Kelsey: When and where were you born
Whildin: I was born in
Massachusetts, and I lived in
East Boston. And then
my college years, my mother and I
lived in the
Kelsey: What did your parents do for
Whildin: My father was a barber. My
Boston mother had
six children. I’m the youngest of six. She was
home, naturally, caring for children. And then when
Depression came, she went to work in a chocolate
Kelsey: How many brothers and
sisters did you have?
Whildin: I have two brothers. Well, one is now dead. And four sisters, and one of my sisters is dead. She was in the
army, by the way, for a time.
Kelsey: Did any other family members
live with you—grandparents or other relatives?
Whildin: No, I never knew any of my
grandparents. My father’s
father had died in
Italy, and his mother died in
Italy in 1938. I never met them. My mother’s
mother died in
New York in 1902. Her father died
shortly before I was born, so I never knew him, but
she did have a stepmother, and I remember her
Kelsey: Describe to me the
neighborhood that you lived in when you were growing
East Boston was still an island, and I
can remember when the
Sumner Tunnel was being built. I was about nine years
old, and I used to go down and watch them, and
wonder how they could get under the water and stay
dry. And the area was pretty self-contained, in a
sense, because we still took a ferry. They did have a bridge to
Lynn, and I can remember as a
child, and as my parents’ grandchildren came along,
we used to have a little…. You know, it was
post-Depression, or during
Depression, really, and money wasn’t available,
and the children didn’t have the toys they have
now. And so to entertain the children, they’d put
them on their knees and sing, “Ride, Ride, to
Boston. Ride, Ride to
Lynn. Watch out little
girlie, you might fall in!” because bridges were,
you know, before engineering know-how was too well
known. Then there was a drawbridge to
Chelsea. They used to have some
barges or bigger boats come in, and they’d lift the
bridge, because the mast wouldn’t go under the
bridge. And there weren’t the oil tanks that are
there now. The airport wasn’t built. They just had
a small landing field. But what they did
have, that kept the people in the area employed was
a huge General Electric factory that made light bulbs. But we did have a
beautiful park area and a swim beach. It had hills,
and we could ski there, but you had to walk up
yourself, or herringbone your way up the mountain.
It wasn’t really a mountain, but as a child, it
looked like one to me. That area, during
II, that was called Wood Island Park. That area, during
II, was leveled. The fill [dirt from the hill] went
to expand the airport. And
barracks, troops, were
World War II. I wasn’t there at the
time; I was in
Boston at Boston City Hospital.
neighborhood was very stable because if people did
move as their rental needs grew—not too many owned
the homes. They called them flats, which were
larger than most apartments. But they would move
within the island, so the families knew each other,
and the teachers knew the families. So by the time
I got along, they all knew my brothers and sisters.
Kelsey: Was there any
particular ethnic group or groups that lived in
Whildin: There were a lot of Jewish
people that settled there. There’s a Jewish
cemetery there, which is one of the few that are
there. There were Irish and Italian, and we had
some Eastern—you know, the Syrians had to leave at
the time, so it was pretty diverse. There were just
a couple of Oriental or Asian, and a couple of black
people. For the age, it was diverse, but it was
overwhelmingly white, until
World War II, and then
they had the Negro barracks
Kelsey: Describe the schools that
you attended—the elementary school, the high school.
Whildin: Well, I’m one of the few
that went to a daycare center, because my mother was
working full time, and I was the only one that
wasn’t in school full time. So I was given a
quarter for my lunch money. And I was at the
nursery school all day. I had lunch, and then they
had a rest period for the children. My first
kindergarten school was in a clapboard house. It
was called the Shelby Street School. It’s now gone, but it was a
one-room kindergarten, wooden floors and a clapboard
house. It was on the same land as the grade
schools, and the grade schools were one to six at
that time. And even in
Boston they had an entrance
for boys and an entrance for girls,
because I guess
they kept the toilet facilities separately. We had
cloak rooms. Most people wouldn’t know what they
were, but they were cloak rooms and we had hooks
where we…. Because we had to walk to school, so the
clothing was heavy. Most of the time you were
within walking distance, so you went home for lunch
and back to school. It was good exercise.
Kelsey: What about your high school?
Whildin: My high school, I was
younger than most. I went from the first grade to
the third grade. I remember going to be tested, so
at that time they did allow students to skip. So I
did, I went from first grade to third. I was given
some books to read over the summer, which was
nothing new for me, I liked to read, and I could
read pretty well.
My high school, I was younger than most. I was
thirteen, and my sister was working at
Hood Rubber Company during
the war, and she had a baby. She had a child at
nineteen, and she was divorced then. So after
school I took care of her daughter. So I didn’t have much of a social life as
a young girl. When I was younger, I was the
youngest, and I was at nursery school most of the
time, so I didn’t have too many playmates. I did,
for a while, when I went to the first grade school.
In my sixth grade, oddly enough, the school I went
to was the Patrick J. Kennedy School. The name is still there on the
school—whether it’s used as a school or not, I don’t
know. But I was only there for one year, because we
moved, and then I was at the Chapman School, which later became the Joseph P.
Kennedy School, when he was killed. And then I went
to the high school.
school, you wouldn’t even know I was there. Even as
a senior, I did go to the prom, but I didn’t date in
high school, so I wasn’t too much interested. I
didn’t have time.
