1. LIBRARY CATALOG
  2. DATABASES
  3. JOURNAL A-Z List
  4. SUBJECT GUIDES
  5. LIBRARY SERVICES

The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Jean Wrenn Higgins, 1999

Search the Collection


AND   OR   EXACT PHRASE

Object ID: WV0025.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Jean Wrenn Higgins’s education at the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro) in the 1930s; her experiences in the WAVES from 1943 to 1945; and her post-war activities.

Summary:

Higgins discusses in some detail her time at the Woman’s College. Topics include her memories of Dr. Benjamin Kendrick and Dr. Eugene Pfaff and other notable instructors; her financial difficulties; work with the National Youth Administration; visiting performers; and Greensboro in the late 1930s.

She also describes her decision to join the WAVES in 1943; the tests she took; and the many difficulties of Officer Candidate School and basic training in Northampton, Massachusetts, including homesickness. Higgins recalls her duties in Glynco, Georgia, first as a supervisor of enlistees, and then as an aide to the commanding officer, as well as other work done on the base and the male soldiers attitudes toward WAVES. She describes her social activities while stationed there, including beach parties, trips to Jekyll Island; her experiences chaperoning the base basketball team; and memorable

aspects of popular culture during World War II.

Higgins also discusses her life following her discharge from the navy in 1945, including the months she and her husband lived in Washington, D.C., with the chairman of the Federal Commerce Commission. She comments on her husband’s career and wounding in the 1st Marine Division while stationed in Guadalcanal; the impact of World War II on women’s employment; her family; and her places of residence.

Creator: Jean Kathryn Wrenn Higgins

Biographical Info: Jean Wrenn Higgins (1919-2012) of Siler City, North Carolina, served stateside in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services) from 1943 to 1945.

Collection: Jean Wrenn Higgins Oral History

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Full Text:

HT:

My name is Hermann Trojanowski and today is January 26, 1999. I'm at the home of Mrs. Jean Higgins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to conduct an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Collection.

Mrs. Higgins, I really appreciate you talking to us about your time in the military. Could you tell me a little something about what you did before you went in the military, such as where you were born, where you grew up, where you went to high school, a little bit about your family perhaps, and if you worked before you went in the military, what type of work you did?

JH:

I was born in Siler City, North Carolina, about thirty-five miles south of Greensboro. I had two brothers and one sister. I graduated from Siler City High School in 1936, and then went to Woman's College, the University of North Carolina, as it was called at that time, now UNCG [The University of North Carolina at Greensboro], graduated in 1940, taught history and English in Chatham County [North Carolina] until I joined the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy] in 1943, where I served until 1945.

HT:

Do you recall why you chose the WAVES as opposed to one of the other branches of the military service?

JH:

I guess it was friends that had told me about it. One brother was in the army and one was in the air force. I don't know, I guess, as I recall, it was just friends that had told me what it was like in one place and the other, and I decided that I would like the WAVES best.

HT:

Do you recall ever seeing recruiting posters from that period of time?

JH:

None, other than the one with “Uncle Sam Needs You.” I don't recall seeing any for women.

HT:

Did your parents have to sign for you to enter the service?

JH:

I believe so. I went to Raleigh to take the Officer Candidate Exam, which was given at State College [North Carolina State University]. On that particular day I was the only person taking the exam, and it was rather confusing because students started coming in where I had been placed in a classroom. Students started coming in, so they had to get me and move me somewhere else. Then I had to take a physical. And I still think it's funny considering my weight now, but I didn't weigh quite a hundred [pounds] and so I had cousins who were med students over at Duke [University, in Durham, North Carolina], and they were telling me how to get my weight up that morning. I could drink milk shakes and stuff, which I did. And I still didn't quite make it, but the doctor examining me said, “You can keep your shoes on when you get on those scales.” [chuckling] So I managed to make it to a hundred. In light of my present weight I really think that's rather humorous, but maybe nobody else would.

HT:

Do you recall after you took the written exam and physical exam, what was the next step?

JH:

Well, I just waited to hear whether I had succeeded with the test or not. And really, as I recall, it was quite a difficult and comprehensive test, and I did not feel that I had done well with it because it involved a lot of mechanical knowledge and scientific knowledge which I felt I lacked. So it was probably the verbal part that put me in the passing category, and so I did receive notification that I had been accepted. And then I went back to Raleigh and was sworn in.

HT:

And then after you were sworn in, what was the next step? You went to officers' candidate school?

JH:

Yes.

HT:

And could you tell us something about what that was like?

JH:

Well, officer candidate school was at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. I really do not recall how long I was there. Maybe three months, but I'm not sure really about that. It was a very rigorous program. We were just absolutely busy all the time in classes. We took classes in various naval subjects. And then we marched to all our meals. [chuckling] And we had gym or drill every day. It was difficult for me. I had never been regimented like that before, but I enjoyed it.

HT:

And what time of year were you in Massachusetts?

JH:

I was there in the fall. It must have been September or October.

HT:

This was September of what, 1943?

JH:

Forty-three, yes.

HT:

Do you recall what some of your feelings were about—Was this the first time you'd been away from home for any length of time?

