Category Archives: 1940’s history

Plane Spotters

Guest Post by Shareen Knight

My mother’s hands were shaking. It was a sunny summer afternoon towards the end of WW II when we heard the engine of a small plane as it came across the bay. We ran outside, her with the binoculars and me holding the chart of colored drawings of every kind of plane that existed in the 40s. It was her job to report any enemy aircraft, as there was a fear after Pearl Harbor that the Japanese carriers off the coast would send planes to bomb American cities on the West Coast.

Volunteers were organized to keep watch. Thousands of people, high school kids, retired folk, women whose husbands were still overseas fighting, and little kids like me who were unofficial helpers.

As the plane came closer, we held our ground, and soon the plane came into view flying very low. Oh my god, a red circle on the side could only mean one thing, we had spotted our first Japanese fighter plane. The pilot saw us and we saw him. I stood transfixed, a little afraid, but mostly excited. I wondered if he would shoot us. But, he didn’t shoot, instead he tipped his wing toward us and flew by in an arc, as if to say hello-goodbye, and then he headed back toward the Pacific Ocean.

Shareen Knight is a writer and artist/photographer who lives in the coastal mountains of British Columbia. She is writing a novel that takes place in the 40s and 50s in rural America where she was raised, and is also working on a comedic/drama full-length play about the Inuit people and Global Warming. She claims to live in an igloo, but nobody believes her because the snow has all melted.

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Filed under 1940's history, Pearl Harbor, Plane Spotting, World War II, WWII

When The US Government Told Us What to Wear

During World War 2, in an effort to save precious materials needed for the war, The War Production Board (WPB) was in charge of rationing civilian goods. The first to be rationed was sugar and gasoline. Gradually other items were added like rubber, coffee and meat (somehow poultry didn’t count as meat so it wasn’t rationed). You couldn’t buy a refrigerator or a Bendix washer during the war, but these companies regularly advertised in the popular magazines, reminding customers of all they were giving to the war effort.
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The WPB came out with Limitation Order L-85, which dictated how much cloth could be used to make clothing. Although clothing wasn’t rationed in the US (except shoes*) as it was in Great Britain the WPB made regulations on how much cloth could be used to make any one outfit. The sleeves of dresses now had to be 3/4 length, dresses with no collars were favored. Double breasted suits for both men and women became single breasted. There were no more women’s pleated skirts. (Stanton, 2009a) The WPB’s slogan was,”Control without regimentation,” meaning they didn’t want to tell designers how to initiate their regulations, but they did expect them to be followed. After all, this was being done “for the boys.” Everyone was behind it. Muriel Johnstone, a dress designer, advertising her new regulation dresses used the slogan: “Conserving material for victory.” (OldMagazineArticles.com)

In the interest of following the mandate to use less material—or so they claimed—designers started raising women’s skirts from the mid-calf to just below the knee. The amount of clothes women wore during this time became less and less, especially in Hollywood. Watch the films made during the war. First, you’ll see a lot of those collarless dresses along with the shorter lengths. Also, you’ll note how scanty many of the women are dressed, lots of bare legs, bare arms, cleavage. Compare these outfits with the clothing worn in films made before the war and after. It was “all for the boys.” (Stanton, 2009b)

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*Each individual was allowed 3 pairs of shoe a year, which doesn’t sound terribly harsh to me. Stage Door volunteers were permitted and extra pair of shoes because their shoes wore out quickly from all that dancing.

Stanton, S.L.(2009a) Limitation Order L-85: General restrictions. The United States in War and Peace (PDF)

Stanton, S.L.(2009b) Limitation Order L-85: Fashion and Morale, The United States in War and Peace

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Filed under 1940's history, 1940s Fashion, clothing 1940s, gay, Juliana the Novel, Lesbian, Uncategorized, World War II

Brunch in New York in 1943

The Fifth Avenue Hotel, 24 Fifth Avenue 9th Street Antique Postcard

The Fifth Avenue Hotel at 9th Street, Sidewalk Cafe, 1935


Last night I was with my writing group, The Oracles, some of the most amazingly talented writers I have ever known.  I am so thrilled to be included in their number.  I’m always grateful for the helpful feedback they give me. They’re all playwrights. I am too, only now I’m finishing up a novel. The novel has so much dialogue in it that they graciously let me cast it with fabulous actors so that it can be read at the group for feedback. Last night we finished reading one of my chapters from JULIANA and someone in the group asked if they had “brunch” in New York City in 1943. An excellent question and one I had not considered. (They often send me back to the drawing board to check my facts.) This set me on a course of late night researching until I came up with the answer to that question.

Here is the answer:

There actually was a guy who started the whole thing.  In England in 1895, Guy Beringer thought there should be an alternative to the “postchurch ordeal of heavy meats and savory pies” (Grimes, 1998).  He thought there should be a meal served at noon that consisted of tea or coffee, and marmalade.  He considered this later, lighter meal would make it easier for the Saturday late night “carousers.”  Well, the idea took off.

Brunch didn’t come to the U.S. until after World War I,  but they definitely had it in 1943.  In the forties, the Fifth Avenue Hotel and Ninth Street had what they called the “Sunday Strollers’ Brunch.”  They served sauerkraut juice, clam cocktails, chicken liver omelets in Madeira and calf’s liver with hash browns (Grimes, 1998).

Finding out about the Fifth Avenue Hotel brunch caused me to change the location of my characters’ brunch from the general “nice little cafe around the corner” to the more specific Fifth Avenue Hotel.  This change had significance for me since I lived with two roommates in a one bedroom apartment in the Fifth Avenue Hotel when I first came to the city.

Thank you, Oracles!

References: Grimes, W. (July, 08, 1998). At brunch, the more bizarre the better. New York Times.

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Filed under 1940's history, brunch, gay, Juliana the Novel, lesbian, World War II