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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Louise Nash Dorsett, 1999

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Object ID: WV0017.5.001

Description: Documents Louise Nash Dorsett’s early life; her service with the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) from 1942 to 1945; and her life after World War II.

Summary:

Dorsett recalls her early life during the Depression and her education, particularly her years at the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro) in the early 1930s. She describes social activities; life on campus; the impact of the Depression on the campus; the class of men that were admitted in 1933-34; and various campus personalities, including Harriett Elliott, Clara Booth Byrd, Katherine Taylor, and Julius Foust.

Dorsett discusses her reasons for joining the military in October 1942 and why she chose the navy, including her desire for equal pay for equal work. She also speaks about knowing the man that she freed for combat; taking men’s jobs; the attitudes of men toward women in the service; and working with male officers.

Dorsett briefly describes her basic training at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, in late 1942 and her administrative work for the Bureau of Ships in Washington, D.C., from 1943 to 1945. Topics include personnel issues such as promotions and demotions; prominent military personnel; and Dorsett’s life and living arrangements in Washington.

Personal topics include getting permission to go to New York to get married before her fiancé went overseas; the transition to civilian life that she and her husband faced after the war; and her jobs as a social worker and high school history teacher.

Creator: Louise Nash Dorsett

Biographical Info: Louise Nash Dorsett (1913?-2011) of Mt. Gilead, North Carolina, served in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) from 1942 to 1945.

Collection: Louise Nash Dorsett Papers

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:

[Today is January] 18, 1999, I'm at the home of Mrs. Louise Nash Dorsett to conduct an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Collection. Mrs. Dorsett, thank you so much for meeting with me this afternoon. We really appreciate this. And if you could, just tell me some basic biographical information about yourself, such as your name, your hometown, a little bit about your family, the dates of your military service, and about the age that you entered, and your rank.

LD:

Well, I was born in Boulder, Colorado. My father was a hydroelectric engineer. He was a Missourian, a graduate of the University of Missouri, and my mother was a schoolteacher. We came to North Carolina when I was two and a half years old, and have been here ever since. We've lived in Mt. Gilead, [North Carolina], since 1927. My father was superintendent of the hydroelectric plant which formed Lake Tillery, [North Carolina]. I graduated from high school in Mt. Gilead. We had twenty-five members of that class, it was a small school, and I dated the guy I finally married in high school. Then I went to Queens [College, in Charlotte, North Carolina] for one year, but it was Depression time and all the other girls had money and I didn't, so that was not—I made good grades but I didn't have any social life. I transferred to UNCG [University of North Carolina at Greensboro, then Woman's College], graduated there in 1934, with a major in English and a minor in history.

HT:

Well, that's wonderful. And you say you went to high school here at Mt. Gilead?

LD:

Yes.

HT:

What was the name of the high school, do you recall?

LD:

Mt. Gilead High School, which is “no more.”

HT:

Oh, no more? [chuckling] And you mentioned that you had graduated from UNCG, what is now UNCG, in 1934. Of course, at that time it was called Woman's College.

LD:

Woman's College. Woman's College of the University of North Carolina.

HT:

Right. Do you recall some of the fun things you did while you were at UNCG?

LD:

No, not particularly. I was kind of a bookworm. I made fairly good grades. I had a high B average when I graduated. But any fun things we did were the kind that didn't cost money, because that was Depression, nobody had any money, and none of my friends did. And mainly it was just being with friends. And, oh, I did in my junior year learn to smoke. It nearly killed me but I learned. And I guess that's it.

HT:

Do you recall the trolley along Spring Garden Street in those days?

LD:

Yes.

HT:

Did you ever take the trolley downtown?

LD:

No, we always walked. Spring Garden Street was a little far over for me because I was rooming way down in the quadrangle.

HT:

Do you recall which dormitory you were in?

LD:

My last year I was in Gray [Residence Hall]. I had been in West [Residence Hall], but they closed that because of lack of students. Then I went to Shaw. No, it wasn't Shaw. Anyway, it was the one at the head of the quadrangle where Miss Killy [Lillian Killingsworth], the dean of students who had everybody pretty well cowed lived, and I lived across the hall from her. But I got along with her.

HT:

What was dorm life like at that time, do you recall?

LD:

Well, it wasn't as it is now.

HT:

I'm sure it's quite different.

LD:

Of course, the GC [Greensboro College] girls thought we were just wild as bucks because we had so many privileges they didn't.

HT:

Now you said “GC girls.” Those are Greensboro College girls?

LD:

Yeah. The Woman's College girls would go downtown without hats and gloves and high heel shoes, just in our regular clothes, and walk. And the Greensboro College girls, we thought they were a bunch of high-hats. And said so rather audibly.

HT:

[chuckling] Oh, mercy.

LD:

By the way, may I digress just a moment?

HT:

Sure.

LD:

You did not know anybody at GC named Debra Cates, Dr. Cates?

HT:

No.

LD:

I don't know what she teaches. She's a former student of mine at West Montgomery High School. She must teach in the education department. Now we can go back.

HT:

Okay. I understand that in the school year of 1932 to 1933 there were some men on campus.

LD:

Oh yes.

HT:

And the reason the men were there was because of the Depression, and the men could not afford to go to out-of-town schools. Do you recall that?

LD:

That is part of it. The men could not afford—Now some of those men turned out to be quite wealthy and from leading families. But they could have afforded probably to go out of town to school better than Woman's College could not afford to let them go out of town. We were suffering because of lack of enrollment. Because when I graduated, we didn't have but fourteen hundred students.

HT:

For the entire college?

LD:

Yes. There were three hundred and some in my class. Oh, I'll tell you, it was rough.

HT:

Those were rough days. Do you have any particular memories of the early Depression days, from the early thirties?

LD:

Yes. I was very fortunate. My father was a salaried person and kept his job. He just got cut 25 percent of his salary. But most of the people around here, if it hadn't been for the government programs, would have been in dire straits. My husband's family lost a farm, a house, and a store. They were destitute for a while. But he did not leave Duke University [Durham, North Carolina], he just worked his way through.

HT:

Do you recall what academic life was like when you were at Woman's College?

