Pennsylvania Girl Recruited During World War II, Worked as Secretary on Manhattan Project
Interviewee: Barbara Dresner
Date: Sept. 17, 2012
Interviewed and transcribed (from audio recording) by: Joan Solomon Janshego
Location: Dresner residence in Chevy Chase DC
Barbara Dresner passed away on Nov. 9, 2020 at age 95.
Q – Tell me how it came about that you ended up in Washington, DC?
A – I had two years of college. I went to Dickinson Junior College. It is now called Lycoming College in Williamsport, PA. I was recruited with three other girls for jobs in Washington DC. It was during the war, and I didn’t know quite what I was going to do – just get an office job. They came to my home to interview me, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to come. I was scared. But what else was I going to do? I had to have my parents’ signature. I was only 19 years old. We went to Washington by train, and our mothers came with us. They had a place for us to live, which was where the Woodner is now – 16th and Spring Road. It had been a girls’ college during World War I, and then it became a boarding house. We each paid $50 a month for room and board.
Secretary for the Manhattan Project
Our job was located at the Carnegie Institution of Washington at 16th and P Streets. I was in a typing pool with my three friends. Our job was to do the paperwork to get deferments for physicists and scientists. Also, we were looking in Europe for physicists.
It was sort of boring in the typing pool. I was there about three months when I was called upstairs, which was in the rotunda in the Director’s Office. I was told I would work for Dr. Lyman Chalky ,who was a chemist, and he was an assistant to Dr. Vanderver Bush. Dr. Bush was president of the Carnegie Institution, as well as director of the Manhattan Project, although I did not know about the Manhattan Project at the time.
I forget exactly how I was asked to go upstairs. But I do remember that they said, “No nail polish, and you must wear stockings.”
I was an accurate and fast typist. I took shorthand at 120 words a minute. I suppose that is why they choose me. I was in a large typing pool and they choose me. That is where it started. I met Dr. Erinco Fermi, who was a well-known scientist.
Dr. Chalkley, my immediate boss, was working with Dr. Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin. At that time, penicillin was used only for servicemen and it was not synthesized. They were working out a way to synthetize it.
Until then, I had never heard the word “penicillin.” I thought, “how do I write it in shorthand”? I remember picking up Dr. Fleming at Union Station and bringing him back to the Carnegie Institution. He was quite elderly.
We had a chauffeur. His name was Posey. He did not wear a chauffer’s uniform. He just wore regular clothes. The staff was pretty small, and we were all quite friendly. I remember that military people and other important people came and went, and they often asked me to go with Posey to pick them up at Union Station.
Q – Was: Posey a black man?
A – No He was a white man. But there is another very interesting story. There was Dr. Carl T. Thompson and Major General Leslie Groves. Dr. Bush had an assistant whose name was Callaway. I remember that Callaway was a tall and imposing man. When Callaway was on vacation, I would have to take dictation from Dr. Bush.
In that office, I met a lot of very interesting people like Major General Leslie Groves, who was in the military. I don’t know if you know the story of the Manhattan project. Groves was a very tall man, and he had a big belly. I thought “what a buffoon he is.” He was always eating candy. I was the type who never missed anything. I, in a quiet way, noticed everything ,and so I formed these opinions. When he would leave, I would hear that the physicists would talk about him indicating that he was a jerk. These scientists and physicists – one was more brilliant than the next – but they had certain opinions. But I recognize now that Groves did perform an important role in the project.
Q – But you were not that impressed with him at the time?
A – At that age, no. . I learned later that he was very effective when I read the Oppenheimer biography.
Q – Were you the only secretary dealing with these people?
Only person to have combination to office safe
A – Yes. There was a man by the name of Carroll Wilson. He was an administrative type. He had a very small office, and that is where the safe was, although he did not have the combination to the safe. When I got the job, I was the only one that had the combination to the safe. I didn’t know what was in the safe.
Q – But you believed that there were important things in the safe?
A – I guess so.
Q – The Carnegie Institution building was on loan to a temporary agency?
A -. Yes, We were in partitioned office at the Carnegie Institution. The rotunda there is beautiful.
Q – What was the temporary agency called?
A – The Office of Scientific Research and Development – OSRD,
When I wrote letters home, I didn’t say much about my job but I would mention “ Dr, so and so.” I knew about penicillin, because I took dictation about that. The other things I did not know.
Q – So the dictation you took had more to do with penicillin?
A – That was just in the beginning. Then later, I took dictation about more advanced things you might say – more important people, but I didn’t know they were important at the time. I would type some of the dictation on stencil and then run it off on a stencil machine.
Q – These were physicists who were working on the Manhattan Project?
Dr. Robert Oppenheimer
A – Yes. That is when I met Dr. Oppenheimer. He was at Los Alamos, New Mexico, but I didn’t know where he was coming from. Now I know he was head of the Manhattan Project. The bomb was being made at Los Alamos, New Mexico. The physicists would meet in the director’s office.
Q– You were not in the Director’s Office when they met?
A – Sometimes I was called into the Director’s office to take dictation when the physicists were there.
Q – But they had you typing and taking dictation of the things that they were working on?
