Hidden Heroes of WWII (Part II): DeKalb County women on the home front

This is part II of an ongoing series to honor women from DeKalb County, Illinois who served during WWII. This part of the series will focus on the efforts of women on the home front. In the next few posts, I will highlight several local women-led organizations that supported the war effort and the community during WWII, including the American Red Cross, the Women’s Ambulance Safety Patrol, the Cadet Nursing Corps, and the Volunteer Nurses’ Aide Corps. 


During WWII, huge efforts and sacrifices on the home front contributed to American victory. Women in particular contributed to the war effort in unprecedented ways. For the first time, women became enlisted members of the U.S. military, and the almost 150 DeKalb County women veterans were honored in part one of this honor roll. On the home front, there were scores more who filled war jobs in local factories, joined local organizations, donated blood, organized fundraisers and scrap drives, knitted clothing and wrapped surgical dressings, planted victory gardens, worked on local farms, and more. Women adapted to rationing by carpooling, walking, canning homegrown produce, and going without new stockings, shoes, and kitchen wares.

Women picking corn during a WWII labor shortage (Image source: Sycamore True Republican, 28 Jul 1942, p. 4)

Organizations like the DeKalb County United War Fun raised money for the USO, which included the Salvation Army and YMCA. Local women were essential leaders for selling war bonds and collecting scrap metal. In the fall of 1942, nearly 40 women applied to take a Civilian Defense course to learn how to use firearms in case of an emergency. Local factories, including Wurlitzer and Ideal Industries, produced weapons and equipment for the military, and women accounted for a large portion of their workforce during the war.  Area farmers relied on women like Janet Pogue and Joyce Neubauer (see photo on the left) to help fill the farm labor shortages as their workers left for the armed forces or to work in higher-paying factories. Women were also leaders of many of the local organizations that supported the troops and provided essential wartime services. 

 

Mrs. Emily Fox, Red Cross Knitter (Image source: Daily Chronicle, 17 Jan 1942, p. 3)

American Red Cross was the most active and influential organization in the county, with several chapters and units throughout the county. For the year of 1944 alone, there were 1,857 workers who put in 4,343 hours and produced 60,394 surgical dressings in the DeKalb County chapter. Young women and girls in the Junior Red Cross and the Girl Scouts ran scrap drives and bond drives, and helped knit items for soldiers. One dedicated knitter, Mrs. Emily Fox (see photo on the right), knitted over 100 sweaters and gave over 1,500 hours to the Red Cross during both World Wars. The Red Cross also supported the training of other local groups, such as the Volunteer Nurses’ Aides Corps and the Women’s Ambulance Safety Patrol (WASP). As the need for more nurses and nurses’ aides grew, the government offered nursing courses for free through the Cadet Nurses Corps program, and nurses’ aides were trained through Volunteer Nurses’ Aides courses. These programs jump-started the medical careers of many local women. A unit of the Women’s Ambulance Safety Patrol was established in 1942, and this group prepared for “safety in time of peace and service in time of distress” by practicing first aid and auto mechanics. 

 


DeKalb County American Red Cross

The DeKalb County chapters of the American Red Cross were likely the most active and prominent wartime organizations in the county. Their thousands of dedicated volunteers from DeKalb County are too numerous to mention. There were units in nearly every village and township across the county, and large chapters centralized in Sycamore and DeKalb. Women lead a lot of these groups, and organized fundraising drives, knitting and sewing groups, first aid and nursing courses, and more. The American Red Cross had been very active in the county during the first World War, and continued to be a prominent organization during and after the second World War.

The DeKalb County chapter was headquartered in Sycamore, and covered Sycamore and all the areas in the county not served by its own city or township chapter. Starting in 1942, the chapter met in the basement of the Sycamore Library for mass sewing drives and wrapping bandages. Under its care, the chapter had units in most towns and townships in the county. Many of these units were organized in 1942. The county leaders included: 

  • Irene M. Welch (Chairman of the DeKalb Co. chapter, 1940-1944)
  • Ethel Campbell (Chairman of the DeKalb Co. chapter, 1945)
  • Nellie Murphy (Treasurer, 1940-1945)
  • Edith M. Bennett (Chairman of the Sewing/Production Dept, Sycamore, 1942-1945) 
  • Jessie E. Evans (Chairman of Special Services, 1945)
  • Emilie L. Halsted (Chairman of Sewing/Production Dept, Sycamore, 1942) 
  • Nancy L. Hennis (Chairman of the Nurses’ Aide Dept, 1945)
  • Helen B. McIntyre (Chairman of the Dressing Dept, Sycamore, 1942-1945) 
  • Madeline M. Middleton (Chairman of the Home Nursing Committee, Sycamore, 1945) 
  • Anne H. Rogers (Chairman of the Dressing Dept, Sycamore, 1942-1945) 
  • Ruth D. Weeden (Supervisor of knitting projects, 1942)
  • Vesta L. Wylde (Supervisor of knitting projects, 1942)
Sycamore, IL Red Cross, WWII Members of the Sycamore branch of the American Red Cross (Image source: The Daily Chronicle, 18 Dec 1943)

