Saturday, April 26, 2014

Miss Duncan Goes to Washington, Part 7 of 7

(Letter to Grandmother, December 5, 1941)

Dear Choo-Choo-, 

I can't say whether all this excitement is going to come to anything, but it looks as though I might actually be going to Iceland Monday. By the time this letter gets to you, if I am going, you will have had a telegram, but anyway, I know you will be interested in how it all came to happen, or not to happen. 

Thursday morning Mr. Atkinson came into the office and said to me, "Miss Duncan, can you take it?" So of course I said I could, and he told me that five secretaries were being sent to Iceland, but that I couldn’t go because the age requirement was 28 and I'm a good ways below that. So I sat and swallowed lumps the rest of the morning, trying not to burst into tears and show how really young I am. 

Then it occurred to me, for goodness sake, who makes the rules? I asked Mr. A., but he didn’t know, Mr. Bondy is the top man in Military and Welfare Services, and he's the boy who has the last word about who is going. Mr. A. doesn’t get on well with Mr. Bondy, but Mr. Krick, who also works in this office is my and Mr. A.'s friend, is on very good terms with Mr. Bondy. (Now don't get discouraged; I know this is contem-plated, I mean complicated.) So, Mr. A. started working on Mr. K., to prove to him that I was just the girl to go and that really I am so mature that it would be much safer to send me than some flighty creature of thirty. So Friday morning Mr. Krick went to see Mr. Bondy and convinced him that the Red Cross has a wonder girl in its midst. Mr. Bondy called Mr. Sayer who has charge of hiring all stenographers for the Red Cross and who is an old friend of mine, told Mr. Sayer to see if Mr. A could be influenced toward letting this phenominon (!) out of his office to go to Iceland. 

Mr. S. called Mr. A. and Mr. Atkinson, all surprised and horrified at the idea of losing me said he would think it over, but believed my work too important for me to be released. Ho-ho. Then he sent me over to see Mr. Sayer. He sent me to be interviewed by Mr. Dinsmore, whom I had seen in connection with going to Panama so he knew me. Then Mr. D. sent me to be interviewed by a Mrs. Thornton, who had been abroad during the last war. Mr. D. was selecting 15 girls, Mrs. T. was going to narrow that down to 8 by interviews, and 5 of them could go. 

Well, Mrs. Thornton was very nice, but I was so excited that I burst a bra strap, for the first time since I was at prep school. When I told her I had a Smith degree, she got pretty excited. It seems that during the last war Smith and the other colleges sent units out to do work in Europe, relief work, I suppose, - and the Smith Unit was very much better than any of the others. 

"Smith girls have such a practical approach," she said. Then when she heard I'd been to Scotland, well, nothing was too good for me. She talked at great length about her experiences in Scotland and by the time the interview was up, she was My Friend. She asked me how old I was, and when I said only 23, she deplored the fact because she had been very firm about insisting on 25 as the very limit, and she said everyone would laugh at her for being so inconsistent, but that my service would be worth a laugh. So she gave my name as one of the 8 to go. 

I was a total wreck by this time, of course, and so puffed up with compliments and good advice that I didn’t know whether I was coming or going. I had lunch with Rosalind and we exploded at each other for a half hour. Then I came back to the office, looking very Mature. 

Finally Mr. Dinsmore called Mr. A. over to his office to help him weed out the five from the eight to go. Much heavy discussion about how did I get on with boys and would my family let me go and have I any horrid diseases and would I get homesick. At last Mr. A. come back and shook hands with me very solemnly and said I was one of the five.

Nancy Duncan reading in Iceland.
Now the only hitch is we have wired the Red Cross workers, or perhaps it’s the Army, asking if they have rooming accommodations for ten more workers, 5 stenographic and 5 special workers. We go as soon as they say they have the space for us, which can't be long. There is some kind of transport leaving from New York on Monday evening. Perhaps N. Duncan shall be on it. 

It is really a beauty of a job. The salary is $135 monthly, and I am getting $120 now. Also the Red Cross provides transportation and maintenance, ie. food and rent. Also, we have to wear uniforms all the time, which means that they provide clothing as well. What does one spend one's salary on? I don’t know what the uniform is, but on top we are going to have tremendous fur lined coats and perfectly ridiculous fur hats and mittens with gloves inside. Another good thing about it is that I will be going with a group of other girls, all older than me, of course, but still better than Franny's act of just up and going. And I will have the best medical care. If I get appendicitis, the Red Cross has to pay for it. And there is no better protection against international incidents than a Red Cross uniform. - And it's part of the agreement that I stay a year. 

I guess that's all I can tell you now. Nothing is definite. Before we go, we shall have to be inoculated, get our uniforms fitted, get passports in order, and take care of many personal items like fond farewells and warm underwear. 

If for any reason I can’t go, it will be all right and I will just be able to bear it, but if I can, it will be straight clover. They ought to tell me tomorrow morning. 

Love and Kisses,

This letter was mailed Friday, December 5, 1941. On Sunday, December 7, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. On Monday, December 8 a record 60 million people turned on their radios to President Roosevelt's speech before Congress. The five-minute speech gave only a few facts regarding Pearl Harbor and called for a declaration of war against Japan. Within an hour the Senate declared war. A half-hour later the House concurred. The one dissenting vote in the House ended the political career of Jeanette Rankin of Montana. Source: David Brinkley, Washington Goes to War)

Copyright 2005 by Curt Taylor

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