Kelsey: What year did you graduate
from high school?
Whildin: In 1943. And at that time
we had—one of the fellows left to go in the
[Royal Air Force] before the
United States was involved in the war. He went to
Canada and joined the
RAF. Maybe it was Joseph
Kennedy, I don’t know. (laughs) A lot of the boys,
who were eighteen, went to war. They were given
their degrees if they stayed ’til January, I guess.
Kelsey: Did you want to go to
college, did you think about going to college?
Whildin: Oh, yes. Yes, I did. And
it was expected I would, because I think they were
told that I could do it. I took the college program
and I did get straight “A’s” in chemistry and
physics, which is a prerequisite usually. But I
applied to…. At that time women only became nurses
or teachers, and I knew I didn’t want to work in an
office. I was determined that I wouldn’t do that.
So I did apply. I didn’t have enough money to go to
college. Not many of us did, you know. We were
just coming out of the
Depression and everything.
But I was offered a scholarship, so I did apply to
Simmons, which was the only collegiate school of
nursing at the time. And they thought I’d do better
at a Catholic school, but I’d never been to a
Catholic school in my life.
So I was
going to start at
Boston University, and I had
already…. After I had already applied to Boston
City Hospital to become a
nurse, and at that time you had to be eighteen, and
I wasn’t seventeen yet. So I did work.
I went to work for this small outfit making switches
that was beside
MIT. It was a little shop, very few of us
Kelsey: We’re going to get to that
in a few minutes. Okay, looking back at how you
lived at that time in the thirties and early
forties, how would you characterize your economic
Whildin: I would call it—and I think
it’s true—genteel poverty, because we ironed sheets,
we had tablecloths, we had a Sunday dinner in the
dining room, and we had guests. But my older
brothers and sisters had worked, so they had money. It’s amazing, in
just a few years, the difference in outlooks. I am
probably more frugal than any of them, because my
first job after the babysitting was 25¢ an hour to
35¢ an hour. I thought, “Well, I can’t spend more
money than that in an hour, if that’s all I
earned.” So I have lived very frugally. But my
brothers and sisters became spendthrifts, and they’re doing all right
Kelsey: So you were too young to be
accepted into nursing school when you graduated from high school.
Whildin: That’s correct.
Kelsey: And the war was on.
Whildin: Yeah. The
Corps was my salvation, in a
sense, because it got me into nursing a year sooner,
and my applying before I was old enough was an
asset, too, because they had all my papers. The
government needed nurses, so they started another
They used to have only two classes a year, so they
put in another class in December, and you had to be
seventeen, but they took me because I was so close
to seventeen, and had all the credentials.
Kelsey: And this was December of
Kelsey: But before you’d been
accepted into that class, what made you decide to go
to work at….
Whildin: The little shop? Well, one
of the gals I knew from high school had an opening,
and she asked me if I’d be interested. It was in
MIT, and I said yes. She knew that I’d
follow through on work and things, so it worked out
pretty well. It wasn’t advertised, so it helped. I
don’t know how successful I would have been, going
out looking for a job, because I was still young and
pretty immature for sixteen. But I had
responsibility. I had learned responsibility at
home, and responsibility for myself, so it helped.
Kelsey: During that time period, do
you remember seeing any slogans or posters or
newsreels that encouraged women to go to work
in the factories, or join the military?
Whildin: Yes. Well, they had
posters all over the place. I think I saw the
Nurse Corps one in a post
office. They had on radio. Of course we didn’t
have television at that time, but the newsreels in
the movies, the cuts, would have some recruitments.
I didn’t get to many movies, though—I read about
Kelsey: Did seeing this advertising
have any effect on your wanting to go to work in a
factory or join the Cadet Nurse Corps?
Whildin: I knew I had to earn money,
because I couldn’t afford to go to college. I did
have a $200 scholarship, which was, you know, one
semester’s worth at that time.
But I’d need carfare
and lunch money and so forth, so I knew I had to
work in a job, and this one was a little better than
F. W. Woolworth’s. (laughs)
Kelsey: Did any of the rest of your
family do war work?
Whildin: They all did, in a sense.
Even my mother worked at that
time, and she worked in what’s now Haviland
Chocolates. It was
Miller and Hollis. And they
used to make some of the candy for the servicemen.
And my oldest brother had two
children by that time. He worked, and then owned, a
leather business. My other brother was a
served in the
Pacific. My older sister was a
WAC, she served in the
army. The next sister
was the one who worked at
Hood Rubber and had the baby. She married a
sailor after that, and still lived there. My sister
next to me was in Washington, doing secretarial
work. So we all did…. My father wasn’t functioning at the time; he was sick,
Kelsey: Do you remember seeing any
Rosie the Riveter then?
Whildin: Oh, yes! One of my
classmates, one of the ones, she was a year ahead of
me in school, but lived near me, so we were friends. We both enjoyed ice skating. She
worked at the
Boston Navy Yard, and she’s smaller than I am, and she
did riveting. And she wore the hoods. Then, women
always had to wear pants. So Blanche stayed with the
through the end, and she married a sailor and moved
Kelsey: When you were working,
making the switches, did you think of yourself as a
Whildin: No. I thought, “Well, I’m
helping.” I did have that feeling that it wasn’t
insignificant, but I didn’t know exactly what it
was. But I have to tell you it was the nicest group
of people. It was very small, and everyone was on a
first-name basis. I guess—I don’t know what his
technical name would be—but he designed and made the
pieces—we called him “Doc.” When I left to go into
nursing, they gave me a Waltham watch for a
Kelsey: How many people actually
worked in this shop?
