Sunday, September 17, 2023

My Mom, the Typist

By Margaret Sizemore Clark

     During World War II while my father was overseas, my mother worked at the War Department in Washington D.C. as a typist.  When the war was over my father returned, and by late 1947 my parents had two children and were living in Indianapolis, where he worked for the Navy as an electrical engineer.

  In 1950 my father accepted a job at the Naval Ordinance Test Station at China Lake, CA.  China Lake is about 150 miles north of Los Angeles in the Mojave Desert, and if it sounds odd to have a Navy base in the desert, it was. The base was started in the 40’s and was very isolated, with limited housing, few amenities, and there was no lake!!  But China Lake was a major player in the development of weapons for defense, and at that time the Cold War was foremost on the minds of our country’s leaders. In the early days of the 60’s Russia had success with a man-made satellite, Sputnik.  There was also a very real threat from the island country of Cuba, who was backed by Russia, of launching nuclear missiles aimed at the not-too-distant United States. The scientists at China Lake were working hand-in-hand with the Navy to create the weapons and ordinance (bombs and missiles) needed to prepare the United States for any such attacks.  They were also developing much of the hardware needed for the space race, and time was of the essence.


It was difficult, to say the least, to convince young scientists to uproot themselves and their families and relocate to this unheard-of place.  Many of these men had gone to school on the GI Bill and were in the process of getting post graduate degrees in their given fields.  Online degree programs were not an option in the 60’s, so it took a lot of courage and risk to commit to a position at China Lake and the work being done there.  It was also a golden opportunity!  Where else could one work and learn under the tutelage of recognized scientists, be part of cutting-edge technology, and have the ability to witness first-hand the results of the work and hypotheses that were being tested?  It was an opportunity many of these young men couldn’t pass up, but they would also need to work on their theses and most of them were not typists, much less statistical typists that could include formulas, mathematical equations, and scientific symbols in their papers.

I don’t how the word got out that my mother had been a typist, but it did and somehow it was negotiated with the Navy that my mother would go to work as a statistical typist, but work from home. Unheard of at that time.

 One day a grey Navy truck delivered a desk to our home, along with a Dictaphone and a brand-new IBM electric typewriter.  It had several metal balls covered with letters, symbols, and numbers that could be inserted into and out of the typewriter.  She set up the desk, typewriter, and the other equipment in a corner of the living room.  She may have been able to get some of the work done during the day, but what I remember is after getting the five of us kids tucked into bed (and hopefully sound asleep), she would plug the Dictaphone into her ear and begin her typing.  She would type the pages and then send them to the author via a courier on the base.  The author would edit them, and get them back to Mom to be revised and retyped. As a result of this close association, she became friends with many of the doctoral candidates. My older sister even babysat for a few of them!

Mom performed this job for a number of years but eventually went to work full time in the Research Department and then the Technical Information Department on the base. When she retired in the 70’s she was given a send-off that included a party attended by numerous colleagues, a plaque that honored her contribution to the base, and the grateful thanks of those former PhD candidates that found a statistical typist in the middle of the Mojave Desert.

Margaret Sizemore Clark, the newest member of the Galaxy family! Margaret joins us on this show to share details of her life growing up on a military base in the 1950s and 60s. Her recollections of that life, the fun activities of that era, family trips, growing up with her siblings, and many more memories she will share with us. Margaret joins us as a guest on our programs, and also will add to our web page.

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