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Chapter 14

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The First Yale Unit

by
Ralph D. Paine

printed at
The Riverside Press
Cambridge (Mass.)
1925

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 16

This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

Vol. I
p172
Chapter XV

The Girls' Radio Unit

You may have noted, in one of the fragmentary memoirs already quoted, a reference to 'the 12.30 Club' and the invasions of the radio house by hungry aviators in search of surplus candy or stray sandwiches. Another mention reads, 'The custom of milk-shakes was kept up by the 12.30 Club. This consisted of the girls of the wireless class and certain members of the Unit who would all proceed to Huntington and get milk-shakes when the girls had finished their morning lessons.'

It is also recorded that 'about this time the Girls' Radio Unit, founded by Alice, was working under the direction of "Radio" Stewart, and the famous 12.30 Club came into being. The charter members were Al Sturtevant, "Di" Gates, Dave Ingalls, and Bob Lovett, also John Vorys. John had a pretty little trick of joining forces with Bob Lovett and Adele and making the trip to town with them. This amused the others, not including Bob.'

It must not be inferred from this that the Girls' Radio Unit concerned itself with entertaining the young gentlemen of the air station. The latter were merely tolerated when they did not interfere with a program of strictly business. The Radio Class made its own record of war service as an organization highly trained and singularly useful. The present writer found it somewhat difficult to obtain all the information desired. The young ladies were disinclined to contribute to this record the story of their work in detail. In this they differed from their comrades of the First Yale Unit. The well-known vanity of the sterner sex? Interpret it as you like. Far be it from me to suggest an invidious comparison.

p173 In April, 1917, Mrs. H. P. Davison organized a small class in wireless telegraphy. The students were the Misses Adele Q. Brown, Alice T. Davison, Alice DeLamar, Elizabeth C. Frank, Evangeline Johnson, Priscilla A. Murdock, and Harriott Ransom. They were very much in earnest about it, desiring to obtain a thorough training in radio in order that they might be able to replace men operators in land stations and relieve them for duty in ships and overseas. This was the spirit of the hour, to mobilize resources in the most effective manner and not stand idly by.

How this group of girls felt about it had been expressed by Alice Davison in a letter written to her family from school at Catonsville when war was imminent:

Well, this certainly does look serious, doesn't it? I can't tell you how I hate to be shut up here now, when all this is going on. In case of war, I am not going to stay here, am I? A great many Western girls are fully planning to leave, as their families don't want to be separated by such a distance. What would happen to the Unit? . . . Really I can't stay at school if there is war. Please, please keep me informed on what is going on in the world.

From April until June, the radio class met daily in New York and received code instruction from Mr. Harry Chadwick, chief code instructor of the Marconi School. In June the class transferred its base to Huntington where it established friendly relations with the Aviation Unit and in a manner of speaking, joined hands with it. 'Radio' Stewart undertook the instructional courses and the members of the Unit were permitted to display a technical and sociable interest so long as they did not interfere with the daily routine. The girls' class made use of the radio house and apparatus of the air station.

Here they continued to practice code and to learn how to use the instruments. They progressed with unusual p174aptitude and facility. By the end of the summer all of them were able to receive at the rate of twenty-five words a minute and some could take messages with accuracy at thirty‑six words a minute. The first-class commercial operator is required to handle only twenty words a minute in order to qualify for a license. It is therefore obvious that these young ladies had been well taught and were diligent pupils.

On August 31st they finished the course with Mr. Stewart and adjourned for a brief vacation before resuming work in New York. They had the highest hopes of being enlisted in the government service which was desperately in need of skilled radio operators. These hopes seemed justified when, on September 15th, they took the oath of allegiance at Hunter's College before beginning an advanced course in the theory of wireless telegraphy under Professor Lewis D. Hill of Harvard. Mr. Chadwick resumed the supervision of their code practice.