JH:

Well, when I graduated from college I had gone with Dr. [Benjamin B.] Kendrick, who was head of the history department at UNCG. He was completing or revising a history book, and I went to Maine with him and his family and spent all of that summer with them, working with him.

HT:

So you had left the South prior to joining the navy then.

JH:

Yeah. Well, somewhat. For that time.

HT:

Could you tell me a little bit—something about your daily activities during basic training? You mentioned earlier it was rather rigorous. What was a typical day like?

JH:

Well, you're asking me for something that took place fifty-some years ago, but—[chuckling] I do not recall exactly what time we had to get up, but we had to get up early, and we had to make that bed so that coins would bounce on it. And then we marched to breakfast. And then we came back—Well, we went to eat at the Northampton Hotel, I think it was called, Northampton Inn or Hotel. If you were last in line, you never had more than two or three minutes to eat. If they switched it around, and so if you were in the front of the line it was fine. The food was excellent. The food was outstanding, I thought. And then we went to class, and then we marched back for lunch, and then we had gym or drill or more classes, marched back again to the inn for dinner.

HT:

Do you recall what you did during your free time or free weekends?

JH:

Free time?

HT:

Or did you even have anything like that?

JH:

We didn't have much free time. I believe everybody was so tired at the end of the day they were happy to go to bed. [chuckling] But we did have studying to do because we were tested on the material that was given to us. Failing grades were posted on a bulletin board in the main lobby of the dormitory, I guess you'd call it, and so, you know, there was pressure. I felt every week I was going to see my name on that list. But fortunately I didn't.

HT:

How many other ladies were in a typical class that went through, say, a six-week or a two-month period of time, do you know?

JH:

A company of them. I just really cannot remember. Fifty maybe. Whatever made up a company. I've forgotten these things.

HT:

And everyone stayed together for the entire time as a class?

JH:

Oh yes. Oh yes, we stayed together, and we of course had a roommate. And unfortunately I was on the third floor of one of the dorms, [chuckling] and so that was quite a walk up. We didn't have any elevators at that time. So [tape malfunction] was the word, I think, for me to describe that period, but—Oh, I'm sure that I gained a lot of self-confidence, and I was strengthened by the experience although it was difficult.

HT:

After you graduated from officer candidate school, where was your first assignment?

JH:

At Weeksville, North Carolina, a naval air station, lighter-than-air, the blimps.

HT:

And had you received special training to go to a naval air station?

JH:

No.

HT:

What type of work did you do?

JH:

At Weeksville I really can't remember, because I was really just there a short period of time. But I was to be with personnel, and so I did supervision of the enlisted ladies.

HT:

Do you recall what your rank was when you—

JH:

I finished as an ensign.

HT:

And you said you didn't stay in Weeksville for very long. Where were you stationed next, do you recall?

JH:

I went next to and stayed the rest of the time at the Naval Air Station in Glynco, Georgia.

HT:

And what type of work did you do there?

JH:

Well, again I did personnel work, and then I was aide to the commanding officer for the last part of the time.

HT:

Can you explain a little bit about some of the things you did as an aide to a commanding officer? I'm not sure what that is.

JH:

Well, he pretty much instructed me what to do each day. I handled his mail for him and tried to route things to the proper place, and I went with him whenever he traveled somewhere. I don't know whether you'd call me a gofer or a lackey or something. [chuckling] I pretty much [did] what he told me to do.

HT:

It sounds almost like an administrative personal assistant type of person, in today's terminology.

JH:

Well, I guess that would be it. But I did go to other bases with him, and that was interesting.

HT:

And how long were you in the service all totaled?

JH:

Well, it would have been two years, from '43 to '45.

HT:

And many times, or many of the posters from that period of time advocated women to join one of the services in order to free a man for combat duty. Did you view your enlistment in this way at all?

JH:

Yes, that was the purpose. WAVES were not allowed to go overseas at that time, and so we were absolutely to replace a man. I think the man that I replaced at Glynco was—He didn't go into battle. I think he went to a hospital, as a matter of fact. But yeah, that was the idea.

HT:

Did you ever feel guilty that you might have sent a man into combat and possibly be killed?

JH:

Well, I didn't because in that particular situation he went to a hospital. I think he was sick before I got there.

HT:

If I could just backtrack just a little bit, do you have any specific memories of your first day at basic training and what that was like and how you felt?

JH:

When I arrived at Springfield, Massachusetts, alone—I had taken the train of course from Greensboro to Springfield, Massachusetts —I got off the train, I didn't know what I was supposed to do. I imagine I was—you could say I was frightened. I was pretty much from a small Southern town, and very unsophisticated I'm sure. [chuckling] But somebody met me and took me to Northampton. My feelings were: “I wonder why I've done this? Why did I choose to do this?” My father did not want me to, but my mother had supported me very much to do what I wanted to do. But then once I got into the routine of the school, I was absolutely so busy I hardly had time to think about how I felt. We were all happy when we finished.

HT:

I can imagine so. You mentioned that your father was not in favor of you joining but your mother did support you.

JH:

Yes.