The local and township units were each led by a chairman or president, who coordinated with the County chairman in Sycamore. These local units were each led by:

  • Florence M. Bennett (Co-chairman of Genoa unit, 1942-?)
  • Leila Cutts (President of Lee unit, 1943)
  • Kathryn J. Elkins (Chairman of Cortland unit, 1942-?)
  • Dorothy E. Horn (Chairman of Paw Paw Twp unit, 1942-1945)
  • Hattie Keene (President of Waterman/Clinton-Afton Twps unit, 19??-?)
  • Florence M. Klein (Chairman of Pierce Twp unit, 1944)
  • Lou B. Lamont (Chairman of Kirkland unit, 1944)
  • Marian M. O’Donnell (Chairman of Lee unit, 1944)
  • Beatrice B. Ortt (Chairman of Kingston unit, 1944)
  • Margery S. Prain (Co-chairman of Genoa Twp, 1942-1944)
  • Delores Schmidt (Chairman of Hinckley unit, 1941-?)
  • Mildred Schmidt (Chairman of Shabbona unit, 1944-1946)
  • Alta M. Upstone (Chairman of Fairdale unit, 1944)
  • Birdie J. Veale (Chairman of Malta unit, 1944)
  • Edith V. Warren (President/Chairman of Victor Twp unit, 1942-?)
  • Lily A. Weichlein (Chairman of the Sycamore unit, 1945-?)
  • Irene M. Welch (Chairman of the Sycamore unit, 1940-1943)
  • Eleanor B. Welty (Chairman of South Grove Twp unit, 1940-?)
  • Vesta L. Wylde (Chairman of the Sycamore unit, 1943-1944)
Lee unit of the American Red Cross Members of the Lee unit, which was under the umbrella of the DeKalb County chapter of the American Red Cross. (Image source: The Daily Chronicle, May 8, 1943)

The Junior Red Cross had several units under the local chapters. It coordinated with local schools of all grades to organize knitting groups, assembling care packages for soldiers, and fundraising. The local chairmen were: 

  • Kathryn J. Elkins (Chairman of Cortland Jr. chapter, 1942-?)
  • Evelyn E. Fawcett (Chairman of DeKalb Jr. chapter, 1944-1945)
  • Ethel F. Holland (Chairman of County Jr. chapter, 1942-1943)
  • Helen Louise Kennedy (Chairman of County Jr. chapter, 1945)
  • Cora B. Miner (Co-chairman of Sycamore chapter, 1943)
Mary Marvin, DeKalb, IL (Image source: The Daily Chronicle, 10 Jan 1942, p. 3)

DeKalb had its own chapter, and met in the Haish Memorial Library in DeKalb, with its sewing department quartered in The Chronicle building in downtown DeKalb. During WWII, the leaders included: 

  • Roy Skorberg (Chairman)
  • Della Fisher (Secretary 1942)
  • Margaret Mihm (Treasurer 1942)
  • Miriam Mills Anderson (Chairman of the First Aid Committee, 1934-1956)
  • Minnie L. Carlson (Chairman of the Food and Nutrition Dept, 1943-1944)
  • Ellen M. Foiles (Chairman of the Home Nursing Dept, 1943-1944)
  • Alta Furr (Trustee 1942-1945, Chairman of the Life Saving Dept, 1944)
  • Pearl Jackson (Chairman of the Canteen Unit, 1944)
  • Mary A. Marvin (see photo, right) (Chairman of Sewing Work, 1942)
  • Ruth E. McEwen (Trustee 1942-1945)
  • Eleanor S. Quinn (Chairman of the Blood Donor division, 1944)
  • Ulla M. Schreck (Chairman of Nurses’ Aide Dept, 1943-1945)
  • Elmi Swanblum (Chairman of the Production Dept, 1944)
  • Clara A. Swanson (Chairman of the Civilian Home Service Dept, 1944)

Stay tuned for the next post, highlighting the Women’s Ambulance Safety Patrol of DeKalb County!

4 thoughts on “Hidden Heroes of WWII (Part II): DeKalb County women on the home front

  1. Very informative article! Women were very important to the war effort, but were so often overlooked. If they were acknowledged in the newspapers, it was usually under their husband’s name, such as in some of your photos. I am so glad that you listed the women with their own names as you highlighted their accomplishments!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Diane! It’s true, if they were married they were almost always named under their husband’s name. Luckily, I was easily able to find out their own names and honor them with their own names. Thanks for reading!

      Like

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