In December, Alice Davison, Elizabeth Frank, Harriott Ransom and Adele Brown passed the ordeal of the final examinations at the New York Custom House and thereby obtained their licenses as first-grade commercial radio operators. Alice DeLamar and Evangeline Johnson did not take this test with the others and dropped out of the class at this time because they had become more interested in other fields of war work.

This examination for licenses was searching and difficult. It consisted of a long written test on the theory and practice of radio, with diagrams, and demanded also a knowledge of service regulations. Added to this was a five-minute code test transmitted by an automatic sender at the rate of twenty words a minute.

There followed disappointment and anti-climax. After nine months of hard work, these competent girls, who were equipped to undertake any kind of operator's duties, p175found it difficult to obtain employment. Masculine stupidity conspired to thwart them. The Navy Department although it was enlisting women as yeomen or clerks, had ruled that they could not be utilized as radio operators. This was a bitter blow. The naval service had been the natural goal of the girls' ambitions.

Undismayed, however, they began to look elsewhere. It was not in them to knuckle under and let their valuable training go to waste. The Misses Davison, Ransom, and Brown found temporary work as code instructors of a class of women at Hunter's College in connection with Professor Hill's theoretical teaching. This engaged their time and energies through the winter.

At length it developed that the Army Signal Corps was in need of women wireless operators to be used as inspectors in factories where orders had been placed for apparatus. This was not at all the sort of duty the girls had hoped to perform. But they were honestly happy to be of service and this was the only opportunity that offered itself.

In June, 1918, the five members of the class were assigned to various factories by the Signal Corps with the impressive title of 'Inspector of Airplanes and Airplane Engines, Signal Service-at‑large.' The salary was equally impressive, $1050 per annum. The work of one of these inspectors consisted of careful examination and testing of every finished article or part listed on an Army order before it left the factory. The girls found it interesting, in spite of their forebodings, and their technical training made it fairly easy.

Alice Davison went first to the Edison Lamp Works of the General Electric Company at Harrison, New Jersey, where accumulators were made for the Signal Corps. She p176was soon transferred to the plant of the Lee DeForest Company in New York where trench radio sets were manufactured. Here she remained until after the Armistice. Miss Frank was also sent first to Harrison and later to the Western Electric Company in New York where vacuum tubes were turned out for Army use. She was then moved to the DeForest Company and finally to the Liberty Electric Corporation in Rochester, New York, where she tested the 200 to 300 meter radio trench sets. This service continued until December.

Harriott Ransom was an inspector with the General Electric Company at Harrison, and the Western Electric Company, New York, and was retained in the service until January, 1919. Priscilla Murdock's course of duty resembled these others, at Harrison, New Jersey, and the DeForest plant in which she was kept until after the Armistice. Adele Brown divided her time between the Harrison Branch of the General Electric Company and the Newark factory where different patterns of lights and search-lights were manufactured for the army. She was mustered out in January when the last consignment of vacuum tubes had been inspected.

During their terms of service there had been a departmental change in the supervision under which these inspectors worked. Officially they were transferred from the Signal Corps to the Bureau of Aircraft Production, but this did not affect the nature of their duties, and they carried on as before. They had managed to keep together by living in the Davison house at 690 Park Avenue through the summer and commuting to their several factories. This was a pleasant, congenial arrangement in which Mrs. Ransom played an admirable part as chaperon and housekeeper. They had their evenings for rest and play after days of labor that were often long and always required their utmost skill and vigilance.

p177 It was a satisfactory, memorable experience for every one of these girls. They were filled with the high morale of helping to win the war. Instead of diffusing their efforts in bustling about on business of no great importance, they found a practical focus and never lost sight of it. With them it was a matter of getting down to brass tacks. It was also an education in the essentials of true democracy, learning to know other folks, working with them side by side, and asking no favors. If Mrs. H. P. Davison had good reason to be proud of her partnership in the Yale Unit, she was justified also in feeling gratified with the inception and accomplishments of the sister organization, the Girl's Radio Class.

Page updated: 6 Sep 13