Grandma Joins the Navy

Then I went to work. I had never had any trouble getting a job. It just happened to be near enough to a war where there was plenty of openings. And I had no trouble getting a job. I kept changing jobs all the time because as soon as I’d get an offer from somebody, more money, I’d change.

Underwood Typewriter Company, ca. 1915I worked for the Underwood Typewriter Company. That was my first job. I never got much salary. When I figure what the salaries are now and what they were then, I got the big sum of $24/week. Then later it was $25/week and then it was $30. Ooh, when I made $35/week, that was just . . . !

[Barbara]: That sounds like good money. We’re talking what 1920?

Right after The War. [Armistice was Nov 11, 1918.] This is the First World War.

[Barbara]: Now, the Second World War, isn’t it correct, when you decided you were going to join the Navy? Or is that still, oh, that’s still the First World War.

Yeah, that’s still the First World War. I went into the Navy. I went down to. . . .

[Barbara]: OK. First World War and how did you ever want to make that decision?

Well, I had an awful nerve. When I stop and think of it, I wonder how I ever had the nerve to go out and get a job with no experience. We were talking about experience. I had no experience, but I went out and applied for a job. And the first thing they always do is give you a test to see how fast you can type. I must have had pretty good speed because I never had any trouble getting a job.

[Barbara]: Always secretarial work?

Well, they didn’t call them secretaries. They called them stenographers. It wasn’t until after I was married and went back to work that they called them secretaries.

[Barbara]: When did you get into the Navy?

Well, I went into the Navy. I was working in my father’s office; I mean the office where my father worked. It was the Remington Arms Company [link]. And he [antecedent unspecified] said to me, “Would you like to work for my firm?”

Well, they offered me the big sum of $28/week. I just thought that was tremendous. So I said, “Yes, I’d like to work there.” I worked there for a little while.

While I was there, I met a man by the name of Mr. Bahmer. He was Jewish. I think he was Jewish—he denied being a Jew—but he was Jewish. He said to me, “Virginia, wouldn’t you like to go in the Navy?”

And I said, “Oh, yes, I think I would like to go in the Navy.” I said to my mother, “I’m going to go down and see if I can get into the Navy.”

I went down and they said to me, “Yeah, but you have to go down to 120 Broadway and make application.”

Virginia Mary White, ca. 1917I had so much nerve, I just wonder where I got all the courage. Well, I went down anyway and I applied down there. I got a nice job down there, right at 96th Street and the North River or the Hudson River. They call it the North River there. I really had the most wonderful time working there. I met all the most interesting people. That is where I met my husband.

partial transcription of Virginia’s life story as told to Barbara Duncan (Wally’s wife) in the summer of 1987, courtesy of Barbara Duncan

Can you add to the story? Please do. Write in the box below (You may need to click “Leave a Reply” above to make the box, name, and address fields appear.).

  • Do you recall other stories of Grandma’s time in the Navy? She speaks next of her courtship with Grandpa, which took place, in part, while she was still in the service, but can you relate other stories specific to her Navy work?
  • Who else in our family, besides Grandpa, serves/ed in the Navy?

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