LD:

I don't know what it was like for everybody, but with certain professors I had a very, very good rapport. Now Miss [Harriet] Elliott [Woman's College dean of women] I adored. Miss [Bernice] Draper I adored. She was hard but I liked her. I loved Dr. Leonard Hurley and Mr. A.C. Hall. They were my very favorites. There were a few I could have cared less for.

HT:

Do you care to mention who they might be?

LD:

No.

HT:

[chuckling] Okay. Well, since we're talking about various people on the Woman's College campus during that time, do you recall Dr. Walter Clinton Jackson?

LD:

Dr. Jackson was at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill at the time I was there. Dr. [Julius] Foust was the president. And Dr. Jackson, I think I missed probably one of the brightest times of my life by missing Dr. Jackson.

HT:

I understand he was an absolutely wonderful person, and adored by everybody.

LD:

Yeah, and I didn't—

HT:

How about Dr. Foust? How do you remember him?

LD:

Cold. I don't know, he was just not, to me, an appealing person at all.

HT:

I guess today you would say he was not a people person.

LD:

Definitely not a people person.

HT:

You mentioned Miss Elliott earlier, and she, of course, is really famous in a number of areas. Can you give us some thoughts about her?

LD:

Well, I was in her class at the time of the New Deal, and of course she was a hot Democrat and a personal friend of President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt, so we got filled in on that. It came back later when I was in Washington in the navy. She was on leave of absence in the Treasury Department, and at that time you could walk through Lafayette Square, and several times we would meet in Lafayette Square in the afternoons and she'd tell me what was going on at the school. She was that kind of a person. Very, very highly regarded, and very warm and friendly, but never lost that teacher—She never crossed that thin line that separates a teacher from a student, which is a great thing.

HT:

That's wonderful. Do you recall anything in particular about Dr. Anna Gove [Woman's College physician]?

LD:

No, I didn't know Dr. Gove. I dodged her if I could. I don't know why, but she just— they just thought she was kind of [cold]. The other doctor there was the one if I—when I had something wrong, I went to.

HT:

And who was that?

LD:

I can't think of her name.

HT:

Okay. And do you recall anything in particular about Miss Clara Booth Byrd, who was the alumnae secretary?

LD:

No, not when I was in school. Maybe a little bit when I went back. Miss Byrd was the typical, at that time, old maid alumnae secretary. She was, I think, as typical a spinster as ever lived, just as sweet as she could be. I don't know how much she had in the upper story, but she was sweet.

HT:

Did you ever meet Miss Katherine Taylor?

LD:

Yes. I did not have her for a class. I forget now where she was. She may have been—The year I was there, the years, I did see her. I know she taught French. But, right after I was promoted to lieutenant senior grade in the navy, I saw her at Allies Inn in Washington. She had just gone into service, and she was a lieutenant junior grade. That is the first, last, and only time I ever outranked Katherine Taylor, because it couldn't be done.

HT:

[chuckling] I understand that she was quite a person.

LD:

Very warm, very bright, very energetic, and knew what she was doing.

HT:

Did you ever have any meetings or anything with Mary Channing Coleman? I think she was in phys ed.

LD:

No! No, no, no, no. The roommate I had in my sophomore year was a physical education major, and I heard enough about how hard and rough Miss Coleman was from her. But she built that physical education department.

HT:

Yes.

LD:

No doubt about it.

HT:

That's true.

LD:

And physical education and I were not on the best of terms.

HT:

And why was that?

LD:

I just didn't like it. It was interrupting things I thought were more important.

HT:

I see. Did you ever meet Dr. McIver's wife, Mrs. Lula McIver?

LD:

No, not that I can recall.

HT:

Well, I think I've asked you quite a few questions about your days at Woman's College, and I want to go right into some of your service-related questions. Of course, you graduated in 1934. And when did you enter the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy]?

LD:

Well, I was accepted, I guess, conditionally in late August of '42, and then was told that I would be called to active duty in October. See, at this time there were just thirty-five WAVES in uniform.

HT:

So you were one of the first WAVES?

LD:

I was in the first—I'll get to that. And then I was told—I was notified. Finally, I was sworn in on October 31 of '42, to report to Mount Holyoke College [in South Hadley, Massachusetts] on November 10. The reason for the delay was Mount Holyoke wasn't ready for us. Now, those who were being accepted as midshipmen went to Smith [College, in Northampton, Massachusetts], but I was accepted as a probationary officer. I don't know why, that's just the way it was. Therefore, I went to Mount Holyoke, and we were there for five weeks. We didn't know how long we were going to be there or what, but we were there for five weeks. I got my rank established on December 16, and left. And I was one of the first ones to get orders, and I was ordered to the Bureau of Ships in Washington, [D.C.], to report on December 23.

HT:

Do you recall anything about your—I guess you'd call it basic training, those five weeks?

LD:

No, we called it indoctrination. Yes, it was rigid. We walked and we walked and we marched. I learned to march. And I was the short gal, so I had to walk at the end of the line and keep up. But then we had a lot of class work and then a lot of lectures. The interesting thing was so many of our teachers were almost as new to the navy as we were. The men, only the few men we had, had any experience in the navy. I know my favorite teacher, who turned out to be a friend of mine later, was in that first class, and she taught naval history. So it was quite an experience. If we'd have been men, it would have separated the men from the boys. I wondered why I was in it, because everyone I met was quite bright. I think we had one, and I'm not too sure who, was taken out of there immediately—she was a math and physics genius—and sent to MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] right now. I think she became an admiral before it was over. That may have been Grace Hopper [computer pioneer], but I'm not sure. And while I was in indoctrination school, the SPARs [Coast Guard Women's Reserve, from "Sempar Paratus-Always Ready"], the Coast Guard women, was formed, and some of our people took commissions in the SPARs instead of the navy.

HT:

Why did you choose to remain in the navy, as opposed to—

LD:

Well, I guess the reason was my brother was in the navy.

HT:

I see. So that was one of the reasons you went in the service in the first place, I guess?

LD:

One of the reasons I went in was that everybody I dated was in service. The guy that I married was in the army, an army officer, his brother was in the navy, and my brother was in the navy. In fact, he went to Annapolis, [Maryland], for three months.

