's always a joy to read something new and confirming.

    Doris Weatherford