A – There was nothing that I remember about the atomic bomb.
Q – I assume they were using a lot of scientific terms. How did you know how to write them in shorthand?
A – There were not that many scientific terms. They were mostly about directors, people’s names, and a German physicist. I can’t remember his name. I met him too.
Q – It was more administrative things that they had you working on?
A – Yes. It was nothing about the bomb.
Q – Did they use code words, and you didn’t know what they meant?
A – They used letters and numbers sometimes.
My job after I went upstairs was serving tea to any dignitary or scientist who was in Washington DC at the time. The tray was set up with cookies and fancy cups. I thought I would never get through the first one. I guess I just figured out how to do it right. Someone set up the tea, and I would have to put the lemon on the saucer just so. I probably knew what to do from my mother. That is where I met all these people.
Q – The person, who had most immediate contact with as you were taking dictation and typing, was Dr. Vannevar Bush?
A – Yes. Mostly Dr. Bush, but also some with Dr. Chalkley.
Q – Did you work directly with Dr. Oppenheimer?
A – Later on. Yes. But in the beginning, I worked for Dr. Chalkley, who was probably in his mid 40’s. He was married and had no children. He was kind of a “fuddy duddy.”
A woman at the Cosmos Club
I was in the Cosmos Club many times for lunch. A lot of people who interviewed me said that women were not allowed in the Cosmos Club. But I was in the Cosmos Club quite often with these men, and they treated me as a guest. After we were married, Dr. Bush and Dr. Chalkley took my husband and me to the Cosmos Club to celebrate our marriage.
Q – Were these business meetings at the Cosmos Club?
A – As I recall, whoever was in town, they could get together. They would talk. It was hard to know what they were talking about. Anyway, I was a silent person.
Turned down dinner date with General Eisenhower
I was sometimes asked to take notes. One time, Dr. Chalkley said General Eisenhower was going to be at tea this afternoon.
Q – This was what year?
A – The end of 1944 about. There were a lot of people always there. I can remember Eisenhower clearly. I thought, “He really thinks he is something else.”
Q – The way he carried himself?
A – Well a lot was the uniform and all those stars. I don’t remember what he drank or anything. But within the course of 15 or 20 minutes, he came up to me and said something like “would you like to have dinner with me tonight?” I forget how exactly he said it. People asked me what did I say to him. I think I probably just shrugged my shoulders. I don’t think I said anything, but I indicated “no.”
Q – Why did you indicate no? Do you remember?
A – Yes. It was not the fact that he was married. He was probably in his 50’s then. I have been asked that quite a few times. I just thought, “Why would I like to go out to dinner with him?” I was fussy about who I went out with, because during World War II, my friends and I were very cautious, and we were smart.
Q – You were a small town girl in a big city?
A – That was probably true.
Q – Then what happened?
A – Well he went along his way. I watched him out of the comer of my eye, and I saw that he kept looking at me. This photograph that I showed you that was published in the Lycoming College alumni magazine is the dress that I had on. It was the most decent dress I owned.
Q – How would you describe the dress?
A –Well, mother bought me the dress before I came to Washington, and I had to dress properly for special occasions. It was a black crepe dress with little gold things on it. I made my own clothes mostly like in this photo.
Q – It looks like a flowered dress with a little bit of lace on it
A – Yes. And the girls in the photo are the ones who came to Washington with me. We are standing in front of the Carnegie Institution. One is Thelma Shaibley, who was my roommate. The other is Callie McHaffie, and the other is Alysia Agey. I remember that dress well. I made all of my own clothes. I made all my clothes since I was about 13. They left Washington after a few months. But I was there to stay.
A – Anyway, you had this contact with General Eisenhower.
Q – Well, he asked me a second time later. I never said anything to anybody that General Eisenhower asked me out to dinner, because it was not important to me.
Q – Was this also when the tea was being served?
A – It was the same place. Dr. Bush’s office was as big as the length and width of my house. It was impressive – a beautiful room. There were a lot of people there. There were a lot of people in uniform.
Q – This would have been how long after you came to Washington?
A – Four to five months. Because I started to have to do this tea business right away. The second time, I don’t know what I had on the second time.
Q – How did he ask you the second time?
A – There were no other people there. And when I think about it, I was just a dumb kid. I saw him and Major General Groves. There were a lot of VIP’s. I think he came up to me, and, I don’t remember exactly what he said. I probably shook my head a little more vigorously, I thought “why is he bothering me?” I guess I really wasn’t so dumb.
Q – Again, he was asking you about dinner?
A – Yes.
Q – You never said anything to anyone?
A – No. Not until later on. My sister just said , “Well, he probably just wanted to take you out to dinner.” I said, “I don’t care . I didn’t want to go out with him.” Someone said I should write a book, but I didn’t think it was important.
Q – What do you remember about the end of the war?
A – It was V-E Day. We celebrated – all my friends.
Q – Where were you?
A – Probably at work. We all went downtown. Everybody in the streets was screaming. I got home at about 3 in the morning. We just had a pay phone in the boarding house, and I was supposed to go to work. They came banging on my door at 4:00 Am., and so I had to get myself together. I got on the bus and went to work. I took dictation. I had little sleep. I was the only one called in.
