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women in the weather bureau during world war 2

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Personal View of Mary E. Coleman Haas

I worked for the Weather Bureau during the years of 1942 through 1952. Entrance into the Service began in my home town of Glasgow, Montana.

Then in early 1944, I saw a notice on the bulletin board which told of the need for women to replace men who were entering the armed services. The notice stated that there were jobs available all over the United States and also the Territory of Alaska.

A bell went off in my head when I read the bulletin. It had always been my mother's dream to go to Alaska. As a matter of fact she and her best girl friend determined to do just that. They saved their money and started out by train from Michigan to cross the country and then go by boat from Seattle to Alaska. Mother was in her early 20s, it was the turn of the century. While visiting her girl friend's brother in Glasgow they found the area to their liking. They obtained jobs, even took out homesteads. They decided to settle in Glasgow, ultimately both married and raised families (they never did get to Alaska).

"So," I thought, "here's my chance to fulfill Mother's dream and mine. What an adventure!" I applied for a transfer. Several months later I received a letter back; I was to be an observer in the Juneau, Alaska, Weather Bureau, and I was to go immediately. You can imagine how I felt. When I told my mother she said, "Goodl Now you can fulfill my dream." My schooling up through high school was in Glasgow. Then I went to St. Catherine's in St. Paul, Minnesota, for two years, studying in the field of liberal arts.

When I resumed to Glasgow I began teaching a first-aid course. Several of the members of the class were in the ammy in the Weather Corps. I listened with fascination to their conversations concerning the weather, how they measured and took data, and the use of various instruments. It stirred something inside me. I wanted to learn more. As it happened, there was a right-school course offering that fall in "weather" and I took it. The title of the course was "Ground School:" That was my first introduction into the specifics of weather reporting.

I learned that there was to be a Weather Bureau started in Glasgow via a friend of the family. He would take weather reports and send them and occasionally I would go and observe him at his work. I made application to the Weather Bureau and took the required Civil Service exam and passed. Several months elapsed but I finally received notice that I had been accepted. I was one of the original staff of the Weather Bureau in Glasgow.

Before actually reporting to work I was sent to Seattle by the Weather Bureau for training. It was a two-month intensive program consisting of studying the Circular N Manual in its entirety, and practical training. We learned to take readings of the clouds; temperatures; we computed the humidity, learned to read the barometer, and to use other instruments. We were exposed to maps and weather charts and learned how to plot them.

As an actual member of the first staff of the Weather Bureau I felt very good. I was well received and treated as an equal. I was glad to have the job, proud to be learning something new. The two years I worked there were good ones. The job was a challenge; I had the feeling of doing something important and very responsible.

My duties were the same both at the Glasgow and the Juneau station. I would take Radiosonde Observations and PIBALs twice a day. I read the temperatures, computed the humidity, measured the precipitation hourly and recorded these via teletype.

There were a lot of pressures not only because of the need to be accurate, but there was the additional pressure of placing the report onto the teletype in the allotted time spot. There was just about a ten-second time interval allotted for each Weather Bureau to place its tape. Sometimes other bureaus would jump into our allotted time. If a report was missed we would file a late report, but it was the shame of the Bureau if one did.

Both in Glasgow and in Juneau there were three shifts so that there was 24-hour coverage. There was the 8 [AMl to 4 [PM] shift, 4 [PM] to midnight, and midnight to 8 a.m. We worked each shift for one week, then when we resumed to work after two days off we would be on the next shift.

Most of the time we worked 40 hours a week, 8-hour days, unless we were shorthanded, which happened frequently in Alaska.

As for morale, it was excellent at both stations. In Alaska we really got along well, even to socializing after working hours. Many friendships were formed, and I still correspond and exchange visits with three Juneau staff women. I married a fellow staff member, Maurice Haas, who was our bureau's meteorologist.

I left the service in the Fall of 1951. I was pregnant with our first child. There's quite a story behind my resignation. The day of my submitted resignation I was on my way to work in a blinding snowstorm. I had the second shift and was on my way to relieve my husband but I never showed up.

