Evening News Staff
Taken from The Southbridge Evening News Special
DOD Supplement dated Friday, March 31, 2000:
SOUTHBRIDGE - These are the women of the AO. Not all of them, just a few who happened to be working at the cement building one day in the 1940s and probably spent 10 minutes of their lunchtime to pose for the photo. These are women who were first-generation Americans or who came here with their families from Canada, Poland, Albania, Italy and Greece to earn a decent living at the largest employer in central Massachusetts.
WWII Photo - AO Archive
Throughout the years, their numbers were many.
Their lives were full, helping out in the workforce as well as in the home,
spending their hard-earned dollars on picture shows, new hats, and more
often than not, dinner for their families or shoes for their younger siblings.
In the 1940s, when companies just began to hire
women to take the place of men as they went off to serve in World
War II, there were women, such as Anna Giard, Marion Rich and Eva Renaud
who celebrated their 20th and 30th years of service at the AO. Other women,
such as Frances Sherburne, Cpl. Beatrice Paul and Pvt. Mildred Wheeler,
decided to leave their post at the AO to join the war effort.
Wheeler was not forgotten by the folks back home,
as described in this account from the AO News' "Steno" column on Oct. 19,
"T/5 Mildred Wheeler is our G.I. Jane of the
week, and she happens to be our first Servicewoman to appear in this column.
Pvt. Wheeler is stationed at the Army General Hospital at Camp Edwards,
where she is doing physical therapy work which she finds very interesting
as well as important. Mildred left for the service on Sept. 8, 1944, and
prior to her entry, worked in Department A1N. She is eligible for discharge,
but because her work is so urgent and she is needed at the hospital, she
plans to remain in service a while longer", states an article from
the AO News.
The American Optical News, founded in 1940, featured
engagement announcements, war news, sports team coverage, recipes, polls,
profiles and news about the AO. The publication not only showed signs of
a strong female workforce in its photographs, articles and announcements,
it was run by women, including editor Louise Hicks, Gloria Bachand and
Jean Olson in the 1950s.
"It was like a family at the AO in those years.
Everyone was friendly. Thursday nights downtown, you'd bump into each other.
Women were a good part of the AO. My first boss was a woman. I was an errand
boy," said former AO worker George
Vasil, who started his career at the AO delivering
messages from one end of the plant to the other, remembers scores of women
sitting at their stenographer's desks in the transcribing room.
"They typed letters for the office people, who
would speak into Dictaphones. There was a whole room full of women. All
they did was type," said Vasil.
Apparently, the "Steno Girls" as they were appropriately
nick-named, did a bit more than just type others' words all day. In a letter
signed "The Steno", a bit of local AO color can be seen in a Feb. 9, 1945
edition of the American Optical News:
"Last, but quite important to the AO girls
was the mad rush for ÔBelle Sharmeer stockings. It so happens that
Lenti's Shoe Store is unfortunate enough to be the only store in town selling
the popular brand. Lenti's telephone rings constantly from the 20th of
the month until the stockings come in, sometimes several days later. Once,
the operator at the main switchboard immediately after receiving the number
Ò580MÓ so many times, politely answered, If you're inquiring
for Belle Sharmeers they haven't come in yet. Delivery this month was five
days late and the girls were afraid they were going to be left without
them. But soon they found a solution and sent their boy-friends or husbands
to obtain them. Leave it to the women to always get what they want!"
One woman, Dr.
Estelle Glancy, who was not a stenographer or in quality control was
among those who spent their time in the research lab, said Vasil. She was
instrumental in doing the math work with Dr. Tillyer, in designing the
Tillyer lens, he recalled.
Whether they served in steno, quality control,
production or in the lab, women were an integral part of the American Optical.
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