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Posts Tagged ‘life at penniman’

Ladies, Where Are Your Names (and Stories)?

February 19th, 2018 Sears Homes 1 comment

While little is known about the men who worked at Penniman, even less is known about the women of Penniman, and yet, the majority of the workforce at DuPont’s 37th munitions plant were women.

Loading TNT powder into 75mm and 155mm shells was a nasty bit of business, and the women suffered deleterious effects from this work. The health problems associated with the work was so common that it had a name: TNT poisoning. Both medical journals and journals on industrial hygiene talked about this phenomenon at length.

TNT caused multitudinous problems to health, but perhaps the most severe was this: It damaged the bone marrows ability to produce white blood cells, and without white blood cells, the body can’t effectively fight off infection.

And then the Spanish Flu came to Penniman.

The death count at Penniman was so high that local papers said the numbers were unbelievable. Stories in the press said that coffins were stacked “rafter high” at the Penniman depot, day after day.

A lesser, but more obvious effect of TNT poisoning, was that it turned the women’s skin a bright yellow. (TNT was a relatively new invention, created by Joseph Wilbrand [in Germany] in 1863 as a yellow dye.) The workers at Penniman  were known as “Canaries” because of this dramatic change in their appearance.

In a desperate bid to mitigate the effects of TNT poisoning, the women workers at Penniman were given special uniforms, that were cinched at the ankles, waist and wrist to keep the ultra-fine TNT powder from lodging on their skin. Most women wore scarves around their neck.

I would love to know more about these women and to hear their story. Right now, I only have names for a handful of the women workers at Penniman, including Penelope Johnson and Sadie Bowers.

It’d be so helpful to know more about these women and their life at Penniman.

To read more about the Canaries, click here and here.

Want to learn about one of my personal heroes? Click here.

Thanks to the generosity of the family of Dr. John Henderson, I’m now in possession of “The Penniman Projectile,” which has a picture of the female workers in their uniform!

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This image, from the 1918 Ladies Home Journal, shows the uniform of a munitions worker.

This image, from the 1918 Ladies' Home Journal, shows the uniform of a munitions worker.

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And this image, from the December 1918 Penniman Projectile shows the female workforce at Penniman.

This image, from the December 1918 "Penniman Projectile" shows some of the female workforce on the shell-loading lines at Penniman in their DuPont-issued uniforms. Notice the caps! The men (seated) look quite dour.

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Itd be lovely to know more about the women of Penniman. I do know that the YWCA was the heart of Camp Penniman (as it was known), and for several weeks, the YWCA offered morality speakers to help the young, and oftimes naive women, stay away from mashers and sailors.

It'd be lovely to know more about the women of Penniman. I do know that the YWCA was the heart of Camp Penniman (as it was known), and for several weeks, the YWCA offered "morality speakers" to help the young and oftimes naive women stay away from mashers, soldiers and sailors.

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To read more about the Canaries, click here and here.

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Is That You, Dr. Cottrell?

February 11th, 2018 Sears Homes 4 comments

Last month, Steven Beauter was kind enough to share an incredible vintage photo album with me, which featured more than a dozen pictures from 1918-era Penniman, Virginia, a “ghost city” six miles from Williamsburg.

There are several unidentified folks within the pages of Steven’s photo album, but I’m asking your help in figuring out one image in particular.

Two years ago, the family of Dr. John Henderson (a physician at Penniman Hospital) sent me a photograph of the staff of Penniman Hospital. It was a wonderful discovery. Dr. Henderson’s family also shared the December 1918 edition of “The Penniman Projectile” which provided an insight into day-to-day life at The Camp (as it was known).

With this new knowledge, maybe we can stitch together more of the fabric of this story.

Please take a moment and look at the image below and give an opinion!

Thanks so much.

To learn more about Penniman, click here.

A note about watermarks: It saddens me to alter these images by adding a watermark, but unfortunately, it’s a necessity of these times in which we live.

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Within the pages of the Penniman Projectile, I found this picture, identifying Dr. Sam Cottrell as Pennimans Chief Physician.

Within the pages of the Penniman Projectile, I found this picture, identifying Dr. Sam Cottrell as Penniman's Chief Physician.

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This image above came from the family of Dr. Henderson, and I can now identify the second fellow from the left as Dr. Samuel Cottrell (Penniman's chief physician). And I'm still hoping to figure out that woman on the far right. She was a female physician, employed by DuPont to provide care to the overwhelmingly female work force.

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Cumberland
This image is from Steven Beauter’s photo album. My friend, Anne Robinson Hallerman, has posited that the man shown above is also Dr. Samuel Cottrell. I’m terrible with these type of judgments, but my first guess is, Anne is right about this.

