Interview with Alice Jennings Archibald
The contributions American women made to the war effort were not limited to those who joined the military. Many women supported the war effort by working here at home. The following excerpts are taken from an interview of Mrs. Alice Jennings Archibald in March of 1997. Kurt Piehler and Eve Snyder conducted this interview. When you have finished reading the excerpts, answer the questions at the end of the section.
KP: Do you know how far back your family goes? You said you were a Jerseyite family. Do you know how far back your family goes in New Jersey?
AJA: Well, I can go back to maybe about five generations. One of my ancestors was a slave, but I can't remember just when he came over. But most of us had lived within the New Brunswick area, most of us.
KP: When did you start working at the Raritan Arsenal?
AJA: Well, that was during the war. somewhere, no I can't, was that in the '40's?
KP: Was it before Pearl Harbor or after Pearl Harbor?
AJA: Before Pearl Harbor; somewhere in through there.
KP: Do you remember how you learned about the job?
AJA: Well, I guess they were advertising everywhere and, you know, and everyone wanted to do his or her bit at the time. If you weren't going into the service, you wanted to do something, so I got a job at the Arsenal. Some of my friends were there working in the Arsenal, and so... I went there, too. And I was a completion clerk. It wasn't hard, but the thing I thought of then, and I think of it now, what a waste it was. If someone at a camp wanted a screw, you had to write a whole requisition for, type up a whole paper with one little screw item on it, and mail it out. That was your government, and I thought, "No wonder, no wonder we're is such debt." Yes indeed, send out one screw and...
KP: And you had to do a whole form.
AJA: Whole form and everything.
KP: How many other black workers were at the Arsenal?
AJA: Oh, there were quite a few.
KP: How many were in your department?
AJA: I don't know, I would just say a few. We were not in the majority, but we were a goodly number and that's about all I can say. It's been such a long time ago.
KP: What did you think of the NAACP's call for double victory in World War II? Did you think the war might improve conditions?
AJA: Well, I hoped it would. I had hoped any war would improve conditions all over, although it doesn't seem to. In the Far East,...I don't understand those people, what they're fighting for is beyond me. And the folks in Albania, I don't know what's the matter with them, what do they want. And when I think of the Holy Land, and people going over here to visit the Holy Land and then you read about the fighting over there between the people of Jordanians and Israelites. So...you say, "What is wrong with them, what do they want?" then you've got your people like (----?) who have all this money, and have these lavish homes with gold chandeliers and all of that and then people suffering around them who are starving almost. Man's inhumanity to man, well, I mean, it's disgusting.
KP: You had worked in the Raritan Arsenal, but you had some family members who were in the military?
AJA: Yes, I had brothers who were in the service who went overseas and so forth.
ON THE IMPACT OF KILMER AND LEISURE TIME
KP: I guess one of the questions that we've asked a number of people is what was the impact of Camp Kilmer on the area, and you saw the impact in both world wars?
AJA: Well, Camp Kilmer really had a great impact on the area because... I had friends who worked in the PX and like that, and a lot of the people, as I said, liked it in the area and settled in the New Brunswick area after Camp Kilmer. We had a number of students who did that, and, of course, you had the U.S.O. in town, and I belonged to church groups that used to go to U.S.O. weekly and entertain the fellows, and like that, so. And we used to see the fellows downtown. Those were the days when you used to go downtown nights and not have to worry, but you can't do that now.
KP: At the U.S.O. was it segregated? Would you only entertain black troops?
AJA: It wasn't segregated, but mostly the black ones went there. You know, there is a tendency, I guess, even here at Rutgers, you're not segregated, but there's a tendency for likes to go with likes because they feel that they have more in common,...which is no way to integrate, because you'll never integrate if you always go with your own group. That's one reason why I belong to the Senior Center in New Brunswick, which is integrated on Huntington Street. Now there are a couple of black seniors groups around, but I don't belong to them because we have a colored church, which is enough. But if you want to integrate, you got to get where people are to integrate, otherwise you can't do it. So, I found out that in recent years, when I come to affairs at Rutgers, there is a tendency--I don't know whether it is so now--but there is a tendency for the Afro-Americans to gather together and I don't know whether the Jewish gather together, but that doesn't develop integration at all.
KP: It sounds like you have always embraced integration?
AJA: Well, I do feel that, after all, we're here for one purpose. You're born to be exposed to...people who can get along well together, and when you're dead, you're gone and that's it. So why not enjoy yourself here? And just don't, you know, when I meet Eve, I don't have to say, well, she's white I can't do so and so. If she's a nice person, we have something in common; lets go on, you know, that's my feeling. I mean there's too much of, we have too many segregated churches and what not. They say Sunday morning is the most segregated time in the country--you have your separate churches. But more churches are integrating and getting away from, you know, one idea. But life is too short to worry about it. I mean, when you lay down and die,who cares what you were and what not.
KP: At the Raritan Arsenal did you have any contact with any prisoners of war that were working there?
KP: It sounds like your typical day at the Arsenal was, in a sense, doing paperwork.
AJA: Yes, it was mainly paperwork, there and out, what not, and Air Warden in the neighborhood, you know, do your bit there, and food was rationed and people got it sometimes, but always people who always get what they shouldn't get. There were those who did.