Mary Jane Downing
Personal narrative of Mary Jane Downing (mjd)
From: Mary Jane Downing
Medium: Audio tape
Date: Thursday, April 29, 1999
Place: Home of Mary Jane Downing, 1019 W. 5th Street. Marion, Indiana 46953
Collected by: Alison Fessenden (af)
00:00 af: I am Alison Fessenden. This is Thursday, April 29th, 1999. I am recording this at 1019, 5th Street. Marion, Indiana. I am talking with Mary Jane Downing. Please state your name.
mjd: Mary Jane Downing
af: Do I have permission to interview you?
mjd: Yes you do.
af: Do I have permission to submit this interview to Marion High School?
mjd: Yes you may.
af: Do I have permission to submit this interview to the Marion Public
mjd: Yes you may.
00:34 af: What are your memories of WW2 and how they effected Marion, or your
mjd: I had two brothers, who had to be drafted, uhh, had I been a boy, I would have been the first to go because my age group was the first age group that was taken, but my brothers both had to go, both of them had to drop out of college to go to the war. There was no choice, they had to go, but things were so different in WW2 because everybody was patriotic. It was their duty, they wanted to go, they knew the dangers that faced them, they knew that many of them wouldn’t come back and yet, they knew they had to do it for their country. There was none of this, you know not going because they didn’t believe in it, and so on, there were a few conscientious objectors, but not very many. Uhh, not like there were in the Vietnam, uhh, conflict--not at all and, many of my classmates from highschool never came back from the war. My older brother, who, oh, I don’t know how many missions over Germany--he was stationed in England and his wife was living with us. She had a baby while he was over seas and many of the men who flew the missions with him, did not return, but he was lucky enough and came back, and it seems to me like he flew forty missions- it was an awful lot –and, of course, we were all elated when WW2 was over, in Euorpe because we knew he was going to get to come home, and he didn’t have to go to the South Pacific, uhh, one of the men killed in the bombing of Pearl Harbor was a neighbor of ours, and there were a lot of things that we couldn’t have to use at home because everything went to the war effort- gasoline was rationed, you had very little gasoline to drive a car, people in Marion used the street cars, ‘cause that’s what we had and you didn’t drive your car only for real necessities, and people went to work- I was teaching school and I went to Lincoln School from my home on South Washington Street and transferred downtown from one street-car to another. I went out there to Lincoln School on a street-car. (Cough). Uhh, Food was rationed—there--sugar was in short demand, uhh, fats like butter and that sort of thing, (cough) meat was rationed, you could only get so much meat per person. You got so much depending on how many people were in your family. (Cough) Pardon me. The rationing books were issued by teachers, uhh, at the shcools where you taught, and it was a volunteer effort, but everybody did it. I remember rationing one family, the mother couldn’t even speak English, and the little fourth grade kid that I had told the mother what the rationing was all about. The mother, you know, because she couldn’t speak English—they were Spanish. Uhh, under rationing there were things…. There were no new cars about, everybody had to make their old cars run. Umm . . .nylon hose had just come on the market, and there were, they weren’t available, you just couldn’t go in and buy ‘em and if you had, and of course everybody shopped downtown, there weren’t any malls, and if you’d see a line of people, you’d usually get in it, because usually they were selling nylon hose, and if you saw a line at a hosiery store, oh you got in line and you bought hose if you possibly could because if you didn’t need them, your mother, or your sister, or somebody else possibly did and people a lot of times had to wear cotton hose, which wasn’t what we were accustomed to, but it was all we had. Uhh, I don’t know, I’m deviating a lot. Uhh, one thing I do remember—in those times, during the war, in the forties, WW2 times, women didn’t wear slacks.
mjd: Nobody wore slacks- even- when my husband died in ’65 women still were not wearing slacks much. If you wore slacks, you had to have a uhh, an outfit, a jacket, that matched your pants—and there were no Reebok’s.
mjd: No tennis shoes, (laugh) and my husband wouldn’t--didn’t ever want me ever to wear slacks except when I was working in the yard. I could not go to the grocery or leave the house in slacks, and he wasn’t a prude. It was just that women didn’t do that. Women in those times, when you went to church you wore a hat, you wore dress gloves--even in the summertime you wore white gloves to church, and a hat. Uhhh, let’s see—let’s get back to WW2—what else do I know?