Whildin: There were only about five
to six women, two young boys, and two older men.
Kelsey: Young boys too young to be
in the service?
Whildin: Eighteen or nineteen or
something. Their numbers hadn’t been called
probably. And they lived nearby. Or, I don’t know,
maybe there was a reason.
Kelsey: Did you all have job titles?
Whildin: No. Just Nancy, my friend, she was an inspector, but
Kelsey: Did you have on-the-job
training where they showed you what to do?
Whildin: I don’t think we needed it
for what we did, because whenever we had a new batch
of switches, we’d know we’d need so many rods and
some spaces. So each switch would be a different
size. I don’t know. We did use a lathe and a drill
press. When we first used those, we were shown and
supervised doing a couple. The work had to be done,
so…. I kind of think they looked for people that
would follow through, and dependable.
Kelsey: Was there shift work? Did
you work shifts?
Whildin: Not there, we didn’t, no.
Kelsey: It was all essentially a day
job, regular day hours?
Whildin: Yeah. I kind of think they
probably did—I don’t know. It would probably be
difficult to get people to work there at night,
because it’s not like
Cambridge is now. One Hundred wasn’t there,
the beautiful buildings and
apartment houses. There
were tall concrete factories, so it would be dark at
night. But our little shop was closer to the river
and right by
MIT, but the transportation, you’d have to
go by subway, and you
have to realize they’d have
blackouts. That was one of the reasons we had our high
school graduation in the morning, because of the
Kelsey: And where were you living
when you worked in the shop?
Kelsey: So you took the subway?
Kelsey: You had to get over into
Boston first, though, right?
Whildin: Well, they had the subways
Boston before the bridge, but the ferry was a penny and more fun. (laughs)
But the subways were
there. The subways then, and I believe today, can
take you to
Walden Pond. You could travel
anywhere by subway—the same in
New York, but it’s
harder now. They ran more often and they cost less
money, and they were more efficient, really. I
think it’s the
attitude of people. They feel that they had to earn
their money, it wasn’t a given.
Kelsey: So were you assembling
Kelsey: You got the parts, the
pieces, and you put them together?
Kelsey: Do you know what these
switches were used for?
Whildin: I don’t know, but I know
they were used for electrical connections, because
they all had little holes to put wires through. And
they were different sizes. So at that time
computers used to be a full room, so they would use
switches like these, but bombers would too.
Kelsey: But they never actually told
Whildin: We didn’t ask. “Don’t ask,
Kelsey: “Loose lips sink ships.”
Whildin: Right. That’s another way
of saying it.
Kelsey: Working in this shop, do you
think you were being paid better?—well, you
mentioned than working at
Whildin: Well, let me tell you, my
salary, it wasn’t what the
Rosie the Riveters got,
but I kind of think political clout has a lot to do
with pays, even through the federal government,
because on that flyer I gave you, the salaries they
cadet nurses didn’t match what I got.
I would say I’d get about $30 a week, which to me
was a lot of money then. Of that, I would give my
mother $15, because we had rent to pay. There was
no one else in the house. And when I went to
nursing, she had to give that up. And with the rest
I had carfare, lunch money, and clothes.
Kelsey: Did you wear uniforms, or anything to cover your clothes, or
you just wore your normal clothes?
Whildin: Washable street clothes.
Kelsey: Just regular street
clothes. Did you think that the job you were doing
Whildin: I think so. I don’t know.
You know, they used to do so much work for
clearances during the war. I know when….
Kelsey: You mean security clearance?
Whildin: Right. When I lived on
Queensbury Street in the
Back Bay, they used to come and ask about neighbors
and things. So whether they did or not…. I kind of
think—at that time we all thought any job was
important. So yes, I think it was important.
Kelsey: The job that you were doing,
before the war, was that normally done only by men?
Whildin: I believe so, yes. I
guess, in a sense, it would be called like an
unclean job, and women didn’t do unclean jobs then.
But it required forge work, and the lathes and the
drill presses. I’m pretty sure…. The sit-down
part, maybe they would have had some women do, but
not too many. If they had women, they’d be in the
office. Come to think of it, I don’t know anybody—I
didn’t meet any office women in that little shop.
Isn’t that interesting? You know, in terms of
payrolls and things. Hm. That’s surprising,
because when I worked—people will be shocked to know
this—when I worked at the five-and-ten, they used to
give us one of those little manila envelopes with cash in it, for our pay.
Kelsey: But you did get paid. Do
you remember how you got paid?
Kelsey: At the shop, did they give
you a check?
Whildin: I believe so. They must
have. It had a name, the company had a name.
Kelsey: Do you remember the name?
Whildin: I saved almost every check
I’ve earned as a nurse, but, you know, I didn’t have
access to a lot of the household stuff, because I
was in nurses’ training.
