October 20, 2005

9:07 minutes

Interviewed by Ann Kelsey

Filmed by Michael O’Hagan

For the County College of Morris, Learning Resource Center

Randolph, New Jersey

Rosie the Riveter Project

Transcribed by Jardee Transcription, Tucson, Arizona

Kelsey:  Where were you born, Helen?

Smith:  Where?  In Morris County.  They called it Mt. Olive.  It was actually in Roxbury Township, a farm, up on the hill. 

          [Bio form says Flanders, NJ.  (Tr.)]

Kelsey:  Where were you living when World War II started?

Smith:  When it started?  I was still living in the same place when it started, yes.

Kelsey:  Were you married then?

Smith:  No.

Kelsey:  How did you get into working in the defense industry?

Smith:  Well, my husband was frozen in his job, which was in the railway express in Summit.  All of their regular men had left to go in service.  They only had two of the regular crew, and they needed help, and I went!  Stayed two years.  At one time, we had forty men on the payroll—and me.

Kelsey:  And where was this you worked again?

Smith:  It was the railway express in Summit.  It was located at the lower level of the railroad station.  Hot and dirty in the summer, and cold and dirty in the wintertime.

Kelsey:  And what did you do?

Smith:  It was secretarial work—well, letters—the ordinary work of that crew—collected money from the drivers when they would come in.  Kept busy.

Kelsey:  And what year did you go to work there?

Smith:  Oh, I don’t remember what year it was.  Must have been 1942 or ’43.  I was working up at Roxbury.  I was secretary to the superintendent of schools there.  But that was a long commute, and we had married then, and I was living in Chatham.  So for a couple of months I didn’t do anything, and then I went to work at the railway express and was there two years.

Kelsey:  And why did you leave?

Smith:  Because I got pregnant.  (laughs)  But I stayed!  My son was born the sixteenth of February, but I stayed into January.

Kelsey:  Did you and your husband get married during the war?

Smith:  Now, what year was it?  Oh, no, we were married before the war.  Yeah, 1933.  Yeah, we were married before the war.

Kelsey:  But he didn’t actually go into the service?

Smith:  No, he was frozen in his job.  He would get all these notices, had had his physical, I thought sure he was going, but the company managed to get him deferred.  So he was lucky that he didn’t go.  But we worked awful hard and awful long.

Kelsey:  How many hours a day did you work?

Smith:  Sometimes I’d go in at five o’clock in the morning and work ’til eleven o’clock at night!

Kelsey:  Wow.

Smith:  Some days I could go in at eight.  Well, we went together.  We didn’t want to spend the gas.

Kelsey:  And how many days a week did you work?

Smith:  Oh, six and a half.

Kelsey:  What did this company do?

Smith:  They were in transportation.  And of course they shipped a lot of war supplies, which we didn’t know what they were, you know.  It was funny, this morning my neighbor stopped in, and I said, “We did hear after the war that there was a company on our route who made submarine parts.”  And she laughed, she said, “That was Automatic Switch,” and her husband had worked on some of the plans for the first atomic submarine, the Nautilus.

Kelsey:  Very interesting.

Smith:  There were a lot of small companies people didn’t know about, where they made just little parts—not all one pieced together, you know.  But even out on the branch that went to Peapack, Gladstone, some people were making things in their garages.  They didn’t know what they were making, but they were making it.

Kelsey:  So was this a trucking company?

Smith:  Yes.  Well, it was a railway.  Then, most of the things came by railroad, and then were dispersed to the trucks.  We had trucking, yeah.  Awful hard even for us to get supplies for the trucks.  I did everything—but not physical labor, like some of these girls.  The girl next to me was talking about working in General Motors, and they really had to have muscles!

Kelsey:  Well, every job’s important.

Smith:  Well, must have been important, because they got deferments.  But then they got so they only had the two that were deferred, and they couldn’t run the place themselves.  At one time we had forty men working with that station.  We just thought we had to do it.

Kelsey:  Because of the war?

Smith:  Yes.

Kelsey:  Do you think you would have gone to work there if there hadn’t been a war?

Smith:  No, never.  (laughs)  Never.  I could find better jobs than that.  (laughs)  It was so cold!  I complained about the cold.  Of course when the supervisors came in, “Oh, that’s the women, they’re always cold.”  But one time my husband knew they were coming in, so he put a little pan of water on the floor by my desk, and it froze.  Not solid, you know, but a skiff of ice on it.  Well, that’s pretty cold on your feet.  So when the supervisors saw that, they moved my desk into the cashier’s glassed-in cage, and got me a floor heater.

Kelsey:  That’s a good story to end on!

Smith:  I don’t think my feet have ever gotten over it, they’re still cold!

Kelsey:  Well, thank you very much.  That was a wonderful story.

Smith:  You heard the story about the ring?

Kelsey:  No!  Tell us the story about the ring.

Smith:  Well, my three brothers-in-law were in Europe, and I kept in touch closely with the youngest brother-in-law.  He was with Patton’s troops, and he was friendly with a friendly German prisoner of war, and he would read parts of our letters to him—I guess trying to be friendly, and not feel so badly about being a prisoner.  He was a jeweler, and he made Johnny this ring out of part of a gun casing and piece of glass.  He was a jeweler.  And so he gave that to Johnny and said, “Now, this won’t warm up your sister-in-law’s feet, but she’ll have something to remember the war by.”  And so I’ve always kept the ring.

Kelsey:  And that’s the ring you brought for us to take a picture of.

Smith:  Yes.

Kelsey:  That’s a wonderful story.  All right.  Well, thank you very much.

Smith:  You’re welcome, I’m sure.

O’Hagan:  That’s fantastic.  That’s such a cool thing.  Wow, I didn’t realize [unclear].






The Learning Resource Center at the County College of Morris

214 Center Grove Road, Randolph, New Jersey 07869