HT:

Do you recall why your father was against you joining?

JH:

I guess he was just an old-fashioned southern father and he really did not want me to do anything except stay home. He was always suspicious of anybody I dated. [chuckling] I think he would really have been happy had I just stayed with him for the rest of his life. But he was a wonderful father, don't misunderstand me. He just did not want his girls to leave home.

HT:

Were you the only sibling who entered the service?

JH:

No, both my brothers. My brother was in the air force, my older brother, and my younger brother was in the army.

HT:

Did you have any friends who joined the service, both boys and girls?

JH:

Practically every male that I knew had joined the service.

HT:

How about some of your girlfriends, had they?

JH:

Well, I only knew one who had from my hometown who had joined.

HT:

And once you arrived at your duty station, do you think you were treated equally with the men who had similar or same positions?

JH:

That's a hard one to answer. I think, for the main part, yes, I was treated equally. But of course, through my experience there were a lot of men who did not like the idea of a woman being in service, and they—they didn't really treat us as equals, I would say.

HT:

I'm assuming you worked with both female and male officers in your duties at your duty stations?

JH:

Yes.

HT:

How did the other women with whom you worked—did they feel the same way, that they were not treated equally from time to time?

JH:

I'm sure they did. I'm sure they did.

HT:

I've talked to other ladies, and they said most of the time it was not what you call overt discrimination, but there was an underlying feeling there that you could tell that you were not perhaps as appreciated as you should have been and that sort of thing. Did you ever encounter any kind of discrimination that you recall?

JH:

No, I do not recall any discrimination.

HT:

What about—did you ever receive any special treatment because you were a woman, as opposed to a man?

JH:

Well, there were times I think I really was treated more like just a female, a woman, rather than a WAVES officer, you know. But it depended on the individuals, of course. But generally speaking, I do not think that men accepted the women as equals by any means. And of course we didn't do all of the things that they did by any means either.

HT:

Can you give me a for-instance?

JH:

Well, they were flying planes and blimps, and their duty was certainly more hazardous than what I was doing.

HT:

So you basically were confined to office-type work.

JH:

Oh yes. Oh yes.

HT:

And did you resent that? Did you ever want to go out and fly blimps and airplanes?

JH:

[chuckling] No, I really didn't. I must say that. They took me for rides in the blimps and in the SBDs, I think they were called, just a two-seater plane. I saw one at the Smithsonian in Washington not too long ago and it seemed awfully small. But they would go on training flights, the guys would be on training flights, and they would take us with them. But no, I didn't have any ambitions to be a pilot myself.

HT:

What did you and the other WAVES do for fun at your duty station?

JH:

Well, at Glynco we were very near the beach, so we went to the beach whenever we could. There were quite a few dances, parties. I lived at the BOQ and that's where the dances were held.

HT:

And BOQ is Bachelor—

JH:

Bachelor Officers Quarters. The WAVES had one wing, [chuckling] I guess you would say, for them. We each had a room, but it was all on one wing of the building. But then the guys were in the same building, actually.

HT:

Did you have any WAVES enlisted personnel under you, under your direct command?

JH:

Yes, at various times. Not after I was aide to the commanding officer, no.

HT:

And in what capacity were you in charge of the enlisted personnel?

JH:

Inspection of barracks. At one time I did the basketball team for a while. It was an enlisted girls' basketball team, and though I was very unskilled in basketball, I was more or less a chaperone and a guide for them. They had to go into Brunswick [Georgia] to a gym to play basketball, and so I was with them. I also sometimes took them on visits to the beach. We went one time to Sea Island [Georgia]. No, it wasn't Sea Island. Jekyll Island, which was at that time accessible only by boat. There's a bridge over there now. I don't know whether you're familiar with any of that or not. And we got caught in a storm one time.

HT:

So did you have some interesting adventures on these trips chaperoning basketball players and other times?

JH:

One time we were involved in a minor traffic accident, and I got severely reprimanded for —don't recall just exactly what I did wrong, but I was in charge, and I must have done something wrong because I definitely remember the executive officer calling me to his office, and I stood there and took his criticism. But I wasn't fined or anything like that, so it turned all right.

HT:

Do you recall what [was] the hardest thing you ever had to do physically, either in basic training or when you got to your permanent duty station? You had mentioned marching earlier. I'm sure that must have been very difficult.

JH:

Well, it was just all of the physical activity that was hard for me, the marching to the meals, the marching to class, the marching out on the drill field, and then gym. [chuckling] One of the worst things I remember was the cold showers we had to take after gym. Oh! I don't know why we had to take cold showers, but we did.

HT:

Was hot water not available?

JH:

I don't know whether it was or not, but we would try to sneak over in the side of the shower stall so the water wouldn't even hit us. But then somebody would come by and check on us and we had to get in the cold water. That was very hard. That was very hard.

HT:

What was the hardest thing you ever had to do emotionally?

JH:

Well, the separation from my family was emotionally hard. I suppose that was the main thing.

HT:

And when you were stationed in Georgia, were you able to come home from time to time to visit family?