Kelsey: Were any of the women that
worked there supervisors? You
mentioned one was an inspector.
Whildin: That was my friend. We were all the same level. I imagine
she would get a little more money.
Kelsey: Who was in charge?
Whildin: She was. She would mete
out the work load and everything. So she, today,
would be more of a manager than an inspector.
Kelsey: And who was in charge of the
whole operation, the entire company, do you know?
Whildin: I would think it would be
Doc. I think he designed a lot of the…. They have
a name for what he did, and I’m trying to think.
It’s an engineering term. And then one of the other
men was a doctor, Ph.D.
Kelsey: It was right next to
Yes.) Was it connected with
MIT in any way? Did these men
Whildin: If they did, I don’t know.
At the time, there were
quonset huts at
servicemen were. Actually, they were working on
radar and the
oscilloscopes, which are the…. But
interesting enough, the one school tour I had in
high school was to
MIT: my physics class went to
got a lecture on the
magnesium bomb. And I have the
sketches I made. I never made one, though!
Kelsey: So you lived at home all the
time you were working in the shop?
Kelsey: And then how did the
war—well, you were in high school when the war
Whildin: Yes, my fifteenth birthday
was on December 7, 1941.
Kelsey: I know, that’s your
birthday. When the war started, did that change
things that you did? Did you have to do things
differently? Like you mentioned the
blackouts. Did it change your routine?
Whildin: Well, before December 7th
there was a feeling on the coastal areas—remember, I
lived on the coast. We had
blackouts. My sister was what they
called a street warden, the one who became a
So we had to keep the shades down, lights out. So
it affected a lot of people. But I can remember I
was ice skating with Blanche and they had a
blackout. We couldn’t walk the
streets, so we stayed ice skating. It was a bright
moonlit night, but I froze to death nearly. I think
I got frostbitten on my toes that night, because we
had to wait ’til the clearance to go home.
Kelsey: So you had to stay where you
Whildin: Yeah. I was a junior in
high school, because Blanche graduated the year before me. So it was
significant, because I was supposed to be home
before dark when I was in lower grades. So I didn’t
get chewed out on that one.
Kelsey: All right, now, you had
applied to the
Cadet Nurse Corps, and then at what point did you find out
that they were going to actually admit you into that
Whildin: I had applied to a school
of nursing before I knew about the
Nurse Corps. I think I have
a letter in the papers I brought, saying to report
and bring a urine specimen.
Kelsey: And that was the end of ’43?
Whildin: Yes. I had graduated in
June, so for that short span I worked in the switch
Kelsey: So when did you give your
notice at the switch shop?
Whildin: It probably was…. They
knew I was waiting to hear, so as soon as I heard
that I was accepted and would have to start December
1st. I would imagine it was maybe even
two weeks, if that. I’m wondering, you know, if my
age delayed a decision or not.
Kelsey: In terms of getting into the
Kelsey: But they waived the rules to
let you in earlier?
Whildin: Yeah. To fill the number
of days, I was supposed to stay seven days longer
than everybody else, but start with them so I
wouldn’t miss the orientation.
Kelsey: Oh, because of your birth
date being on the seventh.
Whildin: We followed all the rules.
Kelsey: And that’s when you turned
Whildin: Right. So they got full
graduate nurse services.
Kelsey: Describe the training that
you went through in nursing school.
Whildin: Well, they were tough
times, but our first lecture was “doors swing both
ways.” So it was pretty rigid. The section that I
started with started with twenty-five. We graduated
thirteen of us. So you had to pass academically.
You had to pass the physical demands, and you had to
pass the sacrifice of a social life, because we
lived in the nursing home, and the lights were out
at ten the first six months. You had an enforced
study, seven to nine. It was probably as stringent,
if not more so, than a convent. (laughs)
scrubbing floors was not unknown either. It took a
lot of determination to stay with it.
The thing that they had in our group
that was unbeknownst to other nurses was we were
taught some of the martial arts. Isn’t that
significant? Jujitsu, we called it.
There was an aspect of genteelness with all this
demand, because we had a choral group, and we had
concerts, and every once in a while we’d have a
dance and they’d invite the
and sailors. Of course we lost a lot of nurses to
marriage that way, too.
Kelsey: At that point, if someone
got married, they automatically had to leave the
Whildin: I believe so. They were so
stringent, one of the gals who was in the second
year and would have been a good nurse, wanted time
off because her boyfriend was home on leave, and
they wouldn’t give her, so she left. She was never
accepted back. You know, you couldn’t have any
indulgences, of sorts. But it was hard, because at
that time, toward the end, in ’46, some of the
doctors who had been in the battlefield were back,
and they still looked at me as a kid, because I was
Kelsey: When did you actually
graduate from the nursing program—before the war
ended, or after?
Whildin: In 1946. I was in a
three-year program. The
Nurse Corps was two and a
half years. The whole Class of 1946 had three
sections, and I was in Section 3, the third class
that was admitted in December. And that whole group
was the Class of 1946.
Kelsey: So the purpose of the
Nurse Corps was to free up
nurses who were already trained, that joined the
military, is that right?
Whildin: That’s right.
Kelsey: Nurses that joined the
military as military nurses, and the
Corps took their places in
the domestic hospitals?
