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World War One and the Working Women of Wilmington

July 13th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

Based on our research, more than 50% of the workers in the Penniman Shell Loading Plant were women. The high explosives used in the plant turned the worker’s skin a bright yellow color. This was such a common problem that it became a frequent topic in early 20th Century medical journals. It was called “TNT poisoning.”

The women workers became known as “Canary Girls,” because of their bright yellow skin and ginger-colored hair. At lunch time, the Canary Girls were segregated in the cafeteria, because everything they touched turned yellow.

The body’s reaction to to the TNT usually began with sneezing fits, a bad cough, severe sore throat and profound digestive woes. Some women said the worst of it was the constant metallic taste in their mouth.

Many women simply couldn’t tolerate the suffering produced by the super-fine explosive dust that hung in the air, and left after the first day.  Others left when their health failed, days or weeks later. A few died.

The medical journals of the day stated that only 24% of the workers (male and female) showed no symptons of TNT poisoning (based on blood tests).

More than 3/4ths of the workforce were affected by the daily exposure to the high explosives. Some dramatically.

TNT poisoning depressed the development of red and white blood cells, which explains why the Spanish Flu was so devastating at Penniman. It wasn’t the tight quarters that killed Penniman employees by the dozens: It was the compromised immune system.

But more on that later.

According to news articles, almost 100 women left their homes in Wilmington, NC to go to Penniman in September 1918. And that was just the first two waves.

I wonder if anyone in Wilmington knows more about this piece of their local history?

What inspired all these women from Wilmington to jump on a train and go “stuff one for the Kaiser” at this plant in Virginia? Did any of these women share their story about life at Penniman after the war? Did all the women come back to Wilmington healthy and strong? Did some perish during the Spanish Flu epidemic?

As usual, I have more questions than answers.

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Triton

This appeared in in a 1918 US Army publication titled "The Shell Loader," which gave some wonderful insight into day-to-day life at Penniman. Notice that one of the things a Penniman soldier should know is, "Whether Triton (TNT) or Nature made his girl's hair that way."

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Rude girls

Oatine Face Cream was marketed specifically to Canary Girls. Notice the 155-mm shells scattered about on the ground. Image is from "Nice Girls and Rude Girls: Women Workers in World War I (Social and Cultural History Today)" published in 2000 by I. B. Tauris and written by Deborah Thom. Great book!

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Over

"Mrs. Lamb and Miss Jackson are astonished by their response to their appears for volunteers for war work..." (August 30, 1918, Wilmington Morning Star.)

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Not

Wages: 34 cents per hour. And by the way, if you or your parents were born in Germany (or Austria or Hungary or The Ottoman Empire), you would not be employable at Penniman.

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house house house

This article appeared in the "Wilmington Morning Star" on September 7, 1918.

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And someone took pictures! This appeared in "The Wilmington Morning Star," on September 9, 1918. Based on my ciphering, that picture should appear on September 15th, plus or minus three days. Bottom of first paragraph: "The Wilmington women are carried away with...the surroundings." Really?

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Surroundings

"The Wilmington women are carried away with...the surroundings." In Summer 1918, Penniman had more than 15,000 living within its small borders. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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The workers at Penniman wore an outfit such as this.

The women workers at Penniman probably wore a "uniform" such as this. It was found that skin contact with TNT caused severe dermatitis, and that the ankles, wrists and waistband were particularly susceptible, so there were elasticized bands at these points. Gloves were also worn in the shell-loading plants. (Ladies' Home Journal, June 1918.)

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To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

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An Abundance of Kit Homes in Tulsa (Updated!)

July 6th, 2011 Sears Homes 17 comments

Sears Homes in Tulsa?

That was my first thought when Rachel Shoemaker of Tulsa contacted me. She said that she thought there were several homes in her town.

Now if she’d been writing from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan or Ohio, I wouldn’t have been so surprised.

But Tulsa?

In the last 10 years, I’ve received probably 5,000 emails and I’ve never heard much from the folks in Oklahoma. In fact, Rebecca Hunter’s wonderful book, “Putting Sears Homes on the Map” lists states with known Sears Homes. Rebecca went through thousands of pages of old catalogs, noting all the testimonials from folks, and then compiled that info into one easy-to-use book. There are two states that have no kit homes listed: Oklahoma and Oregon.

