"You build bombers!" they howled. "An art teacher and an English teacher!"
In 1943 America's defense industries were so desperate for workers that school teachers were asked to work in factories during summer vacation. Slacks and Calluses is the story of two women--the image of "dignified schoolteacher-hood"--who went to work for Consolidated Vultee Aircraft, building bombers on the swing shift. Constance and Clara Marie traded their linen suits and "swooping" hats for blue cotton factory slacks and sturdy shoes, filled out dozens of government forms, packed up their few tools in what they hoped would pass for tool boxes--"small lunch boxes, the unpleasant color of unripe green olives"--and presented themselves for work. Over the next two months, they learned to use a wide range of tools, climbing in and out of B-24 Liberator bombers performing final installations--electrical wiring, seatbelt brackets, life rafts, bomb bay doors, the works. They also learned to deal with aching muscles and feet, grimy hands, lost sleep, and "dural termites"--slivers of duraluminum from the aircraft walls that worked their way under the skin. Even more trying was the change in the way they were treated--because they were wearing slacks. Female sales clerks were no longer polite, while men no longer offered their seats on crowded buses yet felt free to grab or whistle at them on the street. "Clothes, we reflected sadly, make the woman--and some clothes make the man think that he can make the woman."
Throughout the summer, the women kept pencils and notepads in their toolboxes, Constance noting stories and profiling her coworkers, Clara Marie making sketches. A few months later, in 1944, their memoir was first published. The resulting text sparkles with immediacy and with the women's ebullient wit. With its first-hand look at women war workers and its behind-the-scenes look at the building of the B-24, Slacks and Calluses provides a refreshingly different angle on World War II. --Sunny Delaney
"[A] rare contemporaneous account. . . . [Bowman and Allen] wandered into a mostly male world of wrenches and rivets, forever changing society’s view of what women could and should do. . . .Wide-eyed and witty.”—San Diego Union-Tribune
"An enjoyable book, a smooth read, a vibrant reminder of a time of near-unanimous citizen support for American political strategies and goals. It harkens from an era when the myth of 'one America' still held sway. It is also a tale of two women negotiating gender, identity, autonomy and cross-class insights. Fifty-six years later, readers are fortunate the authors put pencil to paper each night upon their return home from the bomber factory. Theirs is a story worth hearing and remembering.” —The Journal of San Diego History
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"Bowman and Allen's journal-like account offers valuable insights into the experiences of these two young, white women who engaged in decidedly unfeminine behavior, by the standards of 1943, on behalf of the war effort."—The Historian
"Without being the least bit polemic, Bowman Reid teaches us about the war roles of men and women and how the changing costumes of women - from linen skirts to slacks - reflects socioeconomic change."—San Jose Mercury News