Whildin: You have to realize that
most of the large hospitals in cities were run by
nurses, or had student nurses, because that kept the
costs down. But those nurses went to war. And as
student nurses, we had to be charge nurses lots of
times, lots of times. And the load was tremendous,
because people didn’t go to doctors too much then.
We had some wonderful family doctors that would see
families at night, and even make home visits. But
the majority of people went to the emergency room.
In the wintertime, the beds were mainly all filled,
and we had people on cots in the corridors at
Boston. And I’m sure that was
Bellevue [New York City] and in
[Chicago], and all of the big city hospitals. So
Cadet Nurse Corps really
carried the hospital load at that time. It worked.
The government wanted to make sure the people got
care so it did fulfill that job.
Kelsey: So when the war ended, when
V-E Day and
V-J Day, you were in the middle of your
Whildin: I remember
very clearly, because I was, of all
places, on Maternity. And my classmates knew….
Kelsey: You were working on the
Whildin: Right. My classmates knew
I was there, and they hollered up, and I went to the
nursery window and they said, “We’re going to
to celebrate!” And I said, “Bye bye!” So I took
care of the mothers and babies.
Kelsey: So when the war ended, and
then the nurses who had been in the military, most
of them probably were discharged—was that the case?
Did the women who had joined the military to be
nurses, did they then come back to their old jobs?
Whildin: Not too many, because they
were replaced. Some of the nurses who never left
stayed there ’til they were incapacitated, I’m
sure. But they became house mothers in the nurses’
home. But some of them did come back. Where I met
most of them was when I was at
because a lot of them came back for their degrees.
And as they had the
G.I. Bill, they
were able to continue their degrees.
Kelsey: So this was a very different
scenario than what happened in the factories, where
the men were discharged from the service and most of
them came back and reclaimed their old jobs—at least
for a time period. And all the women who had gone
to work in the factories were laid off.
Kelsey: But in the case of their
situation, where women were replacing women, when
the women came back, they didn’t necessarily, and
often did not reclaim their old jobs?
Whildin: No. But what they did was
necessary, because there was a great transition in
the education of nurses. The early nurses realized
they were used for service, and they were. But they
did get an education, but it wasn’t consistent
throughout the country. The big city hospitals had
the other medical schools near.
There weren’t too
many medical schools at the time. People fail to
remember this. So that in the big cities they had a
better education, and the requirements were higher,
because they had to be, for safety reasons.
So the nurses, having experienced all that, realized
the unfairness of it. So they wanted to bring
nurses up to a professional level, so they could
have the salaries they earned and deserved. So it
was not only that, but the whole shift of care,
because during the war when they did physicals, they
realized how little healthcare people had throughout
the country. It was better in the cities, because
we had a lot of caring people, and a lot of
donations. But when you get to the plains and the
sparse areas, there was a lot of neglect in dental
care, mental care, physical care. So there was a
need. We could appreciate the times were changing,
and had to. So in a sense, the nurses from
the war probably helped contribute. And those of us
who worked through the almost penal (laughs) system
of nursing, felt the need to be fair, and change it
for the needs of all the people.
Kelsey: So then a lot of these
nurses, because then they were able to take
advantage of the G.I. Bill, because
they were veterans, they were able to go to a
four-year nursing school.
Whildin: They didn’t need to do four
years—neither did I. I did three, but I didn’t need
to. I got extra credits, because I was curious.
(laughs) One of them was an admiral, back for her
degree. And some were captains. They started out
as ensigns and lieutenants, but they had been in
long enough to have a higher rank. And we sent out
a lot of teachers to colleges and so forth.
Kelsey: When did you graduate from
the nursing program, what year?
Whildin: In 1946.
Kelsey: And that was the
Kelsey: Then did you continue on?
Whildin: Yes. Well, you had to take
boards. So I stayed at
Boston City and I wound up as assistant head nurse.
And then they had an emergency in Neurosurgery, and
one of the doctors said, “You can do it.” So I went
in and scrubbed and they asked me to stay in the
neurosurgical O.R., so I stayed there for a while.
Then this job
came up, they were looking for—the government wanted
someone to go overseas and help with the dependent
Kelsey: Were these American
Whildin: That’s a good question. I
wasn’t sure. (laughs) Children are children.
Kelsey: What year was this?
Whildin: This was in ’47. By that
time I had been at
Boston City, right along. So I signed up. One of my
classmates signed up with me, and at the last minute
she backed out, and I stayed on.
Kelsey: Who did you work for, that
sent you overseas?
Department of the Army,
Department of the Army.
Kelsey: You were a civilian?
Kelsey: You were a
one of the army civilians?
Kelsey: So where did you go, and how
did you get there?
Whildin: I was told to report to
Chicopee Falls in Massachusetts. I was going to
Germany, I knew that. I went from—I guess it
might have been
Fort Devins, up to
Newfoundland. And when I got to
they handed me a parachute.
Kelsey: So you were on a plane?
Whildin: It wasn’t just a plane, it
C-54 transport plane. There were no seats. The parachute was my seat.
Then we went from there—the government’s very loose
about giving you information, you know. We had to
work for a
Freedom of Information Act. But anyway,
from there we went to the
Beautiful! What a beautiful country it was. I
don’t know now—every country’s crowded now. But we
landed by radar. So
MIT did its job. And from there I went
to Paris in the night, and then to
Kelsey: And you flew? You were
flying in a
C-54 the whole way?