07:30 af: What about McCarther?
mjd: Oh, General McCarther—I admired him greatly and I was really upset with Harry Truman (laugh) for forcing him out. Uhh, I think McCarther knew more about what should have been done over there than Truman did when the, uhh, the war in umm, the Pacific theater was uhh, very brutal and I was awfully glad when they did drop the A-bomb. I know a lot of people were killed but something had to be done to stop that violence over there and it had to be drastic measures and I was very much in favor of it. It was a horrible thing I know. Let’s see the war was over in May or June in Europe and it wasn’t over until July or August in the Pacific area. I was married that summer the war ended in 1945 and it was a happy time that we knew that our soldiers were going to be coming home.
09:00 af: How did the town react, like when all of the soldiers came home?
mjd: I don’t remember that there were any big celebrations. There may have been, but I don’t remember about them. I don’t remember any big parades—I remember that we read the newspapers, because that was before there was very much television. We didn’t have television in our home ‘till probably uhh, early to mid fifities and some people had it before we did and I know there were big celebrations in places like New York and big cities uhhh, when the soldiers returned from the war and everybody was really happy but uhh, well it was nice to know that we could get on with our lives and it seemed like during the war everything was kind of on hold because of the limitations of supplies that people needed. There were, I remember if I’d want to make a pie—I was thinking about food primarily—we had so little sugar that if you made an apple pie you could buy a box of uh . . . pudding mix, and that wasn’t rationed and you could use that to sweeten the apples to make a pie (laugh) and uhh, I remember primarily meat, sugar-oh coffee was rationed --because I remember some families that didn’t use much coffee--you might get a Christmas present of a stamp to buy—you see you had to have a stamp, a ration book gave you stamps and then you took the stamps to the grocery and you could buy what you wanted if you had the stamps. So sometimes if you wanted to do something nice for somebody you’d give them a sugar stamp, or a coffee stamp—
af: Ohh . . .
mjd: or a shoe stamp or gasoline stamps and then they could go buy what they needed. Uhh, but if you didn’t have a stamp you couldn’t buy it even if you had the money. That’s the way the rationing worked. And . . .
af: Did the rationing or the stamps stay much longer after the war?
mjd: Oh no, no, as soon as, shortly after the war they ended. Uh . . . I’m trying to think—coffee and sugar were big things. You could buy canned vegetables—we didn’t have, of course, the fresh produce year round that we have today—that wasn’t available. Oh . . . you could buy oranges and apples and bananas—that kind of thing—uhh, one thing that was different, several of my friends—women—enlisted in WW2 and that was the very first that women would enlist—and I had some friends who enlisted and uh, some of them became officers and so on, but women at that time-there was no combat for women
af: Ohh . . .
mjd: I think there is now.
mjd: but at that time, and that was the very first, and they were in the airforce and I had friends in the navy. Uhh, different universities like down at IU, they had training schools for recruits and – I know, well, my brother, one of them took meteroligical trianing out at the university of Iowa, and I remember my parents going by Greyhound bus out to visit him in Iowa, and that’s a long bus trip (laugh)
mjd: but that was the only way to get there because we didn’t have gasoline enough to buy a car and everyone was driving old cars because you couldn’t buy new ones and sometimes your old cars weren’t real dependable (laugh)
mjd: I remember we had a little Ford coupe, I think it was a 32 model, and we sold it during the war, and we had driven that I don’t know how much, and we got more out of it when we sold then we had paid for it, and you know we’d had it five or six years
af: Oh, (laugh)
mjd: but cars, there just weren’t cars, and , now if you wanted to travel, I remember we went to Florida, my husband’s job took us down there, that was before the war, I . . .we were married a year before the war was over, weren’t we, I remember when we down there on the train and the soldiers all got preference on the train to civilians, and we had to stand up from Indianapolis to Cincinnati because there weren’t enough seats on the train it was that crowded.