Q – Do you remember what you did when you got there?
A – I remember more about V-J day. I remember I was called again. The part of the Oppenheimer biography was wrong. All of the scientists were there. As I sat there and looked at them, I think everyone was in shock that this happened.
Q – When the first atomic bomb was dropped?
A – Yes. Dr. Oppenheimer I remember was sitting on some low stool. He was dictating to me. I have some of my dictation up in the attic. I am beginning to clean out my attic, and I found some things. I know that other things are still up there. I remember there was a word that he used over and over. The word that he used was “share” – share the atomic secrets with everybody to prevent it from being used again. This is just my thinking. If it were shared, no one would try to make more mass destruction bombs. I think I vaguely understood that. But I was in shock too.
Q- What was the feeling in the room that you observed with them?
A – My feeling was that it was a horrible thing to happen, but it saved our American lives.
Q – What was Dr. Oppenheimer’s demeanor in that room?
A – Quiet. He had very piercing blue eyes.
Q – This thing that he was dictating – who got the document that you were working on?
A – I think he was dictating something over the top of his head. It was his thoughts. I don’t know what happened to it. I had carbons, and I thought it was interesting in my young mind.
Then, after that, and this is not documented in the biography, for two straight weeks – 6 days a week – he dictated to me in an empty building across from where Foundry Methodist Church is. It is across from the Carnegie Institution. It was like an old house – empty. It was on 16th Street across from Foundry. It was just the two of us. He was dictating.
Q – What was he dictating?
A – The nitty gritty of it I don’t remember.
Q – You would type it, and would he edit it?
A – No. I never saw it again. There was a small elevator in the building holding not more than two people. We would always leave together. He would want to take me home in a cab.
Q – So is that is what happened?
A – No. I took the bus.
Q – He would say, ”Let me get you a cab.”
A – I would say, “No. I’ll take the bus.”
Q – Why did you do that?
A – Well, I was used to taking the bus. I don’t know. Thinking back on it now, I think I thought , “Why bother him. I don’t need a cab. I’ll just take the bus.”
Q – You did this for two weeks?
A – It was 10 days. We were leaving this one day, and he had the medal that Truman had given him. And I can see him now. He was like a little kid. He was so thrilled with this medal.
Q – Do you know what the medal was?
A – I can’t remember the name of it. Truman had given it to him. Apparently, Truman did not care much for Oppenheimer. He thought he was a crazy scientist and called him a SOB, but the opposite was the truth.
I remember some of the higher-ups saying that Truman said, “I don’t want that idiot back in my office any more.”
Q – This was before the bomb?
A – Yes. Remember Roosevelt died, and Truman ordered the dropping of the bomb.
So Truman and Oppenheimer met probably a number of times, as I have read, and he thought this guy was crazy. He used some sort of a cuss word. He didn’t want him in his office. I remember laughing when I heard that.
Q – This was before the bomb was dropped?
A – Yes .
Q – You could hear people talk?
A – I would listen to everything. One would be louder than the other.
Q – Were you in an open office or were there cubicles? Where did you sit?
A [- There was a huge open area, and I was with Dr. Chalkley. It was a makeshift office. It is a huge beautiful building. I didn’t realize what a beautiful building was at that point.
Q – You could hear conversations in other parts of the office?
A – No. There was not much there. There was Dr. Bush’s huge office. And Carroll Wilson – I never did figure out what he did. That is where the safe was.
Q – But you had the combination of the safe, and that is where you think all of the secrets were?
A – Yes. On VJ Day I had to get there to open the safe.
Q – Other people must have had the combination.
A – No. They said that I was he only one.
In my understanding, from people who interviewed me, that we probably had top-secret clearances before we were even approached about coming to Washington.
Q – But you didn’t know any of that?
A – Right I didn’t know. The word top secret you never heard those words.
Q – What do you think was in the safe?
A – I can’t really say. I know some things that I surmised that were in the safe, because there were pictures of the concentration camps that we knew were going on. I am positive that they were in the safe.
Q – Why do you say that you are positive?
A – I remember being in Dr. Bush’s office and thinking “what is that – all those skeletons?” I didn’t know what it was.
Q –These photographs were visible on his desk?
A – Yes. I would have no reason to question what it was. In my mind I was thinking. “what kind of pictures were they?” In retrospect, I feel almost sure that these pictures were in that safe.
Q – What else do you think was in the safe?
A – I would say anything that had to do with the war, the Japanese – everything.
Q – How about things about the bomb?
A – Yes.
Q – So you had that extensive session with Dr. Oppenheimer. Did you work with him other times?
A – Remember he was developing the bomb, and he would appear sometimes. It would be in Dr. Bush’s office.
Q – Were you doing secretarial work for him during his appearances?
A – It was mostly Dr. Bush that I did secretarial work for, and then after the bomb, that day after that, that is when I did the extensive work with Oppenheimer. It would be 8 or 10 o’clock at night that we worked,.
Q – So you worked over 8 hours.