HT:

Now when you first decided to go in, did you have any opposition from friends and family, or parents?

LD:

I don't think I brooked any. I just informed them.

HT:

So your parents did not have to sign for you or anything like that?

LD:

Oh, no, no, no, because I was older. In fact, my father was in Colorado when I decided.

HT:

What type of work did you do when you went in the service? I meant before you went in the service?

LD:

Well, I taught school, I didn't like that, so I worked for Carolina Power and Light Company for six years, and was in, of course — That was a dead-end job, and I went from there into the navy. However, my Carolina Power and Light Company experience landed me what I would like to do in the navy. In other words, I was no engineer, but I knew some terminology, enough that I could replace a guy. And I did.

HT:

So you actually replaced somebody who was freed for combat, I guess.

LD:

Yes. Yes, I did.

HT:

How did you feel about that? Did you have any problems knowing—

LD:

No, he wanted to go, he was ready, and we were very close friends. In fact, I get a Christmas note from his wife every year. He died a few years ago, but I get a Christmas note from her every year.

HT:

The climate at that time, I'm talking about the mood of the country, was quite different than it is today. I think people were—

LD:

There was nothing of the “Let somebody else do it,” lackadaisical—We were together. Everybody was doing something. Some might be “Rosie the Riveter”, but it all depended. But almost everybody was doing something—trying, at any rate.

HT:

Do you particularly recall why you entered the service, why you wanted to enter the service?

LD:

I had my mind made up that I wanted to. For one thing, I was in a dead-end job, where if you were a man you had a chance, but a woman didn't. And that bothered me. So I looked at the WAC and decided I didn't want that, and so as soon as the navy came, then I applied. I liked the idea of equal pay for equal work.

HT:

Was that common in those days for women to feel that way?

LD:

No. No, I don't think so. [chuckling] I'm not sure. I think most of us who went in the navy felt that way, that we wanted to do what we could, and the navy or the services were the place because they recognized that sex didn't control your salary. And another thing, too, I made more money.

HT:

You made more money in the WAVES than you did in Carolina Power?

LD:

Than I did at Carolina Power and Light Company.

HT:

And you mentioned Carolina Power and Light. Where was that?

LD:

That was in Raleigh, [North Carolina].

HT:

In Raleigh? And when you were indoctrinated into the navy, where did you go to for that?

LD:

Well, I had my physical in Charleston [South Carolina], and then I was the first WAVE officer indoctrinated in Raleigh, out at North Carolina State [University]. I think another gal came along about five minutes later, but I was the first one, the first WAVE officer.

HT:

And your indoctrination was quite different, I guess, being an officer, than it would have been if you'd been an enlisted person.

LD:

I guess so. Oh yeah, I'm sure it was, but I don't know. I worked with a lot of enlisted girls. In fact, before I left there I worked with officers, male and female, enlisted, male and female, civilian, male and female, black and white.

HT:

That was quite something novel, I guess.

LD:

Well, the one thing I learned that's stood me in good stead: if I had any racial prejudice, I lost it. I had none when I got out.

HT:

That's quite interesting for that period of time.

LD:

Well, that's the main reason I went into teaching. They needed somebody, and I taught history at West Montgomery for eleven years. I'd never taught history a day in my life. I hadn't taught in thirty-some years. So the first year I taught the book, and after that I could teach the course. But they were just integrating here, and I knew it could work. All you had to do was just treat folks like human beings, and it works.

HT:

You said you entered the service in Raleigh. Do you recall your first day, either in Raleigh or I think you went on and you were indoctrinated in Charleston. So do you recall what you did during that time?

LD:

No, in Charleston was where I had my physical.

HT:

Oh, sorry. And then you were transferred up to Mount Holyoke, is that correct?

LD:

Yeah, then went on the train to Mount Holyoke, and we got up there about seven o'clock one night. I'd been on the train, and I'd stopped in New York and called a friend, and she had told me that—This is maybe beside the point, that the fellow I was dating most, a high school classmate, and we had dated off and on since we were in high school, had not gone over. He was with the 2nd Armored Division, and they had gone over, but [General George] Patton had left him behind to supervise the loading in Brooklyn. If the invasion of Africa went one way, he was to load one way, and if it went another way—And he didn't trust the Port of Embarkation folks, so he left—and so said he was still here, and said, “Give him your address. He wants to get in touch with you.” So the second week that I was in indoctrination school I went down to New York for the weekend, and we decided, if possible, to get married before he left.

HT:

This was Mr. [Howard] Dorsett?

LD:

Yes. He was Lieutenant Dorsett at the time. So, we were supposed to get married in Washington, and by [Presbyterian minister] Dr. Peter Marshall. He couldn't get to Washington. We were supposed to get married in New York, and a friend was calling [Methodist minister] Dr. Ralph Sockman, but he couldn't get to Manhattan the day that we were to be married. So I met him in Staten Island and found out it was in a different county, and we had to be married in Staten Island. Can you imagine, Staten Island, with an Italian cabdriver, finding a Protestant minister? But we did. We found a little Methodist church, were married there, but we had to wait forty-five minutes for the minister's wife and daughter to come from grocery shopping so we'd have witnesses. But that was it.

HT:

Do you remember when that was?

LD:

January 4, 1943. We've been married fifty-six years.

HT:

Wow. That's wonderful. And then after you got married, was your husband—

LD:

I had to go back to—Oh, I'll have to tell you how I got to New York. I had said something about it, that he was coming, and my then commanding officer's civilian secretary told him. And out at the scuttlebutt, the water fountain, one day, he said, “I hear—”

I said, “Well, now Commander, I don't know whether I am or not. He can't get here.”

He said, “Well, I think you should go to New York.”

I said, “I don't know, how do you do that?”

He said, “I'll fix it.”

So what he did was give me a route sheet with the explanation on it, and I had to go from a lieutenant commander to the commander, to a captain, to the admiral. That was the way I met the chain of command. When I got in the admiral's office and his ensign said—I showed that and he said, “Well, you'll have to see the admiral.” Scared me to death. It so happened that this admiral was a little bitty dried-up sort of a sour guy, and he looked at me and he says, “Young lady, you haven't been here but a week!” Which was true. I said, “No, Sir, but the explanation's on the route slip.” He looked at it, he looked at me, he whipped out his pen and he initialed where he was supposed to, signed where he was supposed to, stood up, pulled down his sleeve with all that gold braid, held out his hand, and said, “My sympathy and my congratulations.” And that's it. That's always been a funny story that I—If anybody, I guess, had known the chain of command—

HT:

So it sounds like it was not an easy task to get permission to get married.