JH:

Oh yes. Transportation was not particularly easy, but the train—and train transportation was—you know, they were crowded, they were old trains, it was not really pleasant to travel on the trains, but that was the mode of transportation for us.

HT:

You mentioned earlier that you father was not particularly enthusiastic about you joining. After he saw you come home in your uniform, did he change his mind at all?

JH:

I think he was happy with me at that time. Maybe even proud, I don't know. He was really a very sweet, loving father.

HT:

I guess he was concerned about his little girl.

JH:

I'm sure he was. But it seems I rode the train to Sanford [North Carolina], and he would meet me. That was about twenty-five miles from home, I guess.

HT:

When you were in the military were you ever afraid, that you can recall?

JH:

When I was in Officer Candidate School I was afraid I wasn't going to make it almost every day. [chuckling] I just didn't know. When it came time to study, we were so tired that I felt like we couldn't study much. I believe we went to bed at ten o'clock. But that was the thing I was most afraid of. And after I was assigned to a station, I wasn't afraid. I think I had confidence that I could do what I was supposed to do.

HT:

So did you think you were ever in any kind of physical danger?

JH:

Oh no. We had a hurricane one time while I was in Georgia, and all the planes and the blimps were taken away from the station, but that wasn't severe.

HT:

We had touched on your social life a little bit earlier in Georgia, and you said that you went to the beach with friends and that sort of thing and went to dances and that sort of thing. Are there any outstanding memories from your social life that you can recall, going to a big band concert or a famous person coming into town or entertaining you, or anything like that?

JH:

Well, I love to dance and so I thoroughly enjoyed the dances. On one occasion, Les Brown and his Band of Renown, I think it was called, played for enlisted personnel. But I was invited to attend, for some reason I've forgotten. That was the big band that I heard during those years.

HT:

You said that Les Brown was in town to play for the enlisted personnel.

JH:

Right.

HT:

So were officers not invited?

JH:

Well, I can't explain that exactly, but it may be because at that time I was doing personnel with the enlisted girls and that was the reason I went. I'm not sure about that. But I had a good time anyway. [chuckling]

HT:

Can you tell us something about what your favorite songs and movies and dances were from the 1940s?

JH:

Well, you know, we loved the big bands. I don't know that I particularly had a favorite song. We did versions of what was called the Big Apple, as far as dances are concerned.

HT:

Do you recall any of the movies that you particularly enjoyed, or movie stars that you were particularly fond of from that period?

JH:

Well, outstanding ones, I think about Tyrone Power and Barbara Stanwyck. I'm sure I'm leaving out somebody that I thought was very important. [chuckling] I can't recall all of those names. But I loved the movies, and we had movies. That was another social thing at the station. We had movies, I believe, perhaps once a week that were shown in the same place that we had the church services.

HT:

And do you feel that you made a positive contribution to the war effort?

JH:

Oh, I don't know that—Well, I just don't know that I did anything especially good, but I did what I thought I should do, and I did it as well as I could. And maybe that was all that was expected of me.

HT:

Do you recall what the mood or the climate of the country was like in those days during World War II? Were people afraid, patriotic?

JH:

Oh, we were patriotic. We were very patriotic, I think. I was afraid for my brothers and other males that I knew. You know, I worried about them a great deal. My brother was flying with the Eighth Air Force in England, and he was a navigator and made, oh, what—I don't know, fifty flights, I guess, or something, and I worried about that. And my younger brother was in the—what did we call it? The armored force. I can't really think of the name of them right now. [chuckling] This happens to me! I lose the word I want. Armored division. I guess that's what it was. He was injured in Germany riding on the autobahn in a tank. So you were asking the mood, we were patriotic. We wanted to do what we needed to do, but at the same time, of course, we were fearful. My family had to do without things because of rationing, but I didn't suffer particularly from lack of any food items.

HT:

Well, speaking of food, you mentioned earlier that when you were in basic training the food was very good. How was the food in Georgia?

JH:

It was good, too. I wouldn't say it was as outstanding as it was there at the [Northampton] Inn, but it was good.

HT:

Can you tell me something about some interesting people you met while you were in the military?

JH:

I met some very dear friends. I met my husband. [chuckling] And I am still in contact with several of the ladies that I associated [with] there at Glynco. In fact, in 19—sometime about 1980 or something, we had a reunion in Connecticut and there were about five or six of us who got together.

HT:

These were all fellow officers from that period of time?

JH:

Yes. And we have kept in contact, you know, through the years. At that particular time, I believe it had been—oh, it had been forty or fifty years or something since we had seen each other, but we had corresponded. I recognized everybody immediately. There was just no question about that. And we had visited on a limited basis. Mostly we kept in contact through correspondence.

HT:

That's very nice.

JH:

Oh, I love those people. They were wonderful.

HT:

Did you ever meet any—what they call higher brass from the navy, or politicians, during your tour of duty?

JH:

No, I did not. I showed you the picture of this—I think the lady was the head of the WAVES at that time that came to visit, but no.

HT:

What were your feelings about Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president?

JH:

Well, I thought he was wonderful. My family thought he was wonderful, and we just felt that he had really saved the country. I have read later that it was World War II that got the economy back in gear, but we thought it was Roosevelt. And you know we were very sad when he died.