A – When we started in the morning, sometimes it was as late as 10 o’clock at night that we finished.
Q – Did you take a break for dinner or lunch ?
A – I guess we had food brought in. We never went out to a restaurant. The food came from the Greasy Spoon we called it. It was on P Street. That is where we had lunch.
Q – After VJ Days, what happened after that?
A – The agency was dissolved, and I was asked to stay on and work for the Carnegie Institution. I think Dr. Chalkley and Dr. Bush said “don’t stay in the government.” They wanted me to stay, and so I did. I worked and answered phones. I did some proofreading of books and stuff. I don’t know where I learned how to do that.
In spring of 1946, I was still working., when this navy lieutenant who had just gotten out of the Navy after the war moved in the boarding house, and he was the man that I married. . He was in the active reserve. He was still flying. He was in the Pacific area. He asked someone how old I was. I said, “Ask him how old is he.” He was 28 and I was 20. Then he came knocking on my door and asked if I wanted to go to dinner. We went out. He had an old car – no money. He had flight pay that he had saved. He was born in the Bronx. As a small child, they moved to Yonkers. He had a brother and sister – all three had been in the service. I am getting ahead of my story. He knew that I sang in the Foundry Methodist Church choir. Ten days after we arrived in Washington, Thelma and I joined the Foundry Methodist Church, and we immediately joined the choir .
Q – Did you sing in the choir back home?
A – Mulberry Methodist Church back home – I sang in the choir. When I went to college, I sang in the vocal ensemble – Thelma and I. Thelma had a lovey voice and mine wasn’t so lovely. So he knew I went to choir practice. We were talking and I could see where we were. I thought he was nice. He said , “I am Jewish.” I thought, “so.” He is telling me that he is Jewish, knowing that I was an active member of the Methodist choir.
Q – In that era, it was more unusual for a Jewish and Christian person to marry.
A – Absolutely. You don’t know the half of it. Well anyway, I came home, and I woke my roommate up. I said “This guy I have been out with, I like him a lot. “ She was just as fussy as I was. I said he didn’t even kiss me goodnight or even touch me, and that was a plus. And I said, “he is Jewish.” And she said up in bed and said, “What would you mother say.?
Q – So you decided that you liked this young navy lieutenant?
A – Yes. So we started to date. He was very concerned about religion. He knew that mine was a stronger religion. His mother was way ahead of her time. She was a social worker and graduated from Columbia University. She was a brilliant woman. As a mother-in-law, she could be a pain. But I respected her, and we got along beautifully. My father-in-law, I just loved him. I didn’t meet them until after we were married. Anyway, we dated from May, and in December we talked about getting married. He was concerned that my family would disapprove. You get the picture as to what he was like.
So he said, “We will be married in your church – in Williamsport, Pa. “ So we agreed. I went home, and my mother pitched a complete fit. She said, “It was bad enough when you almost married that Catholic fellow.” That was someone that I thought I was I in love with when I was in college. It was a big to-do. I got myself together , and I was coming back straight to Washington . On my way out the door, my father called me into the front bedroom. It was Christmas and he said , “Barbara, if you picked him out, he must be all right. You go back and marry him.” We were married January 25 in the Methodist Church in Kensington.
Q – So it was a small wedding.
A – Four of us. One was Dr. Marcien Wyczkowski. He was from Warsaw, Poland. He was best man. He lived in the boardinghouse. He was Catholic. He spoke 7 – 8 languages. He was with the International Monetary Fund. The other person in the wedding party was my roommate.
Q – Then you brought your husband back to Williamsport?
A – That took a while.
Q –How long was it before you brought him home?
A – Allen and I decided to go home. When my mother found out, she decided to visit someone in New Jersey. So when we got there, my 90-year old grandmother met him. My grandmother said, “I like him.” She knew I was expecting. I stayed with my sister. My father was there.
Dave was 3 months old when I flew up with him. My great aunt and my mother met us at the airport, and I was sick the whole time at the airport, because I was pregnant. I was holding the baby. My mother would not reach out her arms to take the baby. My great aunt did. It was pretty bad, and then slowly it evolved. She went on and on about having the baby baptized. We went to the Mulberry Street Methodist Church, and she was not very friendly there. The congregation was not very friendly either became I married a Jew. “Why would Barbara do a thing like that,” is what they thought. I kept my chin up. Then it evolved slowly. In later years, my mother said many times, if Allen was her son, she could not love him any more.
Q – How many children did you have?
A – Four sons. My oldest will be 65 on Sunday.
Q – Were did you live after you married?
A – We stayed in the boarding house just a few weeks, and then we found the Georgia Avenue row houses . Are you familiar with them.? I think it was 3923 Georgia Avenue – probably it is commercial now. I think we paid $50 a month for rent. It had a bedroom, and we lived there for about 3 or 4 months, and then we found an apartment in Arlington, Virginia. Remember this was after the war. We didn’t even have a phone. We had the old beat-up car that Allen had before we married.
It was a lovely apartment. Dave was born there. Dave was 18 months old , and Tom was a baby when we bought a house in Cheverly, Maryland. It was a lovely two-story brick house with two full baths , 4 bedrooms – $16,000 is what we paid for that.
