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Posts Tagged ‘tnt poisoning’

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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Penniman: We Have Alleyne’s Last Name!

January 27th, 2018 Sears Homes 4 comments

After that last blog, Milton, Mark and David (three faithful researchers that have been with me since the start of this project) went to work to find Alleyne’s last name.

This morning, I found an email from Mark Hardin, explaining that he’d found Alleyne.  Her full name was Alleyne Litell Conn, born in 1886 in Virginia (see full information below). Was she a “canary” at Penniman? (Canary was the name given to women who worked on the shell-loading line, pouring molten TNT into 75mm and 155mm shells. The highly toxic TNT would turn their skin a bright yellow.)

These women sacrificed so much, and yet due to strict censorship laws, published accounts of their life at Penniman were vague and almost polyannish.  There will be a day - hopefully - when I discover that one of these “Canaries” at Penniman left behind a written journal of her life at work, that tells what it was like to work at a WW1-era munitions plant.

And Mark explained here, he’s still trying to track down “Freckles.”

Below, you’ll see a few more of Steven Beauter’s wonderful photos. Steven - a sagacious and thorough historian - purchased these postcards and photos several years ago and shared them with me recently.

All vintage images below are courtesy of Steven Beauter. The newspaper clipping (about Alleyne) was found by Mark Hardin at newspapers.com. The death certificate for Alleyne was obtained by Milton Crum at ancestry.com.

Thanks to Steven Beauter for allowing me to use these images below.

To read the prior blog, click here.

Want to learn more about this fascinating “Ghost City”? Click here.

Learn more about the “Canaries”!

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Perhaps one day, well know more about the women who worked at Penniman.

Perhaps one day, we'll know more about the women who worked at Penniman. The workforce was overwhelmingly female. Twenty-four hours a day, women loaded TNT into 75mm and 155mm shells at Penniman. TNT poisoning was a persistent problem, with multitudinous side effects. Some women were rendered sterile by exposure to this toxin.

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FFF

The caption within the 100+ year old photo album tells us that this is "Edith" (last name unknown) at Penniman. I am more than a little curious about her watch. I've never seen a wrist watch on a woman in this time period. It almost looks like she's used a leather strap to put a man's watch on her wrist.

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The occasion is "Jean's birthday party" on August 2nd, 1918. These women are sitting by the York River at Penniman, Virginia.

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Hanging out at the beach (York River) was a frequent theme in all of these 100-year-old photos.

Hanging out at the beach (York River) was a frequent theme in all of these 100-year-old photos. The water was apparently very shallow for some distance. Those suits are delightful!

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From a postcard (also purchased by Steven Beauter), this is a view of H Street in Penniman. This model of house (covered in Ruberoid siding) is known as the six-room bungalow. Yes, thats its given name.

From a postcard (also purchased by Steven Beauter), this is a view of "H Street" in Penniman. This model of house (covered in Ruberoid siding) is known as the "six-room bungalow." Yes, that's its given name!

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And

All we know is that this is Penniman. There were no captions within the photo album for this fellow.

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If  you look behind this gent, you can see a couple posters.

If you look behind this gent, you can see a couple posters.

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The poster on the left

The poster on the left states "Kan the Kaiser."

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And

This seems to be an especially appropriate poster for Penniman.

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Thanks to Mark Hardin, we have a full name for Alleyne.

Thanks to Mark Hardin, we have a full name for Alleyne (Times Dispatch, March 1919).

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Haggerty

This photo, titled "Harvest," shows "Mrs. Haggarty, Jean and Alleyne." We now know that Jean's birthday was August 2nd (see photo at top of blog) and that Alleyne's last name was Conn.

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DD

Alleyne Conn died in 1953.

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When researchers study our times (21st Century), there will be no more postcards.

What a treasure to find a post card mailed from Penniman! The war had just ended five days prior. When researchers study our times (21st Century), there will be no more postcards.

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And the text is legible.

And the text is legible.

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First, my favorite. This is a picture of Freckles and the caption reads The trial of all of Penniman.

Freckle's genealogical records remain elusive.

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To read the prior blog, click here.

Want to learn more about this fascinating “Ghost City”? Click here.

Why were they called “Canaries”?