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Here's a picture of all three images together. Is that fellow on the far right also Dr. Cottrell?

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Cottrell

Countless thanks to the family of Dr. John Henderson for sharing this 80-page magazine with me. It's the source of so much information about life at The Camp.

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To learn more about Penniman, click here.

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Virginia’s Very Own Ghost Town: Penniman (Part II)

February 15th, 2012 Sears Homes 2 comments

In 1918, Penniman was a real boom town, with 10,000 living in the village and another 10,000 to 20,000 people living in the outlying areas. By 1920, it was all over, and the 250+ houses in the village were boarded up and moved to other places.

Penniman, Virginia, sat on the land now occupied by Cheatham Annex (near Williamsburg) and started - quite literally - as a Boom Town.

In all started in late 1916, when DuPont selected Penniman as the site of their 37th munitions plant, probably because of its location:  It bordered the broad York River, had good rail access, and it was safely away from population centers. When you’re manufacturing explosives, sometimes things go BOOM.  (Google “DuPont Munitions Plant Explosions” to find a dozen pre-WW1 examples.)

To learn more about Penniman, read Part I here.

Recently, David Spriggs and I drove to Williamsburg, trying to find any original Penniman houses that had been moved there.

An aside: If you’re a person who adores early 20th Century architecture, Williamsburg is bad news. Due to the incredible expansion of the college (W&M), and the massive re-creation of Colonial Williamsburg in the 1920s and 30s, most of the early 1900s housing is gone. In 1926, Standard Oil philanthropist John D. Rockefeller donated more than $50 million to restore and re-create Virginia’s colonial capitol. To make way for the reproduced village of Williamsburg, many “crummy little bungalows” were sent to their reward.

Thanks to an old article in the Richmond News Leader in June 1938, we knew that some of the houses from Penniman had been moved to Williamsburg, and in fact, we had a street name: South England.

Willaism

This is a piece of an article that appeared in the Richmond News Leader in 1938.

The house(s) on Scotland are gone, and I suspect the “temporary dormitories” are long gone, too. We didn’t find anything on North Henry Street.

When David turned his dark blue Volvo down South England Street, we weren’t expecting much. It was a dead-end street and despite a lot of driving around, we hadn’t found a single Penniman house anywhere in town.

But when we rolled down to the corner of South England and Williamsburg, I recognized a house that I’d seen before. Actually, I’d seen a picture of it before. Mark Hardin had emailed the photo a few weeks prior, asking if it was a Penniman house. Looking at the picture, I’d said, “No, I don’t think it is.”

Seeing the house in the flesh changed my mind. It was most certainly a Penniman “Georgia.”

The Geogia was a Dupont design, built for factory workers at their plants in Penniman, Old Hickory, TN and Carney Point, NJ.

The Georgia was a Dupont design, built for factory workers at their plants in Penniman, Old Hickory, TN and Carney Point, NJ.

Was this a Penniman house? At first glance, youd say, heck no, but wait...

Was this a Penniman house? At first glance, you'd say, heck no, but wait...

The Penniman houses were wee tiny. This house is massive.

The Penniman houses were wee tiny. This house is massive.

But when you look at it from the front...

But when you look at it from the front, you see some distinctive features.

And you see that the house in Williamsburg (the yellow house with deep green shutters) is a nice match to the known Penniman Georgias on Major Avenue in Norfolk.

And you see that the house in Williamsburg (the yellow house with deep green shutters) is a nice match to the known Penniman house on Major Avenue in Norfolk (shown here). Notice the long, tall windows flanking the front door? That's a very distinctive feature on the DuPont Georgia.

The Penniman houses were wee tiny. This house is massive.

And if you look at the brick foundation, you'll see where it transitions from original 1920s structure to more modern brick foundation.

put somewhere else

The footprint of original structure is evident when you look at the foundation.

Do sis

They added some newer windows and enlarged the openings a bit and they added some batten shutters, and they built a 2,500-square-foot addition on the rear, but I'd have to say, this is most definitely one of our lost houses from Penniman, Virginia.

The Geogia was a Dupont design, built for factory workers at their plants in Penniman, Old Hickory, TN and Carney Point, NJ.

When you compare the two houses from the same angle, you can see - this house on in the 400-block of S. England in Williamsburg is clearly a Penniman house!

Thanks to Mark Hardin and David Spriggs for finding these little jewels in Williamsburg!  :)  It was Mark Hardin who first found this house on S. England, via Google!

To learn more about Virginia’s own ghost town, click here.

To learn about Sears Homes, click here.

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