We lived there 7 years. I wanted to stay there, because I had so many friends there. But we came to look at the houses behind us in Chevy Chase. My husband said they were not well built. They were asking $25,000 for those houses. So he said there was one that went on the market. We came around for this house. They were asking $38,500. There was no way. But we liked it. It had a nice big kitchen. We thought we could push $30,000. We talked outside, and said maybe we can manage, and so we offered $35,000. They accepted. We have been here 56 years. It was 1956 when we bought it.
Q – It was a new house?
A – Yes.
Q – Your husband was in the active reserves?
A – He was in the active reserve through Korea. He flew and did 2-week active duty each year after that.
Q – What was he doing when he was not in the active reserves?
A – He was in the wholesale kitchen business in Northeast. It was high-end kitchens.
Q – You became a stay-at home mother?
A – After my first child was born, I did not work outside the home. When my youngest, Keith, was11 years old, I thought it would be nice to have a part-time job. I could see the writing on the wall that the kids were getting older. The main reason was that my oldest was getting ready to go to college – Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. I decided not to apply at Woodies at Chevy Chase. I went instead to Lord and Taylor, because it was only a few years old in Chevy Chase . They wanted me right away – part time. I started working part-time 4 days a week. I loved it. I did retail when I was in college.
Q – Did you work in various departments?
A – I worked in the dress department. But then a sales person helped the customer. You helped all over the store. You helped with jewelry and furs. We were taught to do a good job.
Q – Did you get paid on commission?
A – No. We didn’t get paid much money, but I loved it. I stayed there 7 years. Someone said you should go to Garfinckel’s. So I went to the Garfinckel’s store at Spring Valley. I was there for 25 years. I worked on the second floor – sportswear. We had a designer department.
Q – Did you start working more than part-time?
A – At first I did, and then I had to cut back when my third son became ill. He was a NIH for 3-1/2 months.
I won two awards when I was at Garfinckel’s. Have you ever heard of shoppers who came in to see how well you are doing.? Once a year they would have this at the downtown and Spring Valley stores, and I won twice. You got 35 percent off everything in a Garfinckel’s store for a year when you win. Plus there was an elegant luncheon served downtown in the dining room. Things were done beautifully. I met famous people there. I met Mamie Eisenhower at Lord and Taylors. She used to shop there.
Q – Was this when she was first lady?
A– Yes. She was first lady. She was a friend with a woman who worked in another department and was a sergeant with Ike. Mamie was a small woman – very outgoing. I remember one time she was walking out, and someone said “See you in church.” She turned around and said “That will be the day. The roof will fall “ That was what she was like. She was delightful.
Q –Whom else do you remember?
A – Barbara Bush at Garfinckel’s. She would get her hair done there a lot. We would say “We are going to sell a lot of old lady clothes today.” She always picked up the old lady clothes – the Channel suits.
Q – When was this?
A – When her husband was vice president.
Q – Did you meet Nancy Reagan?
A – No. That came later in my career.
Q – Tell me about that.
A – Well Garfinckel’s closed. I said “I am not going to sit around the house.” A friend of mine said that someone is looking for part-time help at Chevy Chase Center. This was at Walpole’s at Chevy Case Center. It was a beautiful store that sold Italian linens. So I went there, and I got hired and they paid me $6 an hour.
Q – What year would that be?
A – I was there 14 years. I worked until I was 79.
Q – That was a high-end linen place?
A – We sold towels, sheets, monogramming from France, Italy and Portugal – up to 1,000 thread count. When Laura Bush’s housekeeper shopped there, the housekeeper chose 1,000-thread count sheets for the White House.
Q – You never worked in this type of area before?
A – No. I had only worked in fashion clothing..
Q – Tell me about the people that you worked with.
A – The owner lived in Alexandria. He didn’t come to the store often. The manager, whose name was Gil, was gifted as to what to buy for the area. He was 25 years old from the Philippines. I was the only American for most of the time I worked there. Gil and Tess were from the Philippines. Azeb and Martha were from Ethiopia. Cecilia was from Chile. Gil – the manager – started about the same time as I did.
Someone would call and say, “Is that Korean there. I want to talk to that foreigner.” It was nasty. I would say, “We have nobody here from Korea. “ I was a tough cookie. They wanted me to answer the phone, because they knew I could answer it very well. Gil was upset. He would say that these people were wealthy, and I told him that he was very smart, and they were stupid. So little by little, it got better. Then it got so that he would be on of these calls. I would say, “Gil, they want to talk to the Korean.” We would laugh like crazy the rest of the day.
There was one customer who used to buy from the store years ago, but she did not like it if someone with a foreign accent answered the phone. Because she knew that I was an American, she would call me at home to order things, because she didn’t want to talk to people who had accents. I was infuriated. But she spent a lot of money and so that is how we did business with her. We laughed about her too. One day this happened to Tess, who was a very bright girl from the Philippines. I heard some one say, “You don’t know what you are talking about. You don’t know the stock,” Tess could not speak out for herself. I shot myself over there, and I said “Don’t you talk to her like that.” It was first lady Barbara Bush and she looked at me like this – I am her age exactly – she knew I was right. Then I walked away. We called her the bullfrog.