Besides, Oklahoma didn’t become a state until 1907. They were still fighting off Injuns and would not have had time to read a 75-page instruction book on how to build a kit that contained 12,000 pieces of house. (I’ve watched 106 episodes of Gunsmoke. I know about this stuff.)

Rachel sent me a couple photos and I was impressed. And then Sunday night (July 3), I stayed up way too late driving the streets of Tulsa via Google Maps, and I found two more kit homes.

If you know the address of a kit home in Oklahoma, please leave a comment below!

Below is a compilation of what Rachel has found  (with a little help from me). All photos of extant homes are copyright 2011 Rachel Shoemaker and can not be reproduced without written permission.  Photo of Wardway Modern Home #105 is copyright 2010 Dale Wolicki.

And as an added note, if you enjoy these pictures, please leave a comment below for Rachel, as she has invested countless hours of her own time and money researching and photographing these houses.

This is an impressive array of kit homes, and this collection should be preserved and protected, and further research should be done. Don’t let this amazing chapter of Tulsa’s history fall back into the shadows of lost memories and forgotten treasures.

Westly

One of the distinctive features (inside) is that corner fireplace in the dining room! This is from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

And in Oklahoma! Its had a lot of improvements but this Westly is still standing.  Photo is copyright Rachel Shoemaker and can not be reproduced without written permission.

Unfortunately, it's had a lot of "improvements" but this Westly in Tulsa is still standing.

Ar

The Arlington was a beautiful and spacious bungalow. This image is from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Arlington

Tulsa's Arlington is not a spot-on match, but it's pretty darn close. The front porch was truncated to allow for placement on a narrow lot. This was a very common "customization."

One distinguising feature of the Arlington is this crazy array of windows on the staircase side. There are a whole lot of windows going on here.

One distinguising feature of the Arlington is this crazy array of windows on the staircase side. There are a whole lot of windows going on here.

Floor plan of the first floor shows detail

Room arrangement of the first floor shows what a grandiose house this was. Note the spacious rooms and the maid's quarters!

Detail of the Arlingtons roof, which is also quite distinctive

Detail of the Arlington's roof, which is also quite distinctive

And the house in Tulsa is a perfect match.

And the house in Tulsa is a very good match. About 30-50% of Sears Homes were customized when built, and this Arlington has a few minor changes (such as the truncated porch) but those are fairly inconsequential. I'd say that this house is almost certainly a Sears Arlington.

Said to be the first Sears Home in Oklahoma, this Saratoga is in wonderful condition.

Said to be the first Sears Home in Oklahoma, this Saratoga is in wonderful condition.

The Saratoga, as seen in the 1921 Sears catalog.

The Saratoga, as seen in the 1921 Sears catalog.

Sara

And from the 1916 catalog. Note the big price difference between 1921 and 1916. "The War to End All Wars" created a housing shortage and hyperinflation in the cost of building materials.

The Avondale was built a

The Avondale was built at the Illinois State Fair (late 1910s) and furnished with items from the Sears Roebuck catalog. This post card shows the Avondale at the State Fair. Note the stained class windows on the front and flanking the fireplace. Nice house, and popular too.

Sears Avondale in Chelsea, OK. Was this the first Sears House in Oklahoma? Itll be fun to find out!

Sears Avondale in Chelsea, OK. Was this the first Sears House in Oklahoma? It'll be fun to find out! This picture shows the mirror image of the house above. Landscaping prevented taking a shot from the same side (as shown above).

Woodland

Woodland as seen in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears

This view of the Woodland shows those two windows flanking the front door, and it's also a good shot of that itty bitty window inside the dormer on the third floor. The closet window (small window between the two second floor windows) is gone, probably hidden underneath the 1940s shingle-type siding. It's very common to see these little closet windows covered over when the substitute sidings go up.

Sad

Sad little Woodland, all dressed down and waiting to die.

Close-up of porch column detail

Close-up of porch column detail

po

Those unique porch columns, together with the windows flanking the front door suggest this is a Sears Woodland.