LD:

Well, for somebody as close to civilian life as I was, and in the navy and in my post for six days, to go through the chain of command to get—No, it wasn't easy.

HT:

How long had you known your husband prior to—

LD:

We graduated from high school together. We dated in high school, but it was an on-and-off —Well, he grew up but I didn't. I wasn't ready to settle down.

HT:

Now, after you got married, you had to go back to your post, I assume?

LD:

Oh yeah.

HT:

And he had to do his thing, so you were—

LD:

He left for Africa a week later. Let's see, I had to go back to Washington to work, but I had been up to New York that weekend, and I had taken the milk train, one o'clock [a.m.], along with all the Bainbridge boys, back to Washington, to get back in time to go to work on Monday morning. He called me Monday night, and I didn't see him or hear his voice again for thirty-three months.

HT:

Thirty-three months?

LD:

Yes. He was in Africa and Sicily, trained in England, and then Normandy, [France], to Berlin, [Germany].

HT:

What type of work did you do when you were in Washington, Mrs. Dorsett?

LD:

Administrative, of a semi-technical nature. We had all of the requests for material for the ships afloat filtered through me, and then I routed them to the proper technical desk.

HT:

And you did that the entire time you were in the WAVES?

LD:

Yes, and, of course, I was—I say I routed them, but we did it. We finally had a section of about fifty-some people.

HT:

And how long did you do this type of work?

LD:

Well, for three years, till I got out. In fact, I was approached informally about taking a spot promotion to lieutenant-commander, staying in, and cutting that section down to size. I wasn't interested.

HT:

Was this a very interesting type of work? I'm sure it was very vital to the war effort.

LD:

It was at times, and it was puzzling at times, but it was challenging just to be able to read those things and get them to the right desk. Because you didn't know whether you were looking at some kind of turbine or some kind of condenser, whether it went to the one desk —one place or another. Sometimes you'd make a mistake, too.

HT:

Now, did you work only 8:00 to 5:00 on weekdays, or did you have unusual hours?

LD:

Oh, no, no, no. We went to work at eight o'clock, we got off when we could. We worked six days a week, and we would have to work thirteen days straight to get a Saturday off.

HT:

That's amazing. Wow!

LD:

There one time we worked till nine o'clock one night—that was before the guy whose place I took left—filing the stuff that we hadn't had time to get to. It was piling in on us.

HT:

Did you ever meet any interesting people while you worked in Washington?

LD:

Well, I met a lot of interesting people, they have turned out to be since then, but I did not meet any of the real notable people. Of course, I saw President Roosevelt inaugurated from the window of one of the Bureau of Ships buildings, because it was held on the portico, you know.

[End Tape 1, Side A—Begin Tape 1, Side B]

LD:

—they always put a higher-ranking officer in as titular head of this group. And what they did toward the last was bring somebody in who had been out of the country, who knew nothing about what we were doing. So he could sit there and read the newspaper or whatever. But one of them came in, and I had, or we had, the most fantastic civilian girl, who was kind of the head of the office, who knew what was going on perfectly. And he came to me one day and he said, “I'm going to transfer So-and-so to Miss Smith's job and put Miss Smith somewhere.” Well, the little girl he was going to transfer was one he'd taken a shine to, but she didn't know what was going on. Well, I knew what that would do, it'd just tear everything up, so I said, “Commander”—you see, you don't buck 'em— “may I consider myself available for transfer?” He said, “Yes.”

So I went down to personnel, Bureau of Ships personnel, and it so happened that the lady who had taught me in indoctrination school was head of WAVES personnel, and I knew her. And then Bernie Koteen, the one I had seen as a week-old ensign, was still the admiral's aide. I went down and told her, “Miss [Barry] O'Neal, I'm available for transfer.”

She said, “Uh-oh!” So she got on the telephone and she said, “Bernie, Louise Dorsett's down here and says she's available for transfer.”

He said, “We'll see about that.” And that's all. So I didn't know what was going on till a senior captain called me in and said, “What's going on?”

I said, “I just asked to be transferred.”

He said, “More to it than that. If this was a bunch of men, we'd settle that thing right quick.”

I said, “Well, Captain, I cast aside every feminine prerogative when I entered the navy. If I'm supposed to be reprimanded, please go right ahead.”

He said, “No, I didn't mean you.” Then somebody told me just to sit back and wait till Captain Avery, who was my former captain, got back.

Well, the upshot of the whole thing was that the office was not changed. This guy who had tried to mess up the office was kicked upstairs. He was a commander, was made captain and assigned to an attack-loaded transport, and I kept my job. And I guess that's where I got this, I don't know. But it went on up, and I know when I left, went in civilian clothes down there, Captain Avery said, “Now you be sure and see this certain captain. There's something in the offing for you. He likes you.” I don't know, I guess that's it. I guess because I was nervy, but I went through the chain of command and I did it right. So my little gal didn't get demoted and the cute little thing didn't get promoted, and all went on. But it was interesting.

HT:

That was interesting, yeah.

LD:

If you had been in it, you would have—

HT:

Oh gosh, yeah.

LD:

But I guess that's about it.

HT:

Jumping backwards just a little bit, can you tell me something about your basic training days when you were in indoctrination school, what your thoughts were about that?

LD:

I accepted it. Frankly, since so much of my family was in service and I'd heard it from them, I accepted it and it didn't bother me. It was hard. But all those other gals were doing it. If they could, I could. So that was just the way we went through it. I made some wonderful friends.

HT:

Did you keep those friends even after you left the service?

LD:

Yes, two or three of them. They've died since then.

HT:

Did you ever think about making the military a career?

LD:

No. No, for the simple reason that I was married and was coming back to North Carolina, and Howard wasn't going to make it a career. He couldn't wait to get back home.

