In 1943 two spirited young teachers decided to do their part for the war effort by spending their summer vacation working the swing shift on a B-24 production line at a San Diego bomber plant. Entering a male-dominated realm of welding torches and bomb bays, they learned to use tools that they had never seen before, live with aluminum shavings in their hair, and get along with supervisors and coworkers from all walks of life.
They also learned that wearing their factory slacks on the street caused men to treat them in a way for which their "dignified schoolteacher-hood" hadn't prepared them. At times charming, hilarious, and incredibly perceptive, Slacks and Calluses brings into focus an overlooked part of the war effort, one that forever changed the way the women were viewed in America.
There they were the big bombers! But they weren't so big as we had thought they would be. We had been told the statistics: over 320 miles an hour, 34,330 pounds when empty, 110 feet in wing span, 66 feet in length, 18 feet in height; and I explained to C.M. that 34,300 pounds was about what 172 football players would weigh and that 66 feet was the equivalent of a whole football team laid end to end. These facts had impressed her, as things laid end to end always do; but even then she had said that they seemed a Little Small for a big bomber.
Excerpted from Slacks and Calluses by Constance Bowman. Copyright © 2004 by Constance Bowman. Excerpted by permission of Smithsonian Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
"[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