HT:

What did you think about Eleanor Roosevelt, the president's wife?

JH:

Well, I heard a lot of criticism of her, but I thought she was very fine and I was glad for the work that she did.

HT:

Do you recall who your heroes and heroines were from that period of time?

JH:

Well, I never thought in terms of having heroes and heroines, but, you know, I really thought Roosevelt was a hero to us. Outside of my own family, I don't know that I had any heroes.

HT:

Where were you when you heard about VE Day, which was Victory in Europe?

JH:

I was at Glynco Naval Air Station.

HT:

And what was the reaction of yourself and other people on the base?

JH:

Oh, we were very happy, and everybody was thinking about leaving the service, of course, you know, as soon as we could. I guess we had a party. [chuckling] I don't remember exactly. But we were happy about it.

HT:

And what was everyone's reaction on VJ Day, which was Victory in Japan, which was a couple of months later?

JH:

I don't recall that one as much as I do VE Day, but I'm sure we had a similar reaction.

HT:

Were you encouraged to return to the traditional female role after you left the service?

JH:

Well, [tape malfunction] I was encouraged to stay in the service. The commanding officer, he didn't see why I wanted to leave. Why didn't I just stay? But I was ready for something else.

HT:

Were you married by this time?

JH:

I was married and I was ready for something else.

HT:

Can you describe your adjustment to civilian life after the regimented type of living you'd had for the last couple years?

JH:

Well, in a way, I think we missed it. You know, we felt a little bit at loose ends about what to do and where to go and so forth. It took a while to get readjusted.

HT:

And I think you mentioned that you were married by this time, and your husband was still in the service when you got out?

JH:

Yes, he was, but not for many months. I can't recall just exactly, but he was in Washington for a few months, and I went there.

HT:

Is that Washington, D.C.?

JH:

Washington, D.C. Well, you asked me if I met any prominent people. When we were there, we lived in the home of the chairman of the FCC [Federal Communications Commission], I think his name was [Paul A.] Porter at that time, and we did get to meet some representatives and senators at their parties because they invited us to their parties, and that was all right.

HT:

And when you were living in Washington, D.C., what type of work were you doing there?

JH:

Well, I was not working at that time. I was just waiting for Vic [Higgins] to be discharged. He was discharged through the Bethesda [Maryland] Naval Hospital.

HT:

What type of work did he do when he was in the military, do you recall, your husband?

JH:

He fought at Guadalcanal. He was with the first group, the First Marine Division, that went into Guadalcanal.

HT:

So he was in the Marine Corps?

JH:

Yes.

HT:

And how did you meet him?

JH:

He came to Glynco after he came back from overseas.

HT:

And he was stationed there?

JH:

Yes. I don't know what he did, to tell you the truth, [chuckling] but he was stationed there. Well, he fought in Guadalcanal, and he had some pretty horrible experiences there, I think.

HT:

Was he wounded?

JH:

He was wounded. He got a back injury from jumping into a foxhole and hitting a pick. It didn't incapacitate him, you know, he was able to continue. He was in the hospital in Brisbane, Australia, for a long time, but then he, you know, he was able to go back to duty.

HT:

What impact did the military have on your life immediately after the war, and then in the long term?

JH:

Well, it was an experience that I've never forgotten. Here I am talking about it fifty-some years later. [chuckling] It, I would say, had a big impact on my life. I'm very thankful for the friends that I made who have endured all these years, and so of course it had an impact on my life.

HT:

And I think you just answered my next question I was going to ask you, has your life been different because of the military? And obviously it has, because you met your husband.

JH:

I met my husband.

HT:

You met some wonderful friends you've kept up with for the last fifty years.

JH:

Yes.

HT:

Any other ways it might have made a difference?

JH:

Well, I think it made me a stronger person and made it easier for me to adjust to all the vicissitudes of life, you know. I feel like that it strengthened me because I did something that was difficult for me to do, but I did it and I got through with it. [chuckling]

HT:

Right. So would you do it again?

JH:

Now? [chuckling]

HT:

Well, no. [chuckling]

JH:

You mean back if I was twenty-something?

HT:

Yes.

JH:

Oh sure. Surely I would. I don't believe we feel quite the patriotism that we felt during those years, but we felt that we were attacked and we had to protect ourselves.

HT:

Sure. Well, do you consider yourself to be an independent person?

JH:

Well, my husband died twenty-nine years ago, and I managed to educate four children, and I've been living really alone for the last fifteen years, so I would say I'm pretty independent. [chuckling]

HT:

Did the military make you this way, or were you independent before you joined?

JH:

I think it helped me a great deal to be independent. As long as I was with my family, I think I was probably dependent upon them quite a bit. But this taught me something else.

HT:

Do you consider yourself to be a pioneer or a trailblazer or a trendsetter when you entered the military, in looking back? Do you consider yourself to be any of these?

JH:

I don't think so. [chuckling] I don't think of myself as a trailblazer or a—What other word did you use? A trendsetter?

HT:

A pioneer or trendsetter.