HT:

And since you'd been away from each other so long, I'm sure you wanted to get back together and start a life together.

LD:

Yes, we were ready.

HT:

Well, do you feel you made a positive contribution to the war effort?

LD:

Yes. I don't know, what I did was positive. It wasn't one of these jobs in which you just sit around and—Because I watched some folks who were in assignments that didn't have much work to do in the bureau, and they didn't seem to want to get out. But I wanted to be doing something. That was my job. See, my brother was reported missing in '43. He was lost on a submarine. And my husband was overseas with the 2nd Armored Division. I had things to do. I guess you'd call it today highly motivated.

HT:

We touched on this just a little bit before, but many of the recruiting posters of that time mentioned that women who joined the service could free a man for combat.

LD:

Well, I did.

HT:

And I think you mentioned that that's one of the reasons that you did that.

LD:

I don't think everybody did. I think they kept men from being pulled in, they may not have freed one who was there. But I know one of my best friends was in the Bureau of Yards and Docks, and she had a man's job. She didn't replace anybody, but she just took a man's job that came up. A lot of them did that.

HT:

And since this was a fairly new experience for a lot of women in those days, do you think you were treated equally with men who had the same position as you did?

LD:

By some people, yes. By some people, no. But the thing about it was, Washington wasn't too crazy to have us. The old crowd, you know, the old navy crew—

HT:

The old boys' club.

LD:

The old boys' club, the ones who wore the old school tie. So we had to earn our way. Now, my Captain Avery that I talk about, he didn't want them.

HT:

He didn't want women in his units?

LD:

He didn't want [women].

HT:

Did he ever change his mind later on?

LD:

Oh yes! He was absolutely one of the most enthusiastic persons about—not about the women as a whole, nor was he about the men, but about individuals and what they could do. He was a good judge of individuals. And if they could cut the mustard, he liked them, but you had to prove you could do it.

HT:

Did you ever encounter any sort of discrimination because you were a woman, that you can recall?

LD:

Not overt. Maybe a little snide, but no overt.

HT:

Did you ever receive any special treatment because you were a woman?

LD:

No.

HT:

And were you ever singled out in any way, that you can recall?

LD:

Well, you remember what the captain said, “If you were a man, we'd settle this thing right now.” That's the only thing.

HT:

What was the hardest thing you ever had to do, physically?

LD:

This will surprise you. I walked to work, and we had ice for five weeks, and I slid across Constitution Avenue every morning—just getting there.

HT:

Where did you live when you were in Washington?

LD:

I lived in Northwest, in a little apartment house with a cousin of mine. She just moved over and I moved in with her. I was lucky.

HT:

So you were never in a WAVES dorm or anything like that?

LD:

No, officers had to find their own quarters. Now, the enlisted girls had places, but the officers had to find their places. I knew girls that moved from hotel to hotel every three days—that was the way they were doing it then—till they found a place. But I just moved right in with a cousin of mine who had gone to Washington to work during World War I and had stayed. So I was lucky. And where I was was about a block or two, two blocks I guess, from the Veterans Administration Building. I used to see John L. Lewis [United Mine Workers leader] getting his shave every morning as I went by the barbershop by the United Mine Workers. I won't say every morning, but many mornings. He didn't speak and I didn't either, but I knew who he was. He couldn't have cared less who I was.

HT:

I'm assuming you wore your uniform to work every day?

LD:

You were not allowed to wear civilian clothes at any time anywhere.

HT:

Did you receive any special treatment because you were in uniform, that you recall?

LD:

Oh, yes. Particularly in New York. See, we traveled on the train for about 60 percent of the fare. I could stay at a good hotel in New York for six dollars.

HT:

All because you were a member of the armed services?

LD:

Yes. New York just turned itself upside-down for [us].

HT:

Getting back to the question that I was asking you earlier, what the hardest thing you ever had to do physically. What was the hardest thing you ever had to do emotionally while you were in the military?

LD:

It was that row I had with that captain. Not a row, but keeping my emotions under control when I was furious wasn't easy, and following the prescribed route was hard.

HT:

Do you recall what your most embarrassing moment was?

LD:

No.

HT:

Were you ever afraid for yourself?

LD:

No.

HT:

And were you ever in any kind of physical danger?

LD:

No, not that I know of, except from oncoming cars when I was trying to cross the street.

HT:

So you did not have a car there? You had to walk everywhere?

LD:

Oh, heavens no! Nobody had cars. You couldn't buy a car then. No, you see, that was in the days before everybody had a car.

HT:

Did you know how to drive?

LD:

Oh yeah, I'd been driving since I was eight years old. I drove a Model T when I was eight years old. In fact, when I was—oh, long before I was sixteen, I helped my dad drive to Colorado. But we didn't have to have driver's licenses in those days.

HT:

Oh, I see. Can you tell me something about what kind of social life you and your fellow WAVES officers had during the war?

LD:

Well, my social life in Washington was a little different. I had WAVES friends, and we would always meet for cocktails or go out to dinner or something like that; I had civilian friends that I had known over the years, and sort of the same thing; and then my cousin's friends took me in and I went out with them; and then once in a while sometimes we'd have just navy groups getting together, both men and women. It wasn't a dull life.

HT:

Do you recall what your favorite songs and movies and dances were in those days?

LD:

I think probably one of my favorite songs was I'll Never Smile Again. And movies, I don't know. I don't remember. Probably going down to the one movie house that showed just news films, seeing what was going on. We'd go down there. My cousin and I'd go down there and see the newsreels. After all, we didn't have television, and radio wasn't much good, so that was it.

HT:

Was Washington under blackouts during the war, do you recall?

LD:

Semi, not like New York.

HT:

So, are you saying New York was under total blackout at night? Everybody had to draw curtains and that sort of thing?

LD:

We drew curtains, but it wasn't—Since we weren't right on the coast, it wasn't as bad as New York.

HT:

And did you ever hear anything about Washington being in danger of being invaded, or anything like that?

LD:

Oh no. You'd hear about it, but you just didn't pay any attention to—

HT:

Just probably rumors and propaganda?

LD:

Just propaganda, and most of that occurred, really, in the first year, of course, from Pearl Harbor on into '42. And by the time '42 came, by the time I got to Washington, that had practically died.

