It was a hot humid day in New York City when Celia Szapka climbed into the packed train at Union Station. She had splurged and bought a new black and white dress that looked fairly smart on her 24-year-old figure, just for the trip. She was also sporting her Times Square find, I. Miller shoes that she had to do some quick maneuvering to keep clean in the crowd.
Celia was not from Manhattan. She had moved to the island after many months of convincing her Polish mother that it was the right thing to do. See, she was the baby and as such was expected to stay home with her mother and father until she could get work close to their Shenandoah, Pa. home.
She felt this polish tradition a little constricting, especially, after seeing both her brothers, Al and Clem, head off overseas to fight in the war. Then there was the older sister who ran off to get hitched in New Jersey. Oh, and Kathy, her other sister was attending college with money the family scrimped from working the coal mines. It was Celia’s oldest brother, Ed, who recognized her despair in sooty Shenandoah.
Ed was a gentle soul and destined for the priesthood from an early age. He currently presided over a tiny border-town church in Texas, but was visiting to see Kathy off to school. He had talked Celia into taking the Civil Service test back in the early ‘40s, but every assignment that was generated by her passing score was deemed too far away for her mother’s comfort.
Celia showed Ed the latest job offer from the State Department. The letter offered her a secretary position in Washington, D.C. making $1,440 a year! Father Ed was a brother on a mission and once he was done with Mary Szapka her full blessing was bestowed on Celia for the move.
Now, Celia sat amongst a car load of women all destined for the same place. She quickly asked around to see if the other women on the train were also being carted off to a new and secretive job. They compared offers and even though none knew where they were going a shared purpose permeated the letters. These new jobs promised, “…to bring a speedy and victorious end to the war.”
The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women who helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan is a must-read, especially with Veterans Day right around the corner. Also, you will be among many fine Ole Miss Freshmen students who are participating in the excellent Common Reading Experience led by Melissa Dennis using this very same title.