Q – Why was that?
A – Because she was nasty. When we saw her coming, we would go back of the store and hide in the bathroom.
Q – Who dealt with her then?
A – If we saw her and saw the Secret Service,, we would yell down to Gil – the “bull frog. Is here.”
Q – He could deal with her?
A – Yes Then sometimes the housekeeper would come in or order by phone, Now the housekeeper quit when Nancy Reagan came into the White House, and then she came back after she left. She could not take Nancy Reagan. Laura Bush was lovely. She came in two days afar the inauguration and wanted to see the beautiful things that she saw at the White House before she became first lady.
Q – When did the store close?
A –They tore the whole center down. The only store left was Clyde’s.
Q – Did you quit working then?
A – Yes. It was 10 years ago.
Q – Do you think you would have worked longer?
A – Absolutely. We had a lot of fun, and I loved the young people. There was a saying that my mother would say if a certain person would come in the door, I would say to Zee, “Her face would stop an 8-day clock.” She understood right away. We are still friends.
Q – Other well-known people that you dealt with there?
A – Oh yeah. Chris Wallace, Andrea Mitchell, also, the woman who is on 60 Minutes – the blond – I can’t remember her name. Eunice Kennedy was wonderful. I knew Eunice Shriver from Garfinckel’s. Eunice would come in with the sister who was retarded. I never thought she looked retarded to me. Her daughter, Maria , was a little girl when I was at Garfinckel’s. I met Joan Kennedy at Lord and Taylor. Ethel Kennedy was the world’s worst.
Q – In what way?
A – The same thing as Barbara Bush. Of course, this was when I was in Garfinckel’s. We would try to hide in a dressing room. She was demanding. She would take something and throw it at you. She would throw something at you, and throw a piece a paper at you and say to send it to them. She was awful.
Q – What year did your husband die?
A – Ten years ago in June. He flew planes his entire life. He was in the reserves until after Korea. The squadron before him was the first to be called to Korea otherwise he would have gone to Korea. He was still in the reserves at that time. Then as a civilian, he flew gliders, and power planes. He owned a power plane for a couple years. He owned two gliders. He flew his last glider plane when he was 82.
Q – Did you go up with him?
A – A few times. But I was not wild about that.
If the weekend was nice, he flew his glider plane. He had a very active life . He liked to play golf also. He retired when he was 63 or 64, and then he did some consulting. That is a painting of his last glider, and this is he as a fighter pilot.
Q – Tell me about your children?
A – Dave is the oldest and has a MBA from Indiana University at Bloomington. He went to Wilson, Deal and Lafayette here.
Q – What did he do after college?
A – His first job was with Price Waterhouse. He became a senior partner when he was in his early 30’s, and his wife developed cancer. He knew that he was going to be transferred to New York and he couldn’t go. He was with them 20 years. So he went with a gas firm. He was CEO. It is in Virginia. He is working with Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania in the shale industry. I don’t know the details, but it has to do with finance.
Q – All four kids went to Lafayette. What was it like?
A – The schools were excellent.
Q – David was born in 1947?
A – Yes. And Tom was born in 1948 . Don is 61 and Keith is 58.
Q – So what did you think of the schools?
A – Excellent. Dave was in 4th grade when I got a call from the teacher. She said, “Dave cannot read at grade level. He will have to go back a grade or be tutored” We immediately had him tutored. He graduated magna cum lade and got a scholarship at Bloomington Indiana for his masters..
But my son, Tom, drove me up the wall.
Q – Why did he drive you up the wall?
A – He ran away from Kindergarten and first grade. I was at the school often because they said, “Tom did this and Tom did that.” This was before we moved here. They called in the school psychologist who said that he was very smart. But he was bored. One time the police brought him home. So he was in honors classes at Deale.
Tom, went to Steven’s’ Institute of Technology in Hoboken New Jersey. From there he got a job in Pennsylvania with Westinghouse, and he got his masters through that. Then was accepted at MIT and Stanford. He choose Stanford and get his PhD there as a mechanical engineer.
Q – And then you have the third son.
A – Don, my third son, is the son who had a serious medical problem. I think he missed the last 4 or 5 months of his senior year. You have heard of Dr. Anthony Fauci.? Well Don was 24 and Dr. Fauci was about 30 or 31. Without Dr. Fauci I don’t think Don would be around today
Q – Tell me about the youngest son.
A – Keith is in the funeral business. He lives with me. He is not married.
Where he was living ,they sold the house. This was after my husband died. I said “Come live with me.” It is nice having him here, although I think I could get along by myself. But it is comforting having him with me.
Q – Tell me about your neighborhood.
A – This area at one time there were restrictive covenants – no Jews or blacks but not by the time when we moved here. There was an older Jewish couple next door. ‘They were wonderful. I learned more about Judaism from them than I did from my husband.
Q– Tell me a little more about what you remember about attitudes towards Jews or African Americans.