JH:

No.

HT:

I guess I was asking you in respect to many women did not work outside the home prior to the Second World War, and it was almost unheard-of for a woman to join a branch of the military. And so some of the ladies I've spoken to said that, yes, they never considered themselves to be a trailblazer prior to this, but now that they think back about it, it makes sense that they were doing something quite new and unique for that period of time.

JH:

Well, I don't believe I can honestly say that I felt that way. I knew there were a lot of other people doing the same thing.

HT:

Do you consider yourself and other women who joined the military to have been forerunners of what we call the women's movement today?

JH:

Well, yes, maybe. [chuckling] Maybe so. It seems that after the war, many of the women were relegated to positions that they'd had before the war, which did not put them on an equal basis with men. I think there was, from what I know and have read, that many of them had to go back to lesser positions than they had had before.

HT:

They would have had a certain degree of authority as an officer in one of the branches, or maybe as an enlisted person. And once they got out of the service, they were not given that same type of authority and power, which, I'm sure, made it very difficult.

JH:

Right. And I think just in the job field there were a lot of women that were promoted in their businesses, and then when the men came back they had to go backwards instead of forward.

HT:

The women who joined the military, how were they perceived by the general public, by their families, and by men? Do you recall?

JH:

Well, I think perhaps most men—most men probably looked down upon the idea of women being in the military. I've already told you how my family felt about it. My brothers certainly did not offer any criticism of my joining. Generally speaking? Was that the question?

HT:

Yes, just in general.

JH:

I think maybe—

[End Side A—Begin Side B]

HT:

I have read that there was a slanderous campaign against the WAACs [Women's Army Auxiliary Corps] in particular that was started in the spring of 1943 by men who were in the army, and we've never quite understood why it was started, other than perhaps that men were afraid they would be replaced and perhaps sent into combat, that they were jealous that they couldn't behave as men often behaved when women were around, they were told to behave better and this sort of thing. So there was a lot of resentment, I think, especially in the army. Did you ever run across this sort of behavior as a naval officer, or did any of the enlisted women that you knew run across this kind of behavior?

JH:

Well, I recall hearing about the experience with the WAACs and what was happening there. No, the resentment that I may have felt at some time was subtle, it was not anything overt that anybody did, but I'm sure that I did feel that there was resentment with certain people.

HT:

And this didn't affect your job performance or how you felt about your fellow officers in any respect, I assume?

JH:

No, it did not.

HT:

Have any of your children ever been in the military?

JH:

No. Well, my two oldest children are girls. I suppose, had they been males, they would have been subject to the draft for the Vietnam War.

HT:

So you didn't encourage your daughters to join the military since you had been in the military?

JH:

I did encourage one of them. I encouraged the oldest one, but she didn't take to that idea. She didn't want to do that.

HT:

Well, how do you feel about women in combat positions? Recently women flew combat missions over Iraq, and do you approve of this sort of thing?

JH:

That is really a hard one to answer, and I really don't feel qualified to answer it. [chuckling] They seem to be able to fly planes as well as the men. Ground warfare, I just don't know. You know, really I don't think I should say, but it seems that women certainly have the ability to learn technology and can do as well as the men.

HT:

Is there anything else that you'd like to add about your military service that we haven't covered in our conversation?

JH:

Well, it's been interesting to talk with you and to remember some of these things and to express how I felt, because I really hadn't thought about it [tape malfunction].

HT:

Right. Did you and your husband talk about you being in the military? I know in my family my father was in the military and he talked about it quite a bit when we were growing up. My mother was not in the military, so of course she couldn't relate to that. But did you ever talk about it, your military experience, to your husband, to your friends, to your children?

JH:

Well, yes, somewhat, not a great deal, and my husband did not talk about it much at all.

HT:

About his experience?

JH:

His experiences, yes. He just didn't seem to want to. He talked to me about it some, but I think he did not talk much about it.

HT:

I'm sure it was very difficult for many men who went through that sort of thing.

JH:

Yes, it was very bad.

HT:

Can you tell me a little something about what your life has been like since you left the military? I know you got married and then you had children.

JH:

I had four children, and when my husband died I went back to teaching. And I taught in Georgia, and eventually moved back to Siler City because I still had one family member left, one brother, and he wanted me to come back. That was one of the hardest things I ever did was move back to my hometown.

HT:

Why was that difficult?

JH:

Well, you know, everything was different. My friends were gone and I didn't know—I had been living in the Atlanta area for all those married years, and it was different to move back to a small town. And the two children that were still in school were very unhappy at first, and so there was a big adjustment for all of us. But I stayed there until my brother died in 1985. And I had two daughters living here in Winston-Salem, so I decided to move here, and I've been living in this home since '87, I believe.

HT:

At the beginning of the interview you mentioned that you were a graduate of Woman's College in 1940. Do you have any specific remembrances from that period of time? What was it like in the late 1930s, right before the war started?

JH:

We were so poor. [chuckling] Everybody [tape malfunction] just get an education and get a job. Get a job, that was the important thing. So, of course, I graduated at a time which was really an excellent time for a woman to get a job. I think I could have gone in just about any route I wanted to because so many men were leaving, surely by '41. So many men were leaving their jobs that it was a great opportunity for women.