mjd: and we finally got seats when we got to Cincinnati and then we took turns going to the dining car so the other one could stay and save our seat on the train (laugh)
mjd: or we would have lost our seats and of course there was no way of getting pullman or anything like that. Let’s see, what else do you want to know, Alison, I don’t know whether I’m telling you the right things or not
15:19 af: Umm, how was the economy different from like when you were
mjd: oh, of course I grew up during the depression and uh, war times were, there was a lot more money, lots more money—nothing like there is now and people didn’t have credit cards, and nobody charged anything—you didn’t buy anything unless you had the money, and, but, but, there were, because of the war effort there were a lot of jobs available—jobs making things for the soldiers. Uhh, they made jeeps here in Marion, out uh, west, and umm, there were plenty of jobs if you wanted to take a job, umm. . . oh, another thing I remember was umm, everybody gave blood that was at all able, physically, because they needed to send blood over seas for the soldiers who were wounded and there were always blood drives, and I remember how upset I was because they wouldn’t take my blood because I was too thin. Times have changed. (laugh)
mjd: But you had to weigh, I think 100 pounds, and I didn’t, and uh, but everybody was very patriotic to give blood. I remember my parents gave blood and uh, I wanted to and was quite upset when I couldn’t because I did have two brothers in the service. See I lost one brother in an airplane crash he, he was in the airforce up in the Allusion Islands. He was twenty-four years old and that was a real tragedy, just a personal tragedy.
mjd: That had nothing, you know,
17:34 mjd: Uh, my mother died in 1943. She had a terrible infection and it was before the days of sulfa or penicillin. Now, sulfa and penicillin were both developed during WW2 and there was nothing to fight infection and so she was ill for about a week, but um, sulfa and penicillin were both available after WW2 and they had not been before and those were great strides in medicine because there was very little to fight infections, no antibiotics, um,
18:22 af: You mentioned the blood drives, were there any other type of um,
mjd: Oh, war bond, war bond drives, people were, bought a lot of war bonds, and even . . .
af: How did those work?
mjd: Well, you could, if you had the money you could go to the bank and buy them, of course, but then they’d have drives and, oh, different industries would see if they couldn’t sell more bonds than other industries, you know, there was great competition and they even sold ‘em, I think you could buy them by buying, children could pay twenty-five cents a week and, you know, eventually get a twenty-five dollar bond for paying, what was it, seventeen-fifty or something, uh, if they could accumulate, children with quarters could accumulate seventeen-fifty, then they could buy a twenty-five dollar war bond. And they did, children did a lot of that. Let’s see, what else do you want to know?
19:24 af: Were there any, that you knew of, how were the race relations during the forties?
mjd: I don’t remember it being a big issue, but in more recent years, when I have talked to some of my black friends, I realize it was. I remember when I began teaching, I had never been around black children at all, and I taught in a school where there were quite a few blacks and it was, uh, the blacks were very, very poor, most of them were not educate very much, now I remember when I was in highschool there a few blacks in my class, but there was never any, I wasn’t aware of the problems, I’m sure there were problems, but I wasn’t aware of it. I remember two or three of the blacks, though, in my highschool class who were very good students, and were, I don’t know that they were ever abused, they may have been, but I didn’t know it.
20:53 af: You said when you started teaching, did you have any difficulty trying to get the job, or once you got the job was it . . .
mjd: Uh, yea, I had a little trouble getting, the first, I was ready to teach and there weren’t any jobs and so they said oh, we can use you as a secretary in one of the junior high schools and I worked there for a year before I got a teaching job, but when I started teaching, discipline was an entirely different thing, kids were paddled with a wooden paddle by the principal if they misbehaved, umm . . I also had forty five kids in a classroom. . .
mjd: Forty five kids was an awful lot of kids; and it was very difficult; and you had no special teachers for art, or music, or phys-ed, you did it all. Uh, there was no um, lunch served in the schools, in the elementary schools, where I was teaching, lunch was not served there. The kids all walked to school, uh, they went home for lunch. Our school did not even have a telephone
mjd: It wasn’t, now the high school and the junior high’s had telephones, but most of the elementary schools did not have telephones and most of them the principals would sometimes do part-time teaching.
af: Hmm . . .
mjd: It was a different ball-game than it is now, completely, uh, we did have kindergarten, half-day kindergarten in all the elementary schools, but there were no speech therapists, no counselors, nothing like that, that they have today. Don’t they have people who, oh, check the homes of kids and so on? We didn’t have that, we did have one attendance officer, for the whole city and she would come around once and a while and uh, we would report to the principal any severe attendance problems we had and she would make a call at the home, but uh, nothing like you have now, and of course uh, no computers (laugh).
