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Slacks and Calluses: Our Summer in a Bomber Factory Paperback – October 17, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-1560983682 ISBN-10: 156098368X Edition: Smithsonian Institution Press

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Smithsonian Books; Smithsonian Institution Press edition (October 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 156098368X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560983682
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 5.5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,700 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"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

Review

"[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

"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


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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 23 customer reviews
They literally paved the way for the rest of us and this book tells of that experience in a wonderfully humorous way.
Lola's Mom
It's a slice of World War 2 history, and the hilariously snide remarks by one of the "Rosie the Riveter" type girls just MAKES the book!
Kelly
The authors were two high school teachers, who subjects - English and Art - made them the perfect duo to write this book.
P. Nailon

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 15, 1999
Format: Paperback
The fresh, unusual and highly amusing account of two young teachers who spend the summer of 1943 working the swing shift on the production line of a San Diego bomber plant. A hit when it first appeared in 1944, the book has now been reissued by the Smithsonian. Just as much fun to read today as it was then, the book, with its light hearted text and illustrations, will surely be a hit again!
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Hines on January 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
This Book evokes a unique time and experience for women in this country. It accurately depicts the rigors and effort that came as a surprise to all of the work force as women pitched in for the war effort. That it is cleverly done with good humor and the ability to poke fun at the situation, makes it even more of a jewel.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Martha E. Crites on June 12, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a find--a first hand account of two Rosie the Riveters. The contemporaneous memoir of two school teachers who spent the summer of `43 building B-24s in San Diego fascinates with details--getting hired, what was security like in wartime factories, how were these two educated women treated differently when they donned slacks and became factory workers? The writing is quick and humorous, like Betty MacDonald's The Egg and I which has remained popular since 1945. Constance Bowman Reid's epilogue, written in 1999, is a touching finale. You'll want to know what she's been up to in the intervening 50 years.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
A great Read! Cleverly written and laugh out loud funny. An interesting primary source of history--a must read for WW II enthusiasts. My wife was intrigued by the women's history angle. We both loved the illustrations.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By prfb on October 14, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful little book! Written in an easy and unpretentious style, it has merit not just for "women's studies" readers, but for anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of period airplane manufacturing and indeed, the whole spirit of Homefront America in World War II. This book is both very entertaining and a real slice of "you are there" in a bygone era. Good history and good writing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Lola's Mom VINE VOICE on September 20, 2008
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As a female aircraft mechanic myself (swing shift I might add), I found a lot of pleasure in this book. The Rosie the Riveters, in my opinion, are the the most brave, courageous women of that time. They literally paved the way for the rest of us and this book tells of that experience in a wonderfully humorous way. I laughed out loud and read some of it to my friends. The backordered parts, the war of day shift versus swing, the way men treat women like women one minute and a fellow the next (whatever suits their cause at the moment), and last, but not least, the aches and pains that come with the physical labor... all so very true. I was shocked to see how similar things are still today to what our original Rosie's went thru. My thanks and gratitude to these brave, amazing women. I would like to add that the author, Constance, wrote very well and made wonderfully witty remarks and I loved her sarcasm throughout the book. The absolute, only reason I did not give this 5 stars was that is too short!! I would have loved to read much more of their adventure. All in all, this book made an impression on me because of the way they handled their situations. It was not any easy task they faced, being pioneers in aircraft maintenance, but they laughed and made the best of it. I plan to keep this in my own tool box and when I have a particularily foul day, use it to remind me that there is indeed, a silver lining behind every cloud.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By P. Nailon on June 2, 2007
Format: Paperback
"Slacks and Calluses" was exactly what I'd hoped it would be and then some. The honest, unvarnished depiction of daily life for young women war workers at a bomber factory. The two women recount the insane process for getting their jobs (after an interview that consisted mainly of being asked, "Are you available? Good, you're hired.") and the many stations and stamps and officials that they were required to endure. Their training in building bombers was scant - they were responsible for not terribly important parts at first, but the parts still had to go on, and the factory had to have bodies to put them there.

Co-workers were - then as now - a collection of the hard working, the working hard at hardly working, the brilliant and the stupid. Bosses were much the same, but more to be listened too. Life outside the plant - the officers who were no gentlemen for refusing to give up bus seats to these women who were building 'their' bombers, the sadistic woman ice-cream vendor who flat out refused to serve the women, the never ending attempts to wash all the dirt, aluminum dust, grease, and oil from skin and hair, and the inability to have any time for a real life outside of work.

The authors were two high school teachers, who subjects - English and Art - made them the perfect duo to write this book.

Too often books are written solely because the author wants to; this book would have been missed by the world if not written.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Arnold Howard on October 8, 2011
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This book is hilarious all the way through. It is so interesting that I wish the author had written more fully about life in 1944 between shifts. Anyone who is interested in the history of the B-14 Liberator must read the book.

The author doesn't portray the war worker as patriotic. Many are shown as cynical and lazy. This dispels the popular movie image of everyone working in 1944 to support the boys who went to war. The characters in the book are true to life and much like the people I've worked with in warehouses and on construction sites. The patriotism runs deep, but it is beneath the surface.
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