HT:

Do you recall what academic life was like in the late 1930s on campus?

JH:

Well, I guess not too dissimilar from what life was like [tape malfunction]. I lived in the dormitory.

HT:

In which dorm did you live?

JH:

I lived in Spencer [Residence Hall] and Mary Foust [Residence Hall]. Is that right? Is that still there?

HT:

Yes.

JH:

I loved my classes, I enjoyed—I especially like the history teacher I had, Dr. [Eugene] Pfaff. I think he's died. And Dr. Kendrick sort of took me under his wing and I worked for him. Well, I worked all the time that I was in school, and I worked under a government program called NYA, I believe, National Youth Administration. I earned twenty-five cents an hour and I was allowed to work fifteen hours a week.

HT:

And that paid for your tuition and everything?

JH:

Well, that simply just went in on—I had borrowed money. I borrowed the rest of it from an Escheats Fund in North Carolina, and it cost—I believe the room, board, and tuition was $320 a year, so I had to borrow a good deal of that because I was only allowed to work with that NYA fifteen hours a week. I worked for Dr. Pfaff and I worked for Dr. Kendrick and I worked for Miss [Magnhilde] Gullander.

HT:

And who was Miss Gullander?

JH:

She was a history teacher, too. I did typing and just general office work, I guess you'd say.

HT:

Do you recall any of the administration, such as Dr. Walter Clinton Jackson?

JH:

Yes, he was the chancellor, I guess, while I was there.

HT:

And did you ever have any occasion to meet him?

JH:

Well, not specifically, no. There was a lady in charge, too. I can't remember her name. She was very good.

HT:

Dean Harriet Elliott?

JH:

Yes, Harriet Elliott. I don't know why I forgot that name. [chuckling]

HT:

Did you ever meet her?

JH:

Well, yes, just—but, you know, not as a student.

HT:

What about Clara Booth Byrd, the alumnae secretary? Did you ever have a chance to meet her?

JH:

Well, I met her but didn't know her well. Let's see, Miss [Louise] Alexander taught political science. I was very fond of her. And also Miss [Vera] Largent in the history department. When I graduated, she gave me an opportunity to go to the University of Wyoming to do a teaching fellowship, I guess, or something like that. But as I said, there were a lot of opportunities for women when I graduated, and I thought probably Wyoming was pretty wild and wooly at that time. [chuckling]

HT:

So you didn't?

JH:

So I didn't choose to go. Oftentimes I thought I should have gone, but I didn't.

HT:

And where did you actually go to work after you—

JH:

Well, after I went to Maine with Dr. Kendrick, then I came back and taught in Chatham County.

HT:

And you taught history?

JH:

And English.

HT:

Are there any particular experiences that you remember from your days at Woman's College that stand out, either social or academic, or just anything in particular that you remember from those days that strikes you?

JH:

Well, it was pretty much a struggle financially for us at that time. That might not be a very good thing to mention, but I remember, you know, wondering if I was going to be able to stay and if I was going to be able to continue. There was a Mr. [Claude] Teague who was the—I don't know, treasurer or whatever, but I would have to go to see him and he would tell me that I had to have some money, you know, and I had to have some more

HT:

You mean to pay for the bills?

JH:

Yeah. Or else I'd just have to leave. So that was pretty much—I can remember that. And believe me, I have been frugal ever since those years. [chuckling]

HT:

Was your family able to help you financially pay for college at all?

JH:

No, not really. Maybe a little bit from time to time, but they didn't.

HT:

Was this sort of typical for that period of time?

JH:

Oh, I think so, except for my roommate. My college roommate was from here in Winston-Salem, and her father was able to provide for her because he was in the tobacco business, and I guess that continued no matter. [chuckling]

HT:

Do you recall events on campus, Jacket Day, where they'd have jackets, class jackets, or daisy chains, anything like that?

JH:

Daisy Chain I remember, the May Day. We had some wonderful concerts and lecturers that came. That was a part of the tuition, I guess, we got that, but I had some wonderful experiences there. The Philadelphia Symphony seemed to come every year with Eugene Ormandy, and experiences like that I remember and appreciate. And Robert Shaw. I read in the paper today that he had died, and Robert Shaw came with his chorale or whatever, and I remember that. And the Ted Shawn Dancers. That's the first time I've thought about that in a long time. But, you know, [tape malfunctiony], that was one of the outstanding things I received at Woman's College.

HT:

Was it exposure to a variety of different types of entertainment and cultural events?

JH:

Yeah. And see, I had not been exposed to that before, so that was very meaningful to me. Some good lecturers. Have you ever heard the name Dr. Ralph Sockman?

HT:

No.

JH:

Well, he came there. I was impressed with him.

HT:

And what was his expertise? Do you recall?

JH:

He was a minister at a church in New York City, Little Church Around the Corner or whatever [chuckling], something like that. But that was good. I enjoyed the lecturing and the musical programs very much.

HT:

Do you recall what Greensboro was like in those days, in the late 1930s? It was much smaller, of course, than it is now.

