View of Bessie Bergman Paul
I was employed by the Weather Bureau from November 9, 1944, until
June 26, 1981, with about a year and a half off - when I was released
through a Reduction in Force (RIP) - the last half of 1953 and all
of 1954. I worked for thirty-five years at Billings and one year at
December 1, 1949, I was Bessie M. Bergman. At that time I married
Theodore E. Paul.
did I work for the Weather Bureau? It was probably in the genes. I
was exposed to the needs of weather observations and forecasts at
a young age from my father's association with aircraft, airports and
airlines. He opened the airport at Lewistown (LWT), Montana, for Inland
Airlines which had just changed its name from Wyoming Air Service.
We lived at the airport there, and my father passed a test to take
weather observations which he transmitted to the Billings Weather
Bureau (it might have been considered a conflict of interest at the
time.) At any rate, because I was interested in the weather observations,
Dad taught me how to estimate wind direction and speed from a "wind
sock." I also learned to read the "altimeter" from the "Kolsman" barometer.
It wasn't called altimeter then, we simply said Kolsman. This was
the pressure reading given at the time for aircraft landings. I also
learned how to read a thermometer for current and maximum and minimum
temperatures. As my Dad was the official weather information person
for the city of Lewistown, the whole town called the airport to find
what the temperature was, be it hot or cold. We had an extension of
the office phone in our living quarters and the entire family would
take turns answering the phone when Dad wasn't available or the office
wasn't officially open. I remember answering the phone one evening
when it was quite cold and receiving a request for the current temperature.
I replied, "minus eight" only to have the additional query, "Is that
above or below zero?"
starting work with the Weather Bureau I was a high school graduate
with four full years of mathematics including College Algebra. I also
had four full years of science including General Science in Jr. High
and biology, chemistry and physics in High School.
result of my excellent grades, particularly in the foregoing subjects,
I was offered a scholarship in Pharmacy at the University of Montana
in Missoula. I decided to see if I would like drug store work so I
applied for and obtained a position at what was then Bennett's Drug
Store (1944.) It was while working there that I learned that the Weather
Bureau needed new employees. While on shift one day at Bennett's Drug
Store, a gal whom I knew from chemistry class in school came in to
cash her check. It was a government check for about $125. We got to
talking, catching up on what had happened since graduation and life
in general. Just before leaving, she said to me, "Hey, Bess, you like
this kind of "junk" that has a lot of math and science in it, why
don't you come up and apply for a job? They are hiring now." Needless
to say, I was up at the airport to secure an application form the
next day. The $125 was an incentive, also, as I was only earning $50
a month at Bennett,s.
Weather Bureau provided excellent training. I, of course, had on-the-job
training. The Head Observer was a former school teacher, as were many
Weather Bureau employees at this time, and she had constructed an
outline to be used as a study guide for Circular "N". I really feel
it was the Head Observer who started me off with the right attitude
toward my work. She set such high standards and instilled in me such
pride in the work I was doing and a deep sense of loyalty to the Weather
Bureau and "My Country" that carried through for me until the day
by Weather Bureau employees was outstanding, especially by the observers.
A few of the forecasters were a little stuffy and much impressed by
their P-ratings. I, of course, had an SP-rating when I started working
and there was a sense of a caste system between P and SP employees.
I think I was a little in awe of all the goings on, but I was impressed
by the precision, competence, and intelligence of the people who were
later to become my friends and cohorts. The morale on the station
was very high, superb, in fact.
duties were to take and record weather observations, which were statutory
regulations as far as the Weather Bureau was concemed. I also took
PIBAL observations, answered phones, sent ceiling balloons, typed
forecasts and sent them over TWX and Westem Union. I changed the charts
on barographs, thermographs, and rain gauges to mention a few. I checked
the water each week in the batteries of the triple register. One fun
thing and probably why the female employees were encouraged to wear
slacks; we climbed the 33 or 34 foot pole atop the Ad Building on
which was perched the anemometer to read how many miles of wind had
blown by Billings every Monday morning at 9 a.m. We changed the 75
pound helium tanks when necessary, we changed the ring setting on
the sunshine gauge in season, you name it, we did it, because that
was part of the job.
Billings was a forecast center and we had an administrative staff
plus forecasters and observers. The forecasters and admin employees
were all men except for the secretary. The observation staff was all
female. Out of twenty five people, I suppose about eight were female.
on duty as an SP-3, November 9, 1944. This was the year I graduated
from high school and I was 18 years of age. My salary was $1440.00
per annum and we were paid once a month. We did a little better than
this as we got some overtime on those 54-hour weeks. I felt like I
was very rich because I had almost tripled my wages from the drug
on rotating shifts. We worked six weeks at a time on the same shift.
We had a variety of shift beginnings and endings. The hours were mainly
set up to handle the synoptic and PIBAL observations smoothly. Particularly
the PIBALs, because two people on PIBALs ensured a speedier run for
plotting and encoding. Mainly I worked 8 and 9-hour days. We routinely
worked 48 and 54-hour weeks.
high point in my career other than when I was first hired was when
I passed the test for GS-7 and was allowed to remain in Billings as
an observer-briefer when the Forecast Center moved to Great Falls.
This was April 1, 1953.
for the Weather Bureau during World War II, I felt patriotic and important.
I felt I was very much a part of the war effort and felt very good
about it. Yes, I would do it again! I believe it was my destiny and
I was born to do this type of work. I truly enjoyed my work and the
time I worked was gone before I knew it. It seemed much more like
days than years that I worked, even considering I worked shifts.
that by my work I proved that women were just as capable of doing
this job as men. In fact, more capable in some cases. I also, at the
time, released a man to go fight at the front and this was part of
the hype of going to work for the U.S. Government at that time.