A – I remember once before we were married, Allen and I went to the Kenwood Country Club for one of his business functions. As we drove up, I saw a sign that said “Gentiles Only.” I pitched a fit and told Allen I would not go up there. He calmed me down, and we went in. He took these things better than I did. I guess he was used to it.
A – But by the time, we moved to our neighborhood, restrictive covenants no long meant anything. There was a Vietnamese couple and there was a black couple that lived here for many years.
Q – Do you know when the first black couple moved in?
A – No. I did not hear anything negative about that. My black neighbor, Bud Ward came up the hard way. He became a CEO at Marriott. There were only 3 blacks that were CEO’s of big companies at that time. He still lives here today. The Wards are both my age. She was in the DC school system. I think she may have been a principal.
Q – If you were here in 1956, they moved in when?
A – I would say in the 60’s.
Q – Do you have block parties?
A – Yes. We have had them for the last 10 years. We also have neighborhood watch. We used to have Christmas parties, and someone would host it and everyone would bring something. This hasn’t been done for a couple years. It was in the big house across the street from me. There are both lawyers, very nice.
Q – Did you ever consider leaving Chevy Chase?
A – Never.
Q – Tell me about Williamsport. When you grew up
A – It is along the Susquehanna River – about 90 miles north of Harrisburg. I used to walk across the Susquehanna River Bridge to catch the trolley to save the fare. Besides we had a lot of fun walking across the bridge that was condemned in 1936, because it moved.
Q – Tell me about your family background.
A – My mother’s father was from Boston. He was in the Civil War. He died when my mother was quite young. My dad was born in London. Dad I think only went to the 8th grade. He was a machinist, self-taught. He worked at Bethlehem Steel in Williamsport. Before he worked at Bethlehem, he had a job working for a man. My mother said “Now you go get a job at Bethlehem Steel.” My mother was bossy. I can hear it. Mother said. “It is time for you to get a better job. “ He worked until he was in his 70’s during the war. He lived to be 94. My mother was 98-1/2 when she died, and her mind was first class at that age. She was in her own home when she died. My sister wanted her to sell the house and move. Allen and I said she is OK where she is. Slowly her eyes went, and she had some help.
Q– Where does your sister live?
A– She lives in Montoursville, which is local to Williamsport. She was a teacher. She helped with my mother more than I did, because I wasn’t there.
Q – What was growing up there like?
A – Great. In October we are having our 70th high school, reunion. There will be 8 or 10 of us attending. There were about 81 or 82 in our class. We are friends. I don’t mean just meeting once a year.
Q – Do you drive there?
A – No. My son or one of my grandsons will take me.
Q – Do you drive around here?
A – I haven’t driven for 3 years.
Q – When you learned shorthand or typing – was it in high school?
A – No. I took an academic course in high school.
Q – So you decided you wanted to go to college?
A – No. My mother decided. I didn’t want to go to college, because I had a job making $12 a week. It was at a five and ten cent store. My sister was a senior in college. My mother walked across the Susquehanna River and registered me at college. She registered me for a one-year course. I loved it so much, I went to the dean and changed it to 2 years. It was called secretarial science . But I never typed before. There was a girl ahead of me in high school who was so smart. They kept our typing and shorthand scores posted. . I must have decided that I would beat her – Mary Jane Marley – in shorthand in typing. I think I did 77 or 78 words in typing. I know that I topped at 120 in shorthand. We still laugh about that.
Q – During those years, it must have difficult financially to go to college.
A – My parents were thrifty. My mother used to make our long dresses . But everybody’s parents did those things. My sister went to Lock haven State Teacher College her last 2 years. Another interesting part of college was at the end of the first semester of college, there were no guys around. Everyone was in the service. The president of the college was a Methodist minister. We were all scared of him. It was Dickinson Junior College. Now it is Lycoming College.
The president went to Mulberry Street Methodist church. No smoking – it was very strict at the college – just the way I was brought up. The boys would eat bananas to gain weight to get into the service.
Q – What happened when you had dances?
A – At the end of the first semester, they moved 250 aviation cadets to the campus. There were all kinds of dances. The churches would have dances. This was wartime. Everyone doted on the cadets. Of course. we got first pick. That is why my mother said , “You almost married that Catholic guy.” I was dating a Catholic cadet when I was at Dickinson. I still have his picture in a locket in my bedroom. He was from Provo, Utah.
Q – Did he leave before you left for Washington?
A – Well he was there for 3 months, and then another group came in.
So this improved our social life. I remember George, he was there, and we had to be home at a certain time on a Sunday night. When I got home, my mother said she got a call from someone who said “Do you know that I saw Barbara at the bus stop kissing a boy?” Mother told that lady to mind her own business. Isn’t that funny?
Q – Your mother sounded like she was a feisty lady. Yu seem to have gotten your independence from her.
A – My mother would say, “You are just like me..”
My sister and I laugh now. We say we never got away with anything.
Q – Is there anything that I didn’t ask you that we did not talk about.