JH:

We could walk, we did walk, downtown, as we said. And there was a trolley that you could ride down for seven cents.

HT:

Did you take the trolley from time to time?

JH:

From time to time, yes, but seven cents, you know, would encourage you to walk [chuckling] if you could. But that I recall, nobody had a car that I know of.

HT:

So everyone stayed on campus at that time? All the students stayed on campus?

JH:

Well, [tape malfunction] the Greensboro day students who walked probably. We walked in those days. We didn't ride like we do now. There was one car that we saw on campus when I was there, and that was Spencer Love's car, had a convertible, and he came to see and date Emily Harris, who is now—Well, she has a lot to do with the alumni, doesn't she?

HT:

She's Mrs. L. Richardson Preyer now.

JH:

Right. But we all knew, see, about this car, this convertible. We didn't see many of those. [chuckling]

HT:

So that was quite unique to see that?

JH:

That was something, yeah. I hope she remembers that. She was a class ahead of me, but she—

HT:

Yeah, she was the Class of 1939.

JH:

Yeah, she was a very outstanding and prominent person on the campus. She was president of the student government.

HT:

Oh, speaking of that, were you elected to any governing bodies or anything like that?

JH:

No. No, I was not. I would spend most of my time at the typewriter or in class or studying, you know. And I don't mean that—I wasn't feeling sorry for myself, but that was just the way it was.

HT:

Did you belong to any sororities or organizations that you recall? Weren't there a couple of [tape malfunction] societies on campus?

JH:

Yes, and I did belong. And what was it? It seems like—I'm sorry, I cannot recall the names, but I did. I did belong to one.

HT:

I think one was called the Adelphians and the other one started with a “C”—Cornelians.

JH:

Those names don't even sound familiar to me. I'm sorry about that.

HT:

That's fine. During the summertime, what did the girls do? I assume they went back home.

JH:

Yes.

HT:

Or did you go to summer school?

JH:

No, I never did go to summer school. I came back home, and when I could, tried to find employment of some kind. I did work for Gallup Polls some during those summers. That was rather interesting.

HT:

And you went around and conducted polls?

JH:

Right, to people's houses.

HT:

Did you walk from place to place, or did—

JH:

Well, I think my daddy let me use his car if I had to go too far. But if it was in walking distance, we walked. [chuckling]

HT:

Well, all the walking you did sort of prepared you for all that marching you had to do later on when you were in the navy.

JH:

Right, and that prepared me to keep walking after that. So we had a lot of experience with walking. [chuckling]

HT:

You mentioned several people on campus at that time. Were there any outstanding teachers and professors that you can recall who influenced you?

JH:

Well, those that I mentioned did, Dr. Pfaff and Dr. Kendrick and Miss Largent, particularly those three.

HT:

And after you entered the navy, did you keep in contact with these professors in any way?

JH:

Not very often. Dr. Kendrick died a few years after that, I think, and I did not keep in contact with them. I didn't go back to the campus for a long time.

HT:

You have been back though recently, I assume.

JH:

Well, I had a daughter who graduated there.

HT:

Oh? When was that?

JH:

She graduated in '85. So I don't know whether I've been there since then or not. I don't really believe I have.

HT:

Well, the campus has changed considerably since you were there.

JH:

Oh, I know it. I know.

HT:

It's grown quite a bit.

JH:

I get different reports from there, and I've seen pictures of how streets have been closed and the changes that have been made.

HT:

Is there anything else you'd like to add, either about your college life and Woman's College days or your naval career that I haven't covered?

JH:

Well, I'm very grateful, and have been all my life, for what the Woman's College did for me. I really am very grateful, and I am grateful for what the military did for me too.

HT:

So it sounds like it was a good combination.

JH:

I don't know [tape malfunction] them, but they did things for me for which I am very grateful.

HT:

Well, being a graduate of Woman's College, do you think that influenced you into entering the military at all?

JH:

Oh, I don't know. I don't know that that had anything to do with it. It was simply the time, and everybody was leaving, and I wanted to do something. And I had some opportunities to go into other things, but I decided —I don't know why I decided the navy, because I really had an opportunity to go to Duke Law School. But I don't know, when you're twenty-something you don't think ahead very far. [chuckling] I [tape malfunction] a judge in Greensboro that offered me a job to help him with his juvenile court, there was an opportunity in Raleigh for radio work, and so why [I chose] the navy, I don't know. These were just things that I could have done, and it was simply not my ability but simply the fact that the men were leaving. There was just nobody to do the jobs, and so it was really a time of great opportunity for women. And of course, you know, millions went into construction work and all that sort of thing.

HT:

Right. Women went into all types of work that they had not entered before, everything from Rosie the Riveter to administrative work and everything else.

JH:

Right.

HT:

Well, Mrs. Higgins, thank you so much for talking with me today. It's just been absolutely wonderful listening to your stories about your service and about your Woman's College days. It's just been a real—I really appreciate it very much.

JH:

Well, I appreciate the opportunity to talk [tape malfunction]. I enjoyed it very much.

HT:

Great.

[End of the Interview]