Joan Bowman

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Personal narrative of Joan Bowman
From: Joan Bowman (jb)
Medium: Audio Tape
Date: Wednesday, May 5, 1999
Place: Home of Joan Bowman, 1304 S Race St. Marion, Indiana 46952
Collected by: Doug Barton (db)

0:00 db: I am Doug Barton, this is May 5, 1999. This is being recorded at 1304 Race Street, and I am speaking with Joan Bowman. Please state your name, Joan.

jb: Joan Bowman.

db: Do I have your permission to interview you?

jb: Yes.

db: Do I have your permission to submit this interview to Marion High School?

jb: Yes.

db: Do I have your permission to submit this interview to the Marion Public Library?

jb: Yes.

Oral History of Joan Bowman

Growing Up

0:23 db: Okay, I’m just going to start out by asking you about normal, everyday life in Marion during the 1940s. Uh, can you tell me some about your family?

jb: Well I have two sisters; I have five brothers. And I had a brother that went to the service and a mother and father. And he worked at the Marion machine foundry. And my mother was a stay-at-home parent. And my everyday life was, well, just like a normal family with a brother gone and, well, just an everyday, nice life, I would say.

Living in a Mixed Neighborhood

db: You had, so you say that your life was pretty pleasant back then?

jb: Oh, I would say so. I didn’t have any problems at all. We lived in a mixed neighborhood, and we got along with everybody. And when I went to school, like as of today, when we would have our little fights with one another - well, what you might would call a racial fight - but anyhow now and then it was just a fight. Now they want to call it more or less a, a racial fight or, or a riot or something or other, and then it was just a fight among our friends or our enemies or whoever.


1:45 db: Okay, uhm, can you tell me any special stories? I know you had mentioned before about, uh, going to the supermarket and stuff and when things were rationed. Can you remember anything about that?

jb: Oh, yes, uh, I can remember the cigarettes was rationed and sometimes you would, could get a named brand and then sometime it would be an off-brand. And you would have to have the coupons to purchase sugar and flour and butter. And as I say, uh, the butter wasn’t actually butter. It was oleo and you had a little, uhm, yelluh packet that you would take that out and mix it in with your oleo and that would make it the yelluh color. And other things that wasn’t, well, like I stated, the sugar, the flour, and the butter was the most that was rationed. The milk and what not, it really wasn’t, but potatoes, it wasn’t.

db: So was it, was it that difficult to get things, or . . .

jb: Yes, if you didn’t have the coupons when it come to the sugar and the butter and the flour, you just didn’t, weren’t able to purchase it.

Remembering the War

2:53 db: Uh huh. Now do you remember, uhm, the war at all, like when it started?

jb: Oh, I can remember. It started on a Sunday. I can remember walking across McCulloch school yard, and they said that the, the, the bomb, the, Pearl Harbor was being bombed by Japan. And I can remember that it seemed like. It was a nice, sunny Sunday afternoon when I received that information.

db: How long after that did your brother, uh, was he sent to service?

jb: Hmm, well, it might have been a year or two, I’m not quite sure. I’m not that good on d-, remembering dates (laugh).

Passing the Time with Friends

3:30 db: Oh, that’s fine. Uhm, what were your normal pastimes with your friends?

jb: Oh, we would go to one another’s house and we’d have a, uh, record player and we would play records and we would dance and pop popcorn and make fudge and just. We didn’t have any cars that we could go around in. Most transportation was walking or bicycles. And that’s pretty much what we did, especially on a Sunday evening after we would go to our s-, uh, our evening church group meeting. Then we’d more or less congregate and get together, do things like that.

db: So, was there a lot of segregation and discrimination in Marion back then?

jb: Yes, yes, then and it’s getting a lot better now than what it was then but, yes, there was. Yes.

db: Uhm, you had mentioned something before about the theaters, how they were segregated during . . .

db: Oh, yes, I can remember we didn’t have much money; but when we did get to go to the theaters, we, as a race, had to always sit upstairs in the balcony or in the very back of the theater. Of course, that has all changed now.