A – Yes. I did volunteer work during World War II at Walter Reed Medical Center where the worst injured men were sent. A couple days a week Thelma and I – or on Sunday – we would go there and visit. I dated someone who had his leg shot off in Germany. He had not gotten his leg yet. He was on crutches then. We would go places. I remember going downtown to the movies. He would fall. He was in uniform. People would pick him up. He could somehow get up. Then he was transferred to Forest Glen where the rehab was. That is where they were fitted with limbs. Any artificial limb is painful.
Q – Yu went there to cheer up the men?
A – Yes we had music, and we just talked. The Jewish Community Center on 16h Street had bond rallies . I met Andy Rooney there when there was a memorial service for Ernie Pyle. Pyle was a photographer and journalist during the war, and he was killed. Andy Rooney was a European journalist. He was good looking
Q – How did the bond rally work?
A – The military would be there. There was no one selling that I recall. It was mostly social. There was a military band there. There was no dancing. It was our duty to go – Thelma and me. Then we did volunteer work at Walter Reed.
I remember going to the Pentagon quite a few times in an old car with Posey. Posey drove me there. He would say, “We are going to the Pentagon, Barb.” I remember the first time I went, there were a lot of uniforms. I guess I went up to someone, and they knew I was coming and handed the document over. All of these things were just a matter of course back then.
Q – What was Posey like?
A – He was an older man – no uniform.
Q – What kind of a car?
A – It was probably an old car. Cars were scarce during the war. I couldn’t afford a cab. I took the bus.
Q – Do you remember what you got paid?
A – $1,440 a year, and then I got a raise to $1680 when I went upstairs.
Q – Was that a lot of money compared to what you would get in Williamsport?
A – I never thought about money. The first thing we did was pay our rent. We got room and board. We got breakfast and dinner at night. On Sunday, we got brunch. And then we watched every penny that we spent. We ate lunch at the greasy spoon across on P Street . We paid $50 for room and board. Four people used the bathroom, and it was down the hall. We had two people to each room. It was a beautiful place. There were flowers. It had been a girls’ school during World War I. It was called the Martha Washington Seminary. So it was like a big dormitory.. In front was the manor house.
You know the bridge that has the lions on it? Well I had my first kiss from my husband sitting on top of one of the lions. It was in the afternoon.
Q – You called it a manor house. Why?
A – It was a beautiful, old house like a mini- mansion with beautiful gardens and flowers. Then behind it was this big dormitory – where we lived. The address was 16th and Spring Road. The Woodner is there now.
Q – The building got knocked down?
A – Yes Long time ago. I heard that it was used as girls’ finishing school in World War I. Then the government found us a place to live there . It was safe. Our parents came along with us to see where we would live. I think I was the youngest of the three of us. I was 19.
Q – Did you sit at big tables at dinner?
A – Thee were nice individual tables. It was nicely serviced,. The food was good.
Q – Did you do social things there?
A – They had a piano. Thelma played the piano, and we sang. There were a lot of Chinese military people living there at the time.
Q – How many lived in the dormitory?
A – There weren’t many – maybe 40. We were the only government girls. There were not many men.
Q – Did you still continue making dresses when you were in Washington?
A – I would come home from work and sew. On Sunday I would sew.
Q – Anything else you can remember about life in Washington in Washington DC.
A – I think it was great But we did think we could lose the war. So I worked 6 days a week. Shoe and stockings were rationed.. The stockings were awful looking. They were not nylon. There was no ration book for them, because the stockings were not nylon. They were probably cotton. I think we had one pair of shoes.
We also had a social life at Foundry Methodist Church. The church had a lot of social events. We mingled a lot with black churches. Our choirs would sing together.
Q – Anything else you would like to tell me?
A – Well I could tell you that my husband’s mother was a Salk before she married. She was an aunt to Jonas Salk, the scientist who developed the polio vaccine in the 1950’s. My husband’s mother’s parents were Jewish and came to the United States from Russia at about the same time as Jonas Salk’s mother did. The Salk’s were a poor, immigrant family, but education was very important to them. I told you that my mother-in-law was a social worker and knew Eleanor Roosevelt.
Q – How did you learn about NNV [Northwest Neighbors Village]?
A – My friend, who lives in Chevy Chase Village, told me about it. So I got the phone number of Marianna at NNV and called her.
Q – Did your parents or other older members of your family age at home?
A – Yes – my grandmother, whom I loved dearly, was in her own home for many years. Then after I was married, she came to live with my parents. She was the one that said she liked my husband, the first time that she met him.
My parents lived in their own home until the end of their lives. My father was 95 when he died and my mother was 98 and a half.
Q – Who helped them as they grew older?
A – Toward the end of her life, my mother had caregivers who came to the house. But living in a small town, she also had neighbors who helped. And my sister lived in Williamsport also, and so she helped too. At one point, my sister wanted my mother to move to an Assisted Living facility. When I told my husband this, he said, “absolutely not. She would not be happy there.” And so she stayed in her own house until the end of her life.
Q – What do you like about NNV?
A- I like all the interesting people I have met. I also like the social things that we do. I loved going to Glenstone, the art museum a few weeks ago
Q – What would you like they future of NNV to look like?
A- I think it is perfect the way that it is.