The A to Z Challenge asks bloggers to post 26 posts, one for each letter of the English alphabet, in April. Most of us choose to make these posts on a particular theme. My theme for 2022 is Codebreaking in World War II, which fits with the topic of the novel that I’m writing. Visit every day (except Sunday) in April for a new post on my topic.
G is for Goucher College
During World War II, both industry and government needed women to work during World War II. There was fierce competition for the best workers.
Women’s colleges were a prime place for recruiting, especially for jobs that required the ability to work at a desk for long periods of time, for jobs that required knowledge of languages, or for jobs that required a scientific mindset.
One of those colleges was Goucher, based in Baltimore, Maryland. According to Code Girls by Liza Mundy, Goucher “was known for the caliber of its science departments.” (p. 6)
After Pearl Harbor, the best students in the senior class (Class of ’42) were asked if they liked crossword puzzles and if they were engaged to be married. If the answer to the first was ‘yes’ and to the second was ‘no,’ they were invited to participate in a secret course. If they passed the course (and many didn’t), they would be given Navy civilian jobs upon graduation doing work that was vital to the war effort.
They learned the history of codes and ciphers and completed weekly problem sets. They were taught the frequency of letters that appear in English texts and to recognize frequently paired letters or strings of three (like –ing). All their work was kept hidden from other students who weren’t in the secret course.
The Navy, Army, and other codebreaking government agencies had to compete with industry to get women workers. Chemists were needed in lots of companies that were providing material for the war effort – Hercules Powder, Lever Brothers, Amstrong Cork. Aircraft companies needed engineers. Mathematicians calculated trajectories for ballistics manufacturers and ran early analog computers at MIT.
Not that this changed the fundamental sexism of the era. This is from Code Girls:
One electrical company asked for twenty female engineers from Goucher, with the added request, “Select beautiful ones for we don’t want them on our hands after the war.” (p. 29)
In other words, the company counted on the women getting married to free up the jobs for the returning men.
The Navy paid women less than men with the same qualifications doing the same work.
To learn more about students recruited from women’s colleges like Goucher to work in the Navy and the Army, I recommend Code Girls by Liza Mundy.