I had slid off the road into a ditch in the snowstorm. The terrain was a shear drop off on one side and very rugged, mountainous terrain on the other. Fortunately, I had slid in the direction of the mountainous side.

When I didn't show up for work my husband came searching for me. When he found me he was so upset he insisted that I send my resignation in that very day! That's what I did rather than giving the Bureau the prescribed two-week notice.

High points, well, there are so many. First, I met my husband while working for the Weather Bureau in Juneau. He was on the staff, a meteorologist. We met, courted and married one and a half years later. I became an Alaskan! That in itself was a real adventure, and I fulfilled my mother's dream. I had a good job, a career, good pay including a paid vacation. I can't think of any real low points, maybe wrestling with the helium tanks and those awful times when I missed placing the report into the teletype on time. I remember to this day (and that was 38 years ago) the pressure of inserting that report into the teletype.

As to working for the Weather Bureau during the Second World War, every transmission was sent out in the current International Code; of course we received and had to decode every received message and report. There were decoding books the size of phone books and the code and the books changed periodically.

This was about the only indication of security as we weren't required to carry I.D. cards nor was there any evidence of the Military at the Bureau's station.

In Alaska there was very little rationing, no coupon books, no rationing on gas or cigarettes or shoes. I believe this was because at that time Alaska was still a territory, plus the low density of population.

Would I do it again? Yes, of course I would. It was a wonderful experience, especially for women who were interested in a career. There was not much for us but defense work, so that my having had training in the field of weather allowed me a wonderful opportunity. Then going to Alaska, working under those climate conditions, which I had never experienced before. I felt like a pioneer going to Alaska. All my life, actually, I had lived what I call a "pioneer type" of life. My family went on outings together, we hunted together, fished together. So outdoor life was my preference to living in a city. So in Alaska during those years at the Bureau and thereafter I felt I had carved my niche.

That I was replacing a man who would go into the armed service was definitely a plus. I was very involved in my work. I always tried to do my very best while working. The staff, by the way, at the Juneau office was just about an even ratio, male to female.

My name was Mary E. Coleman when I was employed by the Weather Bureau.

My salary in Glasgow was $1,420.00 annually; that is a little over $100 a month. When I went to Alaska I received a raise to $1,620.00 a year, and I thought I had the world by the tail. For comparative prices, I remember my boat fare, which was five days and included meals, was $65.00. My part of the rent for a shared apartment (with one of the other Weather Bureau girls) was $35.00. Each of us paid about S30.00 a month towards groceries and we ate well! The weather conditions in Alaska made working conditions at the Bureau a challenge every day. If there wasn't a blinding snowstorm then it was the torrential rains, or the black ice which caused, more than once, a van-load of us to reach the station late, or, it was the intense sunlight. I remember one time getting so sunburned taking observations that I had to go to a doctor - I swelled up so badly.

The black ice was always a hazard. And talk about learning to cooperate. The day-shift employees would meet in Juneau, and we would drive out together to the station in the van. I can't even recall how many times we had to get out and push that van until we could get traction. Slipping and sliding on those roads became second nature to us.

Then there was the time I was on duty when we had an earthquake. The weights in the windows rattled, the overhead lights started swaying, and the ground shook. The tremor only lasted for about 30 seconds, but while it was shaking I thought, "Oh, isn't it ever going to stop?" That was my first earthquake.

Coming from the prairies of Montana, I had perhaps been rained on not more than six times in my life, so when I got to Juneau and there was constant rain, I decided that this was one of the few places in the world where one could live under water. We even went on picnics during the rain as the forest areas abounded with covered shelters specifically built for that purpose.

We even built our house in the rain, and when we would hit the nail into the board the water would splat on our faces. Those are just a few of the many experiences I had while working at the Bureau. You couldn't imagine what it was like working in those weather conditions, but the staff made it worth while; we all got along so well, we were one big family.

If I were to sum up my feelings regarding working for the Weather Bureau, I guess that was it, we were one big family. We looked after one another and we were very close, probably because of the dangers we all faced daily going to and from work.

I'm glad I had this time to reflect on those forty years ago and glad to share those memories with others.

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