Whildin: The reason I mention this
is, you have to remember, it was the beginning of
the Berlin Airlift. So we had
to (gestures with hands), instead of zooming right
Kelsey: And how many hours did it
take to make that trip?
Whildin: More than a day, almost
two. Well, planes weren’t that fast. It was dark
when I got to
then morning when I got to the
Paris, and morning in
Germany, so two days probably.
Kelsey: How many people were on this
Whildin: Maybe four.
Kelsey: Four passengers, total,
other than the crew.
Whildin: The pilot thought I was a
dependent. (laughs) I looked young at twenty-one.
I’ve got my passport, you’ll be able to see.
When we went
Mont Saint Michel, he said, “Why don’t you come up and take a
look? And I looked from the cockpit, down. It was
a thrill for me. I think he thought I was a
dependent, so that was all right.
Kelsey: And the four passengers,
were you all civilians?
Whildin: No. There was another
couple, husband and wife, and one other person, an
officer or something, hitching a ride back or
Kelsey: So you finally arrived in
Frankfurt, and then what
did you do, what was your assignment?
Whildin: Who knows? I didn’t know
what to do. (laughs) There was a Jeep there
to take me to the station hospital. I got in the
Jeep. I hoped that was the way.
Fortunately…. I’m joking. There was a major, Major
Myers was on the plane
with me, and she….
Kelsey: This was a woman?
Whildin: Yeah. When we landed in
Frankfurt, she took me
under her wing. Her husband was an officer there.
So thank goodness for her! She saw me on a train to
Bremerhaven, Germany from there.
Kelsey: So your final destination
Bremerhaven, Germany ?
Kelsey: Which was a port?
Whildin: It was the only submarine
port that the Germans had—the only port. It
was very vital to them during the war. Look at what
they did with it! They got the whole northern….
Kelsey: And then what did you do
when you got to
Whildin: There was someone in a Jeep
that picked me up and took me to the hospital. Then
I met the chief nurse. Her name was Goodale
[phonetic]. And then I was like a fish out of
water. The main compound was at the marine
Germany. So I would take the bus down to find out
what I was to do. I kept working as a nurse at the
Kelsey: Was this a military
Whildin: It certainly was.
Kelsey: An army hospital?
Whildin: It was an army hospital.
One of the doctors there, I had known at
and his wife, so it was sort of not that strange to
me—but it was, in a sense, because the army nurses
didn’t know what to do with me, because I didn’t
have to take orders from them. (chuckles) The
surgeon general came by, and everybody saluted him,
and I shook his hand. They didn’t like me in white,
so I had some old army nurse’s uniforms. No ranks
Kelsey: Were you the only civilian
Kelsey: In that hospital, you were
the only civilian nurse?
Whildin: Yeah. Then another two
came. But the other gal went to
her brother was buried there. We didn’t see much of
Kelsey: And you took care of
Whildin: No! Soldiers.
Kelsey: These were American wounded?
Whildin: American. They had others
to come in. In any situation, any hospital, you
don’t deny care to people in need, or you shouldn’t
be in the business.
I lived with a captain and a
lieutenant. They had a room together. I had a
room. And then there was another lieutenant that
had a room. And then downstairs was the
Red Cross were these
Clubmobile, recreation workers?
Kelsey: Was there a rec center there
at the hospital for the soldiers?
Whildin: Yeah, they did letters,
communications, and recreation and that sort of
thing. But they were waiting to [decide]
what to do with me. I used to go down to the
marine…. Well, they had a
library at the marine
compound, so I
would get books at the same time.
Kelsey: Was there a
Whildin: No. There probably was.
Yeah, there’d have to be, because I’d take some
Kelsey: How long did you stay there?
Whildin: Not even six months. It didn’t seem right to be in
an army hospital and not, you
know, have…. I could have been in the army, you
know. It wasn’t what I had planned on.
Kelsey: So then did you resign there
and come back?
Kelsey: Did they pay for your—you
had to pay your own…. Had you signed an agreement
to work for a specified period
Whildin: No, I don’t think so. I
signed an agreement to a job description that I
didn’t have. I did find out that the job I
applied for was given to a captain’s wife, so that’s
why I resigned.
Kelsey: But you had to pay your own
Kelsey: Did you fly back, or did you
take a ship back?
Whildin: I took a tramp steamer,
because I couldn’t afford the plane fare.
Kelsey: And where did you land?
New Orleans. The only touring I’ve done!
People wonder why I don’t want to travel. (laughs) I’d wind up on a
Kelsey: How long did it take you to
New Orleans on a
Whildin: I enjoyed that. I love the
sea. Two days, maybe. I have it in a journal
somewhere. I don’t recall offhand. It
was almost a week. Probably a week. Because I got
New Orleans in December and it was warm there,
but when I got into
New York, it was freezing cold
and I had a summer suit on.
Kelsey: And so that was 1948?
Whildin: Yes. And I didn’t realize,
but I was over in
Germany during the
did notice they had a different edition
of Time magazine in
Europe during the war.
You probably know that.
