Born in 1925 in West Virginia, Ruth Tichnell was still in high school when World War II broke out. Ruth contributed to the war effort by working a government job as a clerk typist in the import department of the Census Bureau nearby Washington, D.C. She eventually left this job for work closer to her family and home. She also worked at the Department of the Navy when V-J Day occurred.
In this interview, Ruth speaks about her hometown, along with her primary and secondary education. She relates how she got a clerk typist job at the Census Bureau by taking an aptitude test in school, and then travelled to work in Suitland, Maryland. Ruth explains that although she enjoyed the work and was provided with housing and transportation, she became homesick and ultimately left to work closer to her family. She shares her memories of both Pearl Harbor and V–J Day, along with stories of her father’s railway work and her husband’s military service. Ruth ends the interview by sharing advice and reflecting on how she was shaped by her own experiences as a young person.
Government Recruitment and Going to Work
Well, before I graduated, the government or someone come to the school, and anyone that was interested in it took a test to see what we was qualified to do. Then afterwards we got a letter from them telling what we were qualified for, and I was qualified to be a clerk typist. They told me where I would have a job at in D.C., and they told me where I would go on a bus, where to meet a bus, and to go out to this place where I would stay. They had a place for girls to stay; it was Suitland Hall, in Suitland, Maryland.
I had never been further out of Rowlesburg than about 40 miles. [laughs] I had to go by myself—no one would go with me. I tried to get different ones out of my class to go, and no one would go. So I went alone. Of course, I was only 17 years old. I got on the train myself, never been on a train before, and I went to D.C., where the building would be where I would work. It was real close to this Suitland Hall. We were able to walk over to the job. There was another building there—there was the hydrographic plant that the Navy had, we had to pass it, and we went on then to the Census Bureau. That was where I worked at.
I was a clerk typist in the import department. The government was importing in, and we had records of all the things that was coming in, and the value, and I had to type up reports on it and what they were worth and where they were going to. We typed up on forms, and then they run them off—of course, the things for making copies back then was quite different. You typed up something on this big sheet of paper, and then there was like a jelly to it, and they run this off on the paper then—all these papers of lists of everything—and then they were sent out to other departments. I would be sent sometimes to some of the other sections to answer the phone of someone if they were short of help or needed help in typing other things. For my part, then, I turned them into the supervisor and they distributed to whoever was supposed to have them.
Course, I had never been away from home. And I got homesick. [laughs] I was about four months I worked there, and then I come home.
Workplace Attire and Mother’s Watch
Then, back at that time, you didn’t wear slacks at no kinds of work. It was always dresses that you wore. But I did wear high heels, I remember. [laughs] Oh, I think everybody, all girls at that time, wore the high heeled shoes.
I remember that I have a compact yet that, when I quit at the Census Bureau, they gave to me. The group went together and, as a gift of leaving, they gave me a compact. And I thought, gee, that people don’t carry them today. [laughs] I found this compact the other day, and I thought, “Oh, there’s that compact. All these years, I still have that.”
And my first check I got—to start with, my mother had let me have her watch to take with me. I didn’t have a watch, so she let me take her watch. The watch had been an Elgin watch that my dad had gave to her before they were married. And she let me wear that watch until I was able to buy one. And my first check, that is what I did: I bought me a watch. I still have the watch today, and I have my mother’s watch today, too.
V-J Day at the Navy Department and Funerals at Arlington
AM: Now, I’m a little confused about how your work came to an end. Where were you on V-J Day? Tell me that again.
I was still at the Navy Department.
AM: What happened? What was that day like?
Oh, there was real excitement in the office. [laughs] I don’t think any of us done very much work that day.
And now I remember funerals, burials, were at the Arlington Cemetery. From our office we could hear the twenty-one-gun salute there.