Writing the Soldiers (V-mail)

4:46 db: Okay, uhm, now you had talked something about communicating with the soldiers?

jb: Oh, yes, uhm, I don’t know. I can’t hardly describe it but it wasn’t exactly, it was, you would write the letter and I guess it might have been due to the fact that it would take less space if they would put it on a photograph paper and send it called V-mail (I think that’s what it was called). And it would still be your handwriting, but I think it would more or less photograph somehow or other. I don’t know how it, to explain it any better than what I can say it looked like it was photographed.

Learning What Soldiers Ate from Her Brother

db: Okay, now do you remember when your brother, uh, came back from the war?

jb: Hmmm.

db: Do you remember any stories about that?

jb: Oh, well, the one incident I can remember was when, uh, my mom fixed him some meal. I don’t know whether it was breakfast or dinner or whatever, but anyhow he ate some, uhm, molded bread. And she said, “Well, you don’t have to eat that!”

And he said, “Well, I’ve eaten worse than this.” (laughter)

Working as an Elevator Operator

5:49 db: Okay, and, uhm, we had talked about work. Now, do you remember working at all?

jb: Hmm, yes, I can remember working, uh, elevator operator at, uh, Marion National Bank. And that was pretty much my job.

db: How old were you when that-

jb: I think I was eighteen. I think I was eighteen then when I worked there.

Meeting Her Husband

db: Yeah, now can you tell me a little bit of how, uh, you met your husband?

jb: Oh, my husband. I met him in Gary and he was in the service and I think we had corresponded with one another back and forth at least about a year. And then we got married in Gary. And from Gary went to, uh, Fort Knox, Kentucky, and that was our first home, Fort Knox, Kentucky. And then we stayed there a couple years or so, and my daughter was born at Fort Knox. And, let’s see, what else, oh, after he had to go back overseas, then I came back to Marion. And, I don’t know, I kind of get worked up about that. Anyhow we, uh, came back to Marion, I did and my daughter. And then the different times that we did travel I lived at Fort Devan in Massachussets, and Watertown, New York, and Rhode Island and Vermont during the time that he was in the service.

db: So, he was, he traveled quite a bit.

jb: Yeah he st-, yes, yes, he stayed and I, well, in fact, uh, after we divorced, he did retire from the service. I can remember he must have spent about thirty years or so in the service. And, uh, we divorced even before that. So he did make a career out of the army.

Playing Pranks

Disabling Streetcars

7:49 db: Okay, is there anything else you can remember?

jb: Yes, I can remember the streetcars. Well, the, some people call them trolly cars, but I guess I would say streetcars. And, uh, especially, uh, when we would go to school, we would ride the streetcars. And sometimes we would walk to school 'cause the high school was downtown on Nelson Street. And I can remember, too, especially around Halloween time, when, uh, the kids would play pranks 'cause the little trolly cars - they run on a cable like [sic]- and they would take the, when the street car would stop to pick up passengers, sometimes the kids would get, when they’d get off the streetcar, they would pull this trolly cable off of the track, up, you know up above (laughter). And the lights would all go out, and the motorman, he would have to get off and go out and hook that, uh, cable back up so that the car could move.

And another thing, they had it so the seats, they would turn. If you were going north and you got ready to go south, the seats, you could pull the back of the seat up so that you wouldn’t have to turn the seat completely around. You just pull the back up so that you would be facing in the opposite direction when, when the motorman got ready to go. And then he would come from the other end. In fact, I guess you would say that he could operate it from both ends 'cause he would take his little tools, or whatever it was, and you would flip those seats over. And then he’d go to the other end and you would still be facing behind him and he would be at the other end and just drive like that. I don’t know, it’s kind of a hard thing to explain how it operated, but they didn’t have to get out of the, the streetcar to, for to operate with their little tools. And I can remember that.


And even the kids nowadays, when we’d go out trick-or-treating, uh, well, I can remember some of the fellas, they would, uhm, throw corn on the porches and what not and they would run and knock on the doors. And when people would come to the door, they couldn’t, they couldn’t see them 'cause they would run and hide and they didn’t know, you know, who it was. And then, I don’t, they really didn’t do too much harm.

