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women in the weather bureau during world war 2


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Personal View of Virginia Tredinnick Denmark

The following is an account of how I happened to go to work for the U.S. Weather Bureau during World War II. I started work in April, 1942, just two months after the Department of Commerce inaugurated the policy of using women as assistant weather observers. I worked at the Bureau under my maiden name - Virginia Tredinnick.

I had graduated from Washington University in June, 1938, and had been working as a secretary for the Family Service Society in St. Louis. One day I received a phone call from the university employment agency asking if I would be interested in an unusual job at the airport. When I said "Yes", they went on to tell me that it would be at the weather station at Lambert Field. So I called and arranged to go out for an interview.

The requirements were that I have an A.B. Degree with math through calculus and a year of physics. I was interviewed by the Official in Charge (OIC). I was accepted for the job which I thought was a secretarial jobl The OIC had not had a secretary, so he made good use of my talents for several weeks - getting his files in order, etc. Then one day one of the men told me when I came to work that he was to teach me how to make radiosonde observations and handed me a copy of "Circular P", the instruction book. He also showed me a rather large piece of equipment which he said I would learn to use!

Virginia Denmark photo
Virginia Denmark (at map desk)" and another Weather Bureau employee plotting weather maps at St. Louis Missouri (1945). Telephone equipment in center of room had to be circled when taking observations.

I had wondered why it always seemed that some of the employees were there when I got to work and some stayed on the afternoon. When I finally asked, I found out that people worked shifts and that there was another girl who had recently been employed who was working from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. making this night observation and I was to make the day observation. Things finally began to make sense! Ann was still going to college so she worked the night shift and I was hired to do the day shift. Releasing the big balloon in a high wind was a real challenge as was trying to get one aloft in rain or snow. Launching a radiosonde during high winds (1945) at St. Louis.

Launching a radiosonde
Photo provided by Virginia Denmark.

On-the-job training at that time was all that was available. In a few months they decided to lower the qualifications to high school graduates with math and physics credits. By December of 1943 there were four girls and we began being trained to take surface observations. All training was done on the station at that time, but latter a training center was set up in Kansas City at the Regional Office. By 1945 there were eleven people on the station, including the OIC, and five were women.

Training class picture
Photo provided by Virginia Denmark.

We changed shifts weekly -- day shift, evening, and mid-shifts. We worked eight hours a day, six and seven days a week at first; eventually five and six days. As I recall, the pay was $1440 a year.

As I recall, the men usually worked as forecasters with the Flight Advisory Weather Service (PAWS), while the women did the observational work. But later some of us did "adaptive forecasting", and I recall the shocked voices of pilots calling in for a forecast and getting a woman!

With one or two exceptions the men accepted us and were helpful in training us and working with us on shifts. Bill Denmark became the 1st Assistant to the OIC in 1944 and I left the Weather Service in June, 1946, to "marry my boss". Bill continued to work for the Weather Service, becoming a State Climatologist in 1961 and retired in June, 1971. The Weather Bureau was an interesting place to work. It was a most interesting job which made other jobs uninteresting. We sort-of felt we were "keeping them flying," and that was important. The morale on station was good most of the time. It is difficult to say what would be the high or low points of my career. I enjoyed forecasting. There was no particular low point. Would I do it again? Yes - weather is a most interesting subject -never two days the same.

Probably about 1944 several Air Force officers moved into an office next to us as a forecast unit and of course we worked with them. In extremely cold weather they would lend us one of their leather and sheep-lined flight jackets when we had to go up on the roof to take "pilot balloon observations". A number of military flights came through St. Louis and some stopped off. One B-17 pilot, a colonel, used to bring his dachshund with him. He said that he couldn't understand why the dog was friendly with us when he didn't really like women! We told him it was probably confused by our wearing slacks.

There was a primary training base for the Navy on one side of the field and they practiced landings and take-offs. One day when I was releasing one of the big balloons with the radiosonde attached, I let it go into the air just as one of the little biwing planes was landing. I was working with one of the men from the city office who wanted to learn about the observations. We got a "red light" from the office meaning that we needed to change a setting on the instrument, so when we got the "green light" I forgot to check the control tower which now had a red light on me!!

Virginia with a balloon

There was no harm done, but the Controller didn't mince words!! I came across a copy of a photo taken of me by a local newspaper photographer for a full-page picture in the rotogravure section on December 19, 1943. As a result of that picture I became "the pin-up girl" for an Air Force Weather Squadron in Africa.

The mother of one of the boys sent him the picture and they voted me "the girl they would most like to spend an afternoon with on a white altocumulus cloud"!! I recall that the Post ran a series of pictures and articles in the section entitled "St. Louis Women in the War Effort".

I understand that I was the second woman to be hired by the "Weather Bureau" in the country. The first woman was hired in St. Louis two weeks before.Regional Office observation training class for new Weather Bureau employees at Seattle, Washington (1943). Photograph provided by Virginia Denmark. Weather Bureau employees at Lambert Field (St. Louis) in 1946.

Weather Bureau employees at Lambert Field
Photo provided by Virginia Denmark.

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