Jo Ann Marshall

Jo Ann Marshall was born in 1921 in Cloquet, Minnesota. She graduated from Cloquet High School in 1939 and completed a two-year degree program at the University of Minnesota Duluth in 1941. When the United States entered World War II, Jo Ann decided to find a way to aid the war effort. She took a position as a fingerprint analyst with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, D.C., where she served from 1942 to 1944.

While working in the nation’s capital, Jo Ann met her future husband, Lester Marshall. She was married in October 1943 in Cloquet, and moved back to Minnesota two years later to raise a family. Jo Ann passed away in 2012, six days before her ninety-first birthday. 

In this interview, Jo Ann Marshall discusses working for the FBI during World War II and meeting her husband in Washington, D.C. She also speaks about her parents’ involvement in the war, including her mother’s work at the shipyards and her father’s various tasks around her hometown. She goes on to reflect on moving back to Cloquet with her husband after World War II and her thoughts and feelings about the war today.

Working for the FBI during World War II

Well, I was in fingerprints, a house classifier. When I first went to work, they showed us how to do it. You had to count all those little ridges and use a magnifying glass. They had a table, and I worked nights. All the curtains were dark. It was just before Christmas [1942], and boy, I was lonesome. [laughs]           

TS: So when did this start, during 1942?                                                   

Yes. They would play music at night for us. I don’t know if they played it for the girls in the daytime, but at night. And when they play, “When You’re a Long, Long Way From Home,” oh, that was murder.

And I hadn’t worked there too very long when the files got so crowded that they couldn’t have any more room, and they moved the filing department to the [D.C.] Armory in Washington. That was a great big building. And there you were in this great big building with this big high ceiling and rows and rows of filers.

TS: All the doing the same thing you were doing?

All doing the same thing I was doing.

Preferring the Lutheran Church over the Presbyterian Church

Then he [my husband] became a Lutheran when he came to Minnesota.

TS: It happens, doesn’t it? [laughter]

Well, he liked the Lutheran church better than the Presbyterian. And I did, too, because I didn’t like that he [the minister] was talking about Columbus or something that didn’t have anything to do with church. And I thought, “What’s that got to do with being in church, talking about somebody that I didn’t know that would be—?” Maybe it wasn’t Columbus, but it was somebody that wasn’t related to the church. And I thought, “What’s the big idea?” And Lester felt the same way. So when we came here, he never did go to the Presbyterian church; he just went to the Lutheran church with me.

Going to a Jewish Delicatessen

I was sent to the delicatessen next door. Why? Because it was Jewish people that ran the delicatessen, and I was the one that looked more Jewish than the others. [laughter]. And I certainly think they did think I was Jewish. I do. I had a girlfriend that was Jewish, and I don’t know if I picked anything up from her or not, but they always thought that I came home with the best results when I went to the delicatessen.

TS: That’s good division of labor there.

Of course, we had to go to the supermarket for most things, but you’d come home and there’s nothing to eat in the house. So, the delicatessen is next door. So, “Jo Ann, go get us something to eat.” And then we depended on Lester a little bit, too. [laughter]

TS: Did you? Now how did he help out?

He’d stop at the bakery on the way over.                                   

TS: What a good guy.

Yeah. [laughter]

Father’s Skill at Mending Nylons and Sewing Wire

Before I went to Washington, we weren’t wearing nylons. They had just kind of come out shortly before that. My dad had a little thing that was kind of like a crochet hook, only it had a little hinge on it. And he could take that thing and mend mine and my mother’s hose with it. You’d get to a certain point where, of course, you had to fasten it off some way—you had to have a knot some way. And there were people that even did that for other people. They had machines, evidently, that did it. But when I got to Washington, none of us knew how to do that.

But my dad worked at the paper mill. And his job once was to “fix a wire,” they always called it. He had to go “sew a wire.” He’d say, “The office called in,” because he had to go sew this wire. The paper machine had a wire mesh, and if the mesh tore, somebody had to go fix it. And my dad was the best one at the paper mill to do it because he just was handy at that. So I guess because he could sew a wire, he figured he could mend a nylon.

“Never Would Have Met Him Otherwise”

TS: One of the last questions here, it’s kind of a philosophical question: how did work change your life?

[pause] It got me married. [laughter]

TS: Yeah, very specifically it did, didn’t it? You never would have met him otherwise.

No, I never would have met him if I hadn’t gone to Washington. I had been in Washington once before to visit my aunt, and I had met Lester’s sister—and I don’t know, it just happened. I guess she was gonna be a matchmaker. And I suppose she figured out I was alone in Washington [for work] and no friends, and she introduced me to Lester. Of course, I had known his sister before, but I’d only been there for like two weeks. I went out to visit my aunt one time and I didn’t meet Lester then.

The War Was Heartbreak

TS: Last question, two parts to this: what did you think of the war during the war years?

I thought it was horrible.[pauses]Nothing much more to say about it, other than it was just heartbreaking, and you were worried about all your relatives that were over in these places. I had one cousin that was over in the Pacific and one that was over in Europe. And you just never knew if they were gonna come back.

I had a nurse friend over there that, when she came back, she was telling about the time they were being bombed and they all had to flee. She said they left their papers. She was a nurse, all her medical stuff, everything, was destroyed. The wind came up with it, the confusion, they lost all their records. So it changed the lives for a lot of people.