24:02 af: (laugh) Um, what about women principals?
mjd: Well, when I went to junior high school, we had a women principal, Catherine Burton, out at McCulloch, and she’d been pricipal out there for a long time. Martin Boots’s assistant principal was a woman, uh, most of the elementary schools had women principals, uh, the high school, and then, at that time we only had two junior high’s—one had a man, the other one had a woman, high school had a man—I don’t know whether there were even assistant principals at the high schools, maybe there was. I don’t remember
24:52 af: Were the teachers mainly women, or were there men teachers, also?
mjd: It was uh, in the high school there was a pretty good balance between men and women, there were quite a few women, quite a few men, uh, elementary teachers were primarily all women teachers, uh, junior high had a mix of men and women.
25:17 af: Um, when the students would graduate, would more girls graduate than guys, or were you not really aware of that?
mjd: I don’t remember, Alison, I don’t remember—uh, probably not nearly as many went to college in those times, following graduation, but of course, um, a lot of women at that time they said, “Why should I go to college, I’m just gonna get married and keep house and have kids. There’s no point in me going to college.” Well, now, I didn’t think that way.
mjd: And I was determined I’d go to college, and I did, even though I had to work and pay my own tuition, and so on, to get through school and I couldn’t always go to school one semester after another because you had to make some money to go.
mjd: Uh, kids didn’t borrow money like they do now to go to college.
af: Approximately how much was college? (laugh)
mjd: Oh, you won’t believe this uh, a semester at Indian University, the tuition, as I recall, was in the neighborhood of 75 dollars a semester.
af: Oh (laugh)
mjd: 150 dollars a year, tuition.
af: WOW (laugh)
mjd: Uh, and I don’t remember that books were so expensive. My grandson at Purdue, last semester, paid 500 dollars for one semester’s books
af: That’s expensive!
mjd: I don’t know what ‘ees tuition was, but um, yea, tuition was cheap (laugh)
27:27 af: Um, earlier you had mentioned about transportation, about the train and
um, street cars. . . what were . .
mjd: We had street cars in Marion.
af: What were those like?
mjd: Well, you’ve seen uh,
af: Like, where did they run?
mjd: Oh, they went up and down Washington Street, from Matter Park, south to the college and they stopped downtown. They also uh, when they came south on Washington Street they turned and went east on 30th and went out to the Veteran’s Hospital, those, the one went to the college and the other one went to the Veteran’s Hospital, going south. Going north there was just one line down Washington Street and it went, in the summer-time to Matter Park, in the winter-time it stopped at the Highland Avenue bridge, uh, going east there were no street cars, but street cars came up third street and turned north on D and went out on Spencer and made a loop around some of the factories that were well, now you would say west of the by-pass, and they made a loop around oh, and came back on Jefferies, or, I don’t remember exactly, but they made a loop around the factories and then came back down Spencer and D street and down 3rd street, downtown, and then there was one that went, oh I forgot about that one, there was one went south on Washington Street to 9th Street and turned west and went out as far as the Mallable, which is the Miller Ave.—and that is what I rode when I first taught school, because I didn’t have a car, and during the war you couldn’t get gasoline, anyway.
af: Um, how much did they cost?
mjd: A nickel (laugh) a ride
mjd: And you could get a transfer for free, you know if you wanted to go, you know if you lived south and you wanted to go west, you’d take the street car downtown and get off the street car with a transfer and wait ‘till a train, a street car came that took you where you wanted to go west. Now, you’d walk part of the time because the street cars didn’t go except where the tracks were
mjd: And, uh, people traveled by Greyhound bus, they traveled by train--
30:28 af: What were the trains like?
mjd: There were three train stations in Marion.
af: Where were they at?