HT:

When you went into the WAVES, was that the first period of time you'd been away from home for any extended period of time?

LD:

I don't remember, but I was never—Of course I was away from home at school. I was of an independent nature and I never did get homesick, except one time in my life, and that was at Queens, and that was when my bag was stolen. I had all my clothes in it and we had no money. [chuckling]

HT:

You had mentioned President Franklin D. Roosevelt earlier. What did you think of him, in general?

LD:

We all admired him very much. We realized there at the last when we could see him going by that he wasn't well at all. But I never did hear any real criticism.

HT:

What about Mrs. Franklin Roosevelt, Eleanor?

LD:

Oh, I saw her at a couple of dinners, and I had seen her at—I guess at the college before. She came there one time.

HT:

Did she come to WC [Woman's College] during the thirties?

LD:

Yeah. And I thought, That's an ugly woman, but she surely is smart. Let's put it that way. She was a brilliant woman.

HT:

So did you actually get a chance to meet her?

LD:

I met her. But so what? I met Mrs. [Mamie] Eisenhower at the White House. So what? They don't know me and I don't know—One of those duty handshakes.

HT:

Right. Do you recall who your heroes and heroines were while you were in the military?

LD:

No. Of course, I thought—Yes, let's put it this way: We in the navy thought alike. We liked [General Dwight D.] Eisenhower. We hated [General Douglas] MacArthur.

HT:

Why was that?

LD:

I don't know. I guess because he stayed in Admiral [Chester W.] Nimitz's hair so much. We didn't think too much of Admiral [Ernest J.] King, but he was the Chief of Naval Operations. He was a cold fish.

HT:

Do you recall where you were when you heard about VE Day, Victory in Europe?

LD:

I was at work.

HT:

And what about VJ Day [Victory in Japan Day]?

LD:

I was in Montreat, North Carolina.

HT:

Had you gotten out by that time?

LD:

No, I was on a few days leave and I had taken my parents up there. See, my brother was still missing at that time.

HT:

I think you mentioned earlier that once the war was over you wanted to get out because you wanted to start life with your husband again.

LD:

Well, that was it. There was no military career in the offing for me—or for him, as it turned out.

HT:

Do you recall when you got out of the service?

LD:

Yes, I actually left on October 31, 1945. My date of separation is December 7, '45.

HT:

Do you recall what your adjustment to civilian life was like once you got out of the military?

LD:

Well, yes. We came here and stayed a while. Howard was worn out, so we didn't have a place to live, we stayed with my folks or his. It wasn't too satisfactory, but it was giving him a chance to rest. And then we went to Charlotte on the first of January of '46, and we were there for about fifteen months, and then here.

HT:

Did you work?

LD:

Part time.

HT:

Part time? Was your husband recovering from the war?

LD:

He was just tired.

HT:

Tired. I imagine that was very typical of men coming back from overseas.

LD:

Yes. It was a very, very hard transition.

HT:

For men in particular?

LD:

For men who had been in combat for as long as he had.

HT:

But you don't think your transition was as difficult because—

LD:

Oh no. Oh no, mine wasn't as difficult. His was difficult.

HT:

What type of impact do you think that being in the military had on your life, immediately after the war and in the long-range?

LD:

Well, I don't know, except that the principal I taught for, who was also a veteran, said, “You can get Dorsett out of the military, but I'll be blessed if you'll ever get the military out of her.”

HT:

So after you came back, you eventually taught school?

LD:

Well, after I came back I didn't work for a while, and then I did social work for eight years. And then my husband was chairman of the county board of education for years, twenty-some years, and they had a resignation on Saturday and school started Wednesday. The supervisor saw him and said, “So-and-so resigned. Do you know anybody that's got a warm body and a history certificate?” Howard looked at me, I said, “I have the warm body and an expired history certificate.” She said, “I think you're hired.” And I went to stay till they could get somebody, and I stayed eleven years and wound up as head of the department.

HT:

And this was the local—

LD:

The high school.

HT:

The high school.

LD:

Yeah, I was the department head and I was having master's teachers that I was supervising. Not supervising, but at least checking up on.

HT:

Did you enjoy your eleven years of teaching?

LD:

I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't. I loved it. I have always felt that there are very few good high school history teachers. They don't show the relevancy of one period of history to another. They don't show the connection, that everything is interconnected—always has been, always will be. They don't show what's happening here and what's happening there at the same time and how that finally works itself out into something. They just don't. They teach memorization and dates. So the kids said to me, “Mrs. Dorsett, are we going to have to learn any dates?” I said, “No.” “Are we going to have to memorize dates?” I said, “No. You'll learn a few.” But I wasn't going to make them memorize them, but they'd learn them because that's the way we tie things together. I loved it.

HT:

Well, I can remember my history teacher with fond memories, and that's one of the reasons I took it in college was because of my high school history teacher.

LD:

Well, I just liked it, and I had done—Most of my reading in the years had been either historical fiction or something on that order, so I wasn't totally left out, but I did have to—As I say, I did have to teach the book the first year. And I don't like teachers who teach the book. I want to teach the course.

HT:

Do you feel like your life has been different because you were in the military?

LD:

Oh yes.

HT:

In what respects?

LD:

It gave me an assurance that I could do what I set out to do, and I just haven't lost it. Assurance may be one word, determination may be another one.

HT:

And it sounds like you'd do it again.

LD:

Oh yeah. No, I'm a little too old now. I'm eighty-five years old. [chuckling] But I am on the board of our community college. We're selecting a president, and I've been on that selection committee. We interviewed sixteen people from—Let's see, we interviewed Thursday night, Friday—We gave them each an hour and a half, Thursday night, Friday night, all day Saturday, and Sunday afternoon. Got to go through it again next weekend with just eight.

HT:

Do you consider yourself to be an independent person?

LD:

Yes.

HT:

And do you think the military made you that way, or were you that way?

LD:

No, it just confirmed it. [chuckling] And strengthened it.

HT:

Right. I imagine so. Did you consider yourself a pioneer, a trailblazer, or a trendsetter when you entered the military?

LD:

For this area, yes, I was.

HT:

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

LD:

I think so, yes. Yes, I do.

