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women in the weather bureau during world war 2


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Personal View of Susan Sohler

On March 17, 1942, I started working for the U.S. Weather Bureau at the Seattle, Washington, City Office. I was looking for war work and saw several flyers in the Post Office for War Service Appointments. The Post Office advised the work in the Weather Bureau was better. It sounded interesting and it would help in the war effort.

I had been teaching in a one-room country school and doing a little nursing care. The Weather Bureau was desperate for somebody to work as the staff was going to Boeing and the Seattle shipyards for better paying jobs. When it was learned that I had a year of Physics from Wayne State Teachers' College and lived on a farm two miles from Belden, in northeast Nebraska, I was declared highly qualified. Farm folks were deemed more "weatherwise." Actually, they were so desperate any halfway warm body able to breath was acceptable.

I trained on the job for less than two weeks before being given shift assignments. My training was Circular N and the Cooperative Observing Manual. No certification test was taken or required. The other employees were very helpful. However, I was considered somewhat of a curiosity as the first woman to work in the Seattle office. The others were older men and did not look upon me as a threat to their security.

The work was interesting. I liked it, and was anxious to learn. There were so few people, only eight or nine, and we kept busy. The office took observations, plotted and analyzed maps, did climatological work and briefed the newspapers. However, forecasts were not allowed to be given out during the war!

We took measurements, and used the triple register. There were weather records to be kept and monthly and annual publications to print. The sunshine recorder didn't work most of the time, so we watched for shadows to keep track of the minutes of sunshine. The fog climatology was precise; we were always on the lookout for fog, recording the minute it began. It seemed like we were always copying records by hand to send to Washington. I don't know what use they made of them. We were busy all the time.

I plotted one weather map each moming. I started on the map at 5:30 a.m., the beginning of the shift. It was then analyzed by the forecaster. There were three shifts - 5:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., 1:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., and 10:30 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. Later, the 1 to 9 shift was abolished and we had two shifts covering the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. We always worked six days/week and took turns working Sundays.

The morale was all right. There was no socializing and office parties were against the rules during wartime. However, I did receive a box of candy when I left. The older fellows kept at their jobs and there was no griping. Later a college girl joined the staff. I worked for twenty months until March 1, 1944. During that time the college girl quit. Also, another one worked even a shorter time, and, a third, an alcoholic, didn't work out. A fourth woman came just before I left.

I was paid an annual salary of $1440 as a junior observer. My biggest thrill was being promoted in less than a year to assistant observer. The base pay for five days/week (not counting the overtime) was $1875/year. This compared with salaries of over S2400/year that were being paid by Boeing.

The low point of my career was probably when I started. The job seemed complicated and there was a lot to learn. One of my more memorable experiences was when one of the men went to adjust the anemometer on top of a pole on top of a building several blocks away. I was to watch the office register and when it started working signal him by waving. He climbed the pole and made adjustments. Meanwhile, I thought while he was on his way to the pole I could do some work on my desk. I got so wrapped up in my work I forgot he was on the pole waiting for me to wave. I suddenly remembered and waved. He took it well.

Once I forgot to read the weekly crop report to Westem Union. The Washington, D. C., office called the Official in Charge at home at 4 a.m. and wanted to know where the report was. I joined the Navy (WAVES) on March 1st, 1944, for better benefits and the opportunity to travel. However, the benefits didn't seem really that good with the WAVES and the travel, after Aerograph School in Lakehurst, N.J., only took me to Ottumwa, Iowa (which did have the advantage of being closer to home).

Looking back, my impression of working for the Weather Bureau is that it was an enjoyable experience - very satisfying. I would do it again. I enjoyed it. I have pleasant memories. I feel my major contribution was being at work all the time, being dependable, serving the country, and being part of the war effort.

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