mjd: One was at 9th and Washington street, there’s a liquor store there in the rain station now. One was on 4th street and isn’t there a cabinet factory down there, east, it’s east of the county building, down in there, do you know where I mean?
mjd: Uh, and then there was one a block north of there on 4th street. Right north of the other station. Uh, and then there was one on 10th street at, well it was the Chesopeke and Ohio, it was the C&O, and there was a train station, but that’s not there anymore, you can see where the tracks are when you go up 10th street—there’s kind of a hump and that’s where the cardinal greenway will go through.
af: Were the trains frequently used, I mean . . .
mjd: Oh, everybody used the train, oh yeah, and they were on time and they were coal operated and they were dirty, you know the coal’s dirt, the coal’s smoke was dirty.
af: About how much did they cost for a ticket?
mjd: Oh, I have no idea, I think they were reasonably priced, but I have no idea what it cost.
mjd: People didn’t travel as much as they do now.
32:23 af: Right. Okay, well thank you very much
mjd: Is that all?
af: for letting me interview you
mjd: I don’t whether I’ve told you what you want to know (laugh)
af: I’m sure you have
mjd: People didn’t build houses during the war. There was quite a building boom involved in the WW2 because there just weren’t houses available—I forgot about that. There just weren’t any new homes
af: So were there lots of apartment buildings, or?
32:33 mjd: No, no, no, not a lot of apartment buildings, a few, of course, there were some, but not, not, not like there are now. Uh, one thing maybe about the war—are you still turned on?
33:07 mjd: Umm, the mothers of the boys who went to the service would hang a little flag in their front window and they would have a star on-it was just a little rectangular white silk flag, as I remember, with fringe around it, and they’d have stars for the sons who were in the service and if their son was killed then they’d put a gold star up and the mother’s kind of had an organization. Oh, and there was one thing I didn’t mention about um, oh, USO parties, uh, girls would meet the trains as they would come through town with troops on them and give them boxes of cookies and have coffee and so on when the train would stop to oh, mail was delivered by trains of course, and the train would stop in different towns to take on mail and leave off mail, uh, women would go with things for the soldiers, now we didn’t have any big USO uh, organizations in Marion, it was too small a community, but bigger towns did, or where they were close to a base.
af: So, then you said that there was like the parent, the mothers of the . . .
mjd: Yeah, the mother’s had an organization. uhuh,
af: Did they get together?
mjd: I’m sure they did, yes, yeah, but see (laugh) I was a little young for that sort of thing.
34:59 mjd: There was a scarcity of doctors because so many of the doctors had to go
to the service. There was a scarcity here of doctors, scarcity in most all
communities of doctors and nurses. That would, you know, just go along with it automatically.
35:36 mjd: I’m sure I’ll think of other things after you leave.
af: (laugh) Well, thank you for taking time out to . . .
mjd: Oh, well, I’m not that busy. (tape turned off)
(tape turned on)
35:51 mjd: There were a lot of patriotic songs during the war and people would buy records and play records of some of the patriotic songs, and everybody had radios, of course, and uh, there were a lot of patriotic songs—“White Cliff’s of Dover,” and uh, what were some others, well it was “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” it was that one, or was that from WW1, um, the uh, military songs of each branch of the service were very popular. You know, the Marine hymn, and the airforce song and all those songs and uh, “Anchors Away” and all that kinda—for the navy and uh, those were the songs you’d hear on the radio. We heard a lot of that kinda thing. (tape off)
37:08 mjd: Has it started?
mjd: Okay, I forgot to tell you that when I first started teaching school in the early 1940’s I made 100 dollars a month. We worked nine months, so I made 900 dollars a year and some teachers only taught eight moths and only got 800 dollars a year (laugh)
mjd: Um, and our wages did not go up much. When I worked in the office at Martin Boots befor I got a teaching job I think I worked for 15 dollars a week so that would have been 60 dollars a month and I only was paid for the weeks I worked so like, Christmas vacation I didn’t get paid, that kinda thing. Um, salaries were low, but they were beter than they had been during the depression. Uh, as you gained experience you got a little more money like maybe 10 dollars more on the month, or something, not very much.
37:33 (tape off)