Kelsey: So then what did you do
after you got back to
Whildin: I needed money, so I did go
Boston City. We
had routine checkups, you know, and they found I had a
spot on my lung, and
they looked at some earlier X-rays, and it was
there, but it had grown. I had been back in
scrubbed in Neurosurgery. So I wound up in a
tuberculosis [center]—I haven’t discussed this
too much—for a year. I was twenty-three at the
time. They didn’t have any medications for tuberculosis at that
time. It came out in the fifties, but I had what
they call pneumothorax. They created a pneumothorax by
compressing the lung. And to keep the lung
Well, I was on bed rest for a year, flat bed rest.
the next few years—well, all the while I was at
used to go and have pneumothorax every two weeks, to
Kelsey: After that year that you had
to stay in the hospital, then you went back to
Whildin: Yes, at
Kelsey: And what were you studying?
Whildin: Nursing. I had a major in nursing and a minor in public
health. And that’s why I had more
courses. I had about eight more credits than I
Kelsey: And when did you graduate?
Whildin: In 1954. I had first
Boston University before they had a
school of nursing in ’49. And I was taking
two courses a week, when they found out I had
tuberculosis. So I finished my degree.
Kelsey: And then what did you do,
after you got your degree?
Whildin: I did public health in
Kelsey: And then you moved to
Whildin: Yes, because I was going to
go to the maternity center to be a midwife. I was interested in maternity,
pediatrics. I did very well on my state
boards in pediatrics, so I thought it would be….
Kelsey: Where along the way did you
meet your husband?
Whildin: I met him when I was doing
public health in
The gal who was to become my maid of honor, drove me
New York, and we had a
little kitty for my friend’s little girl. And Bill
was there and had a little toy for [their
that’s how we met, and then he took my number.
Kelsey: And then when did you get
Whildin: That was in—’54—in 1956 I
Kelsey: So not too long after you
went to New York, you must have met him.
Whildin: Right. I was there for two
Kelsey: All right, going back just
briefly to when you were in
what would you say was the most memorable
thing that happened while you were
working at that hospital when you were working with
the soldiers? The most
interesting story, the funniest
Whildin: Well, I told you when the
surgeon general came by for inspection, and they all
had to salute, and I just shook
his hand and had to tell him I was a civilian. We
did have a foreigner as a patient. This is where
having been a
civilian came in handy. I looked at him, and they
had given him a spinal, but he was flat, but his
bad. So I said to the ward, “Let’s turn him,”
because he was looking terri[ble]. He made out all
were right, on a spinal you shouldn’t move ’em. But
you don’t let people have a straight spine and be
either. You have to make decisions. But they
didn’t scold me, because he was all right.
They had a
baseball team, the doctors there, and it was nice.
Also, being a civilian, I didn’t have to stay
with all the officers, either, so I could go to some
of the movies they had for the G.I.s. I enjoyed
being with them.
Kelsey: What kind of injuries? All
different kinds of injuries, these soldiers that
were waiting, that had to be stabilized
before they were transported back to the States?
Whildin: No. See, this was ’48, so
most of those, hopefully, would have been cared
for. But some of these were
ordinary physical. But they had—well, I hate to
tell you, but this is true—they had a separate ward
[venereal disease]. But they used to give
penicillin—and they still do some[times]—but we had
to save the
urine, because they would collect it and reclaim the
penicillin from it. The Germans would do that.
Kelsey: The Germans?
Whildin: Yes. But also, the times
were terrible in
Germany at that
time. The shops were empty, and
they had not
much to eat. So most of the people
that worked for Americans wanted goods instead of
Money was no good to them. Cigarettes were a major
bartering thing. But while I was
they had a
change in the scrip, and I was able to
see a complete turnaround of the economy. They
started to have bread
in the markets and things. And that’s
the beginning of the
Marshall Plan, I’m sure.
Kelsey: So these were soldiers,
basically, who were assigned to occupy
Kelsey: And they just had—these
weren’t war wounded so much as just general
illnesses that they would have?
Whildin: Right, that might have been
overlooked in civilian [life]—you know, some of them
got better medical care than if
they’d been home. And they always do
injuries. You know, if they have sports, you’re
bound to have
Kelsey: All right, so going back to
Brooklyn now, let’s see,
you met your husband. Did you keep working after you got
Whildin: Yes, I stayed with the….
Well, we lived in
Brooklyn was a
long drive, so I was asked to
School in New York. So that was a shorter commute.
Kelsey: And that was a nursing
Whildin: Yes. So I taught there
until I became pregnant.
Kelsey: And then did you stop
Whildin: No. No, I stayed working,
but they said after six months you had to leave
Kelsey: Did you go back and work
after your baby was born?
Whildin: I couldn’t, because I had
no family nearby. But I did work on weekends when
they’d just finished Elmhurst
General. It was simply…it was awful, because the staffing was terrible. I’d work on weekends only,
Kelsey: Was your husband a veteran?
Whildin: Yes. He went to
Rensselaer. He was
with, I think, the ASTP in the army, because he was at
grounds and stuff.
Whildin: Yeah. Then he went to a
Then he went to [get] his degree, too, under the G.I.
Bill. And he
had to take some courses at
Lehigh. Then when there was an opening, he went to Troy. So he
Rensselaer Polytech in
chemical engineering. And then he went to work,
Allied Signal. And that’s how
we wound up in
East Aurora, New York. We moved from
Kelsey: He was going to school after
you got married?