Toppling Outhouses

And I can remember also, when they had the outhouses, they would - it’s kind of terrible though - go out and turn those houses over and then when you got ready to go out there, well there your outhouse is turned over. That wasn’t very nice, but it really wasn’t, you know real harmful, we didn’t do anything.

Soaping Windows

We would soap the windows on the people’s houses. Didn’t do anything to the cars, though, because it’s so hard to get soap and whatnot off of the cars so we didn’t do anything to the cars but mostly the homes. We’d soap the windows and whatnot.

Saving Lunch Money: Everyone Did It.

10:55 db: Uhm, what about the, uh, you told me about saving the lunch money?

jb: Oh, when, uhm, our lunch money, we didn’t have a whole lot of money so we would save our lunch money so that we would have money to go to the show and buy popcorn and and things of that nature. But in that day and time we all were more or less the same. We wasn’t rich, and we wasn’t poor. We all were the same, and we didn’t know any difference because you didn’t, your family didn’t have any more than my family had and we just, well we just felt like we were all the same.

db: Was there a lot of differences in, uhm, say like white people and black people like in the way they dressed or the people they hang out with? Was it like a larger group, or were you mainly mixed in together?

11:44 jb: Well, I really don’t think that there was that much difference in our dress because didn’t none of us have too much to, you know, say that one had any more than the other.

Dressing like a Girl: No Slacks or Shorts

I would say the dress code was pretty much - but here’s one thing I do remember. We was not able to wear slacks or pants in school and definitely no shorts. And I can remember when, uh, in the winter time, if we wore slacks or pants to school, we had to take them off. We couldn’t wear them around in the school. And shorts was completely out. Nowadays, I guess anything that you want to wear you can, but they had more or less a dress code, especially not wearing pants in school.

db: Who? Uh-

jb: (inaudible) Girls.

db: Girls

jb: The girls, yes, uh-huh. The girls couldn’t wear pants or shorts or anything like that to school. We did not have air conditioning. We had to raise the windows. If we got any air at all, we’d have to raise the windows. And, uhm, well, after school if you had to stay in, well, you just had to stay in. And then you’d be questioned when you got home, “Why did you have to stay? Why wasn’t you here on time?”

Walking in All Kinds of Weather

db: Uh, now you talked about Halloween, can you remember any other special stories? Maybe about Christmas time, what it was like here in Marion during winter?

13:17 jb: Hmmm, well we had a lot of snow, and we didn’t have any snow days. We had to go to school regardless as to what the weather was like. I don’t care how cold or how bad it was. We didn’t have buses either and no cars. If the parents had cars, they would, you know, drop you off to school; and you’d more or less have to walk home.

And as I lived close enough that I could always go home for lunch, and I didn’t have to stay other than when I went to high school. It was far enough away that I had, I had to walk or ride the streetcar. And we had three meals a day at home.



db: Uhm, is there any other place that you worked during the forties?

14:19 jb: Oh, I worked at, at Farnsworth and I can’t remember what year that was but anyhow it was Farnsworth and then RCA. And, and, of course, they, since RCA they’ve had, uh, GE, General Electric and, uh, Thompson now I guess it is.

db: And what did they make?

jb: Uh, at, uh, Farnsworth we made, uh, the radios. We, they had little resistors. We had to wire those, uh, radios. Then they were radios and s-, after that (inaudible) RCA bought it and they started making television tubes. And that’s pretty much what they’re doing out there now, today. GE had it and then Thompson and they make your television tubes out there now.

db: Were there a lot of women working during the war?

jb: Yes, yes, uh, that’s when women actually went out of the home and started working was during the war.

Domestic Work

Prior to that they were more or less home, and some of them did domestic work. And, uh, family homes that had money, some of the women, uh, went to work cleaning their houses and taking care of their children and –

db: Did your mother end up going to work or did, was your father home?

16:02 jb: No, my father was home. Once in a while she would take in ironings to help with the finances. People would bring, uh, their ironings, washings and ironings, and she would do the washing and laundry and then the ironings I would say. And then they would come and pick them up and pay her. But she didn’t too much work outside the home.