HT:

Because women just didn't do that sort of thing.

LD:

No. You see, since I was in the navy, I have never taken a job where there was a difference in the pay between men and women. I won't take it. For the same job, the same pay, or I'm not interested. And I'm fairly vocal about it.

HT:

Can you tell me about how women who joined the military were perceived by the general public, by their families, by men? I was talking to a WAC the other day and had read something about the—There was a slander campaign, I think it was in 1943, the spring of 1943, that was started within the army and—

LD:

The army had more of that than we did.

HT:

So you didn't hear much about that in the navy?

LD:

No, I wasn't interested in the army. My husband was in it, but the literature that they sent out did not appeal to me. It seemed to assume we were second-class. So I waited till the navy—Within twenty-four hours after the information was in the paper, I had written for it.

HT:

So do you think that the men who were in the navy treated the women with the respect that was due them, for the most part?

LD:

Some of them did and some of them didn't. It was an individual matter. It depended on how sure the man was of himself, of his own self-image. If he had a poor self-image, he sometimes wasn't too nice. But it all depended. It was the individual.

HT:

Did you ever run into that sort of attitude?

LD:

Oh yeah.

HT:

What were your reactions to that sort of attitude?

LD:

Well, ignore it if I could. If I couldn't, let it be known that I considered him not doing the best he could for his country or for himself, that his attitude lacked a lot. I didn't do that to superior officers. I did it to lesser officers, officers that worked for me.

HT:

So you had men officers working under you and for you while you were in the military?

LD:

Yes. In fact, I had one who thought he was going to get my job. But I ranked him by a day, and it killed him.

HT:

Was it easier to work with women officers than men officers, or—

LD:

All depended on the individual. Some men officers were wonderful to work with, some of them were hell on wheels. And I never did work with too many women officers. I socialized with women officers, and I did work with some. And some were great, some were—It is a matter of self-image, I think, whether you can handle it or not. See, some of them, you give them a little rank and they get delusions of grandeur. Not many, but some.

HT:

Have any of your children ever been in the military?

LD:

My son. He was in college, and wasn't too sure what he wanted and wasn't doing too much with it, so he went into the air force. His sister, his older sister, is very bright, and he thought he was dumb. He wasn't. And the air force tests showed that he was quite bright, and so they sent him to a thirty-nine-week school and then to England where he spent three years. And while he was in England, he wasn't too far from Cambridge, and he got a whole twenty-one or more hours of As off, and went back to college and graduated with honors. He's an MBA-CPA [Master's in Business Administration-Certified Public Accountant].

[End Tape 1, Side B—Begin Tape 2, Side A]

LD:

—A French woman in Paris asked my granddaughter for directions somewhere, and she says, “Do you know, I was able to do it back in French.”

HT:

How wonderful.

LD:

That's because she's not going to be as fluent as her mother is. Her mother's a graduate of Duke.

HT:

Did your daughter ever consider going into the military because you'd been in the military?

LD:

No.

HT:

No? No consideration there at all?

LD:

No.

HT:

What about your son? Do you think he was influenced because you and your husband had been in the military?

LD:

It might have been indirect. Well, you see, I was in the military, my brother was in the military, Howard was in the military, and his brother was in the military. So we're all—

HT:

So you're a real military family, really.

LD:

For short lengths of time.

HT:

Your son, you said he was in the air force?

LD:

Yes.

HT:

And he was stationed overseas in England. When was he in, do you know? Was it during Vietnam?

LD:

After that. I can't remember, but it was the late sixties and early seventies. He was at Mildenhall [Air Force Base, England], which is where everybody who goes overseas goes through customs and does all that. That's where he got interested in computers. I'm a rarity: a computer illiterate. [chuckling] A total illiterate.

HT:

So you've never tried to work with a computer?

LD:

Never tried. One of the little boys that teaches up at the community college said, “Mrs. Dorsett, we can't have that. I'm going to teach you something.” I said, “You don't know what you're up against.”

HT:

You can do it.

LD:

Oh well, if I made up my mind, but I haven't done that yet.

HT:

Mrs. Dorsett, just a few more question about this and then I'll let you rest a little bit. How do you feel about women in combat positions? You know, recently—

LD:

If they're going in, they're in. Period. For whatever comes up, they're there.

HT:

So you do approve of this?

LD:

Yes. If you're willing to go into the service, then you're not supposed to be special.

HT:

No matter what your sex is?

LD:

That has nothing to do with it. If you expect equal pay for the same job, then you've got to take equal risk.

HT:

Is there anything else that we haven't covered that you would like to add about your military service?

LD:

Not that I can think of right now. It's been a long time ago.

HT:

I know. Can you tell me something about what your life has been like since you left the military?

LD:

Well, we have raised two children. We both worked. My husband's been an accountant, he's retired, and we have both been active in community and civic and church work. That's it. We have managed to stay quite busy—no problem.

HT:

It sounds like you've had a wonderful life.

LD:

Well, most of the time, yes. It's had its ups and downs. Nobody in the world but Howard Dorsett would have lived with me all these years.

HT:

And why do you say that?

LD:

Because I'm so independent. And he's independent too, but we worked it out.

HT:

And you've been married now, what, you said?

LD:

Fifty-six years.

HT:

Fifty-six years. And how many years have you lived here in Mt. Gilead?

LD:

Well, now since we were married. We came back here in 1947. We've been here since then. We've been in this house since 1950. Is it too cool in here?

HT:

I'm quite comfortable, thank you. Mrs. Dorsett, I don't have any more questions. I really appreciate you talking to me today. It's just been wonderful to hear your stories.

LD:

Well, I don't have any hair-raising stories like I'm sure some folks do. It's just—

HT:

Well, it was still a pleasure talking to you, and again thank you so much.

LD:

And no wild experiences. I will say this, that has nothing to do with the service, but a coincidence—That's not on now, is it?

HT:

Yes, it is.