Kelsey: So he finished his schooling
Whildin: He finished his college in 1950. Then he was in
Allied Signal, and then down to
New York, had an
office on Rector Street, and he worked there.
Then when we were first married, we looked for a
home in New
because the rents were going up, and we needed the
car, and we had two children. So we got a small
in New Market.
Kelsey: Where’s New Market?
Whildin: It’s between
Bound Brook, in that area. It’s part of
Kelsey: Part of that….
Johnson Park, I remember
taking the children down there for play area. But
he was able to get from our house
in New Market, he could
take the train into
Hoboken, and the ferry, and walk
to work, in less time than when
we lived in
Queens. So it was a good move at that time.
Kelsey: You did a lot of different
things during the war.
Kelsey: All of the different jobs
and work that you did, did that change your feelings
about the nature of women’s work,
and what women could and couldn’t do?
Whildin: Oh, indeed it did. I’m
probably one of the few who had a working mother that wasn’t a
professional woman, but she, having four daughters,
said, “You have to learn to do something, because
can’t depend on a man anymore.” And of course we
all know that Prince Charming is a fairy story, and
men should welcome the change, because it takes the
total burden off of them. But in some of it, I
main interest was to make birthing a family affair. So in a sense,
I think I’ve helped to do that, to give men the
right to enjoy
their children, instead of being the disciplinarian,
which a lot of women used to charge them with—
wrong, because the women spent most of the time with
children. Stupid! It was foolish.
Kelsey: You had a mother who
worked. Do you have a daughter?
Whildin: Yes, I do.
Kelsey: Do you think that your
family history affected what she chose to do
with her life?
Whildin: I would have liked her to
be a nurse. She said, “If I’m going to put in the
years you’ve put in, I’d be a doctor.”
But she was interested in ballet, and she was at
school, taking pre-med, and continued with her
ballet. So she
was doing well at school, but she said she really
wanted to…. I said, “Go ahead, because you can
back to school.” So she did. A ballet life is
short-lived, you know that. By thirty-five, you’re
over the hill. So
she did fulfill her wish, and she wasn’t tall enough
to be a prima ballerina, and we weren’t rich enough
her, so…. She did very well, and she was with the
Bejart in Belgium, for about six months, and did
the king of Belgium. She’s been to the Boston
Ballet, the Tidewater. She’s done quite a few, but
pay. She also earned money while she pursued her
Kelsey: Has she….
Whildin: She went back to school.
Kelsey: So she finished her ballet career and went back to school?
Whildin: She graduated summa cum
laude from Hunter, and learned to use an electronic
microscope, did some
research with a doctor, a mentor there, and had it
published. They offered her a teaching scholarship,
said, “Well, if I did that, I’d have to get a Ph.D.,
so I might as well do….” Well, she went to medical
didn’t flunk out, but doesn’t want to be a doctor.
Now she’s working at Starbuck’s, and loves it!
(laughs) But I
tried to tell her, “You know, you could be a nurse
midwife and do research.” Well, she wanted to be a
because the kind of research…. But I kind of think,
you know, what really hit her was her age. And to
another three to five more years and have still—she
still has some student loans.
Kelsey: And you had two children?
Whildin: Three. I have two sons. They both started working early.
They’re bright fellows, but one of
them would have gone to college if he hadn’t started
working. He’s now plant manager. He’s had some
Kelsey: Here at
Whildin: Yes. I don’t think he went
through a degree. He didn’t want to go to a
four-year school, because he didn’t want
to take a lot of courses that he didn’t want. You
know, if that’s the attitude…. But I think he would
all right. But I don’t think his father encouraged
them to be in the corporate world. I don’t think he
in it. And they’d been to the office and saw the
cubbyholes and things. They had started working
mowing lawns and things. They both went to the
they had a morning in
Kelsey: Vocational, technical
Whildin: Both of them made honor rolls and things. One of them’s a plant
manager now. The other
one built his own home. He’s dyslexic, so a paper
job wouldn’t appeal to him. He wouldn’t be as fast
at it. But he’s smart, he’s intelligent, and he
reads. He didn’t read, but he likes motorcycles, so
I got him a
motorcycle magazine, and he went in Enduro races and
won a lot of trophies. And he’s helping young kids
now. He was asked to be an inspector for the world enduros [unclear]. So they’re both productive.
married, but none are divorced, either. And
everybody tells me, “Well, there’s time,” but it’s
running out for
Kelsey: Is there one thought about
all of your varied wartime experiences that you
would want to share with future
Whildin: How nice the people are
that were once your enemies, supposedly. Because I
found the German people very
nice and understanding, and hopefully we’ll do the
same in the Mideast one day. Because people
you could meet them one-to-one, there’s never a
Kelsey: That’s a very nice
perspective. Is there anything else you’d like to
Whildin: No. I just can never
emphasize enough, because I don’t think this
generation understands how much earlier
generations went without, so they could have. I
don’t think they’ll understand it, until they get to
a point where
they no longer have it. And it may be sooner than
Kelsey: Okay, thank you very much.
Whildin: You’re welcome.
[END OF INTERVIEW]