Aladdin was another kit home company, but they were actually bigger than Sears. Sears stopped selling kit homes in 1940, but Aladdin continued on until 1981. Sears sold about 70,000 homes and Aladdin sold more than 75,000.

Aladdin was another kit home company, but they were actually bigger than Sears. Sears stopped selling kit homes in 1940, but Aladdin continued on until 1981. Sears sold about 70,000 homes and Aladdin (based in Bay City, Michigan) sold more than 75,000. The Aladdin Sunshine (shown above) was a fairly popular house for Aladdin.

A near perfect Aladdin Sunshine in Tulsa.

A nice little Aladdin Sunshine in Tulsa.

One of the biggest and best Aladdin kit homes was the Shadowlawn.

One of the biggest and best Aladdin kit homes was the Shadowlawn.

Al

Is it an Aladdin Shadowlawn? Tough to say without an interior inspection, but it sure is a nice match, and even has the porte cochere (carport). It's a real beauty.

The Shadowlawns living room, as seen in the 1919 catalog.

The Shadowlawn's living room, as seen in the 1919 catalog.

This is a kit home from Gordon Van Tine, a competitor of Sears in the kit home business.

This is a kit home from Gordon Van Tine, a competitor of Sears in the kit home business. Gordon Van Tine (Davenport, Iowa) probably sold about 50,000 kit homes. The "Roberts" (shown above) was a very popular house for GVT. Thanks to Dale Wolicki for the numbers on Aladdin and GVT.

Gordon Van Tine

Although the front porch has been altered a bit and the side porches have been closed in, it's still likely that this is a Gordon Van Tine "Roberts."

Perhaps my favorite find in Tulsa was this GVT 712 (as seen in the 1921 catalog).

Perhaps my favorite find in Tulsa was this GVT 712 (as seen in the 1921 catalog).

And here it is, in the flesh. A real live GVT #712 in Tulsa. This is not a very common house, and Ive only seen one other (in Shipman, IL).

And here it is, in the flesh. A real live GVT #712 in Tulsa. This is not a very common house, and I've only seen one other (in Shipman, IL).

The Hudson was offered in the

The Hudson was offered in the late 1920s and early 30s.

Here is Tulsas Hudson.

Rachel has spent some quality time sitting in front of this house and studying the details. She feels strongly that this is a GVT Hudson. I have a few niggling doubts, but it certainly bears further investigation. An interior inspection would settle the question once and for all. Either way, this house proves what makes identification challenging.

Its

It's the details around the front porch that trouble me. The Hudson does not have a transom, while this house does. The Hudson does not have exterior lights flanking the door, and the ornamentation around the door is more grandiose on the Tulsa house (compared to the GVT).

Montgomery Ward also sold kit homes, but they can be tough to find, especially in land as far south as Tulsa! Based on some educated guessing, fewer than 25,000 Wardway Homes were built. In Tulsa, we found Modern Home #105. It’s a modest little house, but it’s also a distinctive house with several eye-catching features. And perhaps best of all, “Farmers all over the country are giving this comfortable home the preference.”

To learn more about Wardway Homes, click here.

Notice the paired box windows on the right side of this floorplan. This is a very distinctive feature of #105. This catalog image shows a vestibule, but that feature disappeared in future catalogs.

Tulsa

Montgomery Ward kit house #105 in Tulsa. Note the pair of box windows and the steeply pitched roof.

Here's a #105 from the same side. This house (shown for comparison) is in North Belle Vernon, PA. Photo is courtesy of Dale Wolicki and can not be reproduced without written permission.

h

According to "Many More Historic Homes in Tulsa" (by John Brooks Walton - 2003), there was a Sears Corona in Tulsa which was torn down years ago. Walton states that this house was located at 618 S. Delaware in Tulsa. It's a real shame that this house was torn down, as this was one of Sears finest homes, and it was also one of their more spacious homes. As the heading states on this 1919 catalog page, it was a classic early 20th Century American bungalow. If the countless hours of work invested in this one single blog can accomplish ONE thing, perhaps it can be this: Maybe we can halt the destruction of any more irreplaceable, uniquely American and historically significant kit homes in Tulsa.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

To read about the first Sears Home in Oklahoma, click here.

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