LD:

Well, this doesn't concern me, but my brother was killed in the Aleutians in a submarine, a small submarine. This was one patrol, and then they were all to come back for a new construction. But this little S-Boat [a submarine], the captain had won the navy Cross in the South Pacific, and this guy wanted to win it too. So they were cruising along on the surface, and he mistook what he thought was a destroyer for a regular merchant ship, and of course they were shot down. My brother was the engineering officer, so he was gone immediately. But seven guys got out. They machine-gunned all of them but two, and the two of them were taken to Japanese prisons. I've seen one of them twice, but the last time I saw him—I'm getting ahead of my story, but at any rate, Howard and I were on a train—got on a train in New York to go to Washington. We'd left the car there, and we went to go to the diner, and it happened to be one of those old trains, the diner and the club car are the same thing. And on our right was sitting a woman guzzling beer, on our left was the chief petty officer guzzling beer, and we struck up an acquaintance with a couple from Akron, [Ohio], who knew some folks we knew. Well, after lunch we went back to the car. It was a no-smoking car. I smoked at the time, so I said I'd go back to the club car. Howard said he'd take a nap. And I saw my friends and we started talking. But the chief was still sitting over there guzzling beer. And I said about three things and he said, “What's your name?” I thought, Well, who in the Sam Hill are you? Then I realized—I said, “Louise Dorsett. By the way, are you Ernest Duva or Bill Whitemore?” He said, “I'm Bill Whitemore.” One of the two survivors of my brother's submarine. Now that's coincidence.

HT:

This was after the war?

LD:

This was about fifteen years ago.

HT:

That is amazing.

LD:

And the lady that I was talking to got white as a sheet. She said, “This is a coincidence beyond what I had ever thought about.” That poor guy was a wreck. He said the navy kept him. In the submarine service. He could not go to sea because he was an alcoholic, and that was that. But he was going down to Washington to get his wife, to take her back up to New London.

HT:

And he was still in the navy at that time, I think you said?

LD:

Yeah, they were keeping him till he had enough years to retire. I said fifteen years ago, that's probably twenty years ago. But it was something. It was an experience. [chuckling]

HT:

I can imagine so. Well, is there anything else that you can add to your interesting stories?

LD:

I can't think of anything. I don't have many interesting stories, and I can't think of a thing to add.

HT:

Well, again, thank you so much. Well, I appreciate you coming down here.

LD:

Oh, you're so welcome.

LD:

I don't know why in the world you took all that bother—

[Tape turned off]

LD:

Of course, I do think one thing, that I was probably the first UNC Woman's College student to go into the service.

HT:

The first one?

LD:

I know I was the first one in the navy. I don't know about the WAC. But I'm pretty sure—If you go in and are examined August of '42, that's pretty early.

HT:

That is very early. Because I can't remember exactly when the WAC started, but there was —

LD:

They started about a month before we did, a month before or more.

HT:

Let me ask you one more quick question. When you were in the service, did you ever come back to the campus for any reason during the forties? Do you recall ever coming back?

LD:

I don't think I did. I came back to Carolina Power and Light Company once or twice. I'd come through Raleigh coming home. But we had so little time off, and transportation was horrible. I know I was supposed to leave Washington one night at seven-something to come to Charlotte for Christmas, and we left at 11:00 [p.m.] and were supposed to get into Charlotte early in the morning. We got there at 5:00 [p.m.] that afternoon, Christmas afternoon. It was just crowded and irregular.

Of course, when my brother was—we got the word that he was missing, I flew priority from Washington to Charlotte. My commanding officer at that time, the one that I replaced—It happened on a Saturday, so he got in touch with the duty officer and did everything and got me on that plane.

HT:

Was it a military plane?

LD:

No, civilian plane. But I traveled with a priority. That means I kicked somebody off. I'm sorry about that.

HT:

And you say you landed in Charlotte? How did you get home here to Mt. Gilead at that time?

LD:

Well, my mother was in the hospital in Charlotte, and my brother's wife was from Charlotte, so we were just there. And then I think I came home sometime during the week. But my mother had a broken hip, and she was in the hospital in Charlotte. Interesting, a little town, small-town life, but we don't seem to mind. I've lived in Washington and I've lived in Charlotte and I've lived in Raleigh, and I'll just take it here. A good place to bring up children.

HT:

And Mt. Gilead has how many people?

LD:

Oh, about fourteen, fifteen hundred.

HT:

And was it as small in those days?

LD:

Oh yeah, about the same.

HT:

About the same? What type of crops are grown in this area?

LD:

Not much farming. Lumber, and a little bit of tobacco. Not much. Some of the farmers are beginning—a lot of soybeans. We only have about three or four real farmers in the county. Everybody's into something else.

HT:

And your family has always lived in this area?

LD:

Well, it's lived here since 1927. My mother was born in Kentucky, reared in Missouri, and taught school in Iowa. My father was born in Missouri and reared there, graduated from college there, and worked in Utah, Colorado, and North Carolina.

HT:

So they traveled quite a bit, the families did?

LD:

Oh, we used to. Oh, we used to go back to Colorado. I remember we went back to Colorado when I was quite—probably ten years old, in a Model T, and camped where we didn't have relatives.

HT:

You drove all the way from here to Colorado in a Model T?

LD:

Oh yeah, climbed Pike's Peak in it.

HT:

Were there paved roads at that time, or some?

LD:

Some. Most of the roads through the Middle West were on the section lines. Remember when the Northwest Territories Act was passed, all that land was divided into sections, and most of the roads were on the section lines because nobody wanted to lose that much of his farmland to put a road through.

HT:

And how long would it take you to drive from here to Colorado in those days?

LD:

Well, it depended. You see, we'd stop in Nashville for a few days, and we stopped in Chicago if we went that way, we stopped in Iowa, we stopped in Kansas, we stopped in St. Louis. These were where we had relatives or friends. We stopped in Oklahoma. Depending on which trip it was and whether we were going southern or northern. But my father's parents and two sisters and brother all left Missouri and went out cattle ranching in Colorado, in the mountains, up about eight or nine thousand feet.

HT:

I understand that's absolutely beautiful country out there.

LD:

Gorgeous. My aunt never let the fire go out in her kitchen stove. It was that cool. In the sun it was hot, but at night you always were very happy to have a blanket or two. I loved it.

HT:

Well, again, thank you, Mrs. Dorsett. I'd better not tire you out any more.

LD:

You haven't bothered me at all.

[End of interview]