September 1, 2011

Cardinal’s production of All My Sons brings to light the IU home front during WWII

Did you ever wonder what IU students and faculty experienced when America joined the Second World War? How did the university survive when its student body was depleted by the unprecedented mobilization of young men into military training? What did the women do who were left behind? How did faculty respond to the seeming irrelevance of certain areas of study (particularly in the arts and humanities) and the sudden secretiveness required in the research of others (physics, chemistry and engineering, for instance)? What kinds of transformations, both public and domestic, overtook the campus and the wider community? These are some of the questions addressed in Cardinal’s Student Companion to All My Sons, Arthur Miller’s acclaimed drama about an American family caught in the fallout from World War II.

A picture for press purposes of all military branches in training at Indiana University in 1943. From left to right: a WAC, a Soldier, a WAVE, a Sailor, a Marine and a Marine.

Here is a sneak peek at one of the stories the Student Companion tells, about the WAVE Storekeeper School that was established on IU’s campus.

The WAVEs Come to Bloomington

The Storekeeper’s School, which provided special training for Navy women in subjects including bookkeeping, mathematics, typing, accounting, and English composition, opened in the fall of 1942, soon after the creation of the womens’ military corps. The school was one of only three WAVE academies in the nation; its training focus was on procuring and maintaining Navy supplies, though all yeomanettes, as they were sometimes called, were required to undertake significant physical education (more than one recruit describes her aching feet after hours of drill).

As Kate Hevner Mueller, IU’s dean of women, said in her commencement address to the first WAVE class, “Do you realize that you are going to offer the men of this generation the stiffest competition they have ever had? Do you realize how far the world of industry and the world of management, of education, has come to depend on, and we hope to appreciate, the women workers? How the thinking and planning of the post-war world are being pushed forward by individual women and organized groups of women? If you do realize these things, perhaps you ought not do so much talking about it while the men are around. Women have often done their most effective work without man’s being fully aware of their efficiency.”

IU’s WAVEs did not have the luxury of being inconspicuous, however. The American public took notice. A newspaper article from the time conveys the unprecedented nature of this new military unit:

The WAVES… you have read about them. You have seen their pictures in the newspapers. You may even know that those five stirring letters stand for women appointed for volunteer emergency services. But unless you were in this mellow university town yesterday—Navy day—and saw, as we saw, the WAVES—600 strong—marching through the streets of Bloomington to the strains of music that is deeply embedded in the traditions of the United States Navy, you cannot know the record of their matchless performance in almost record time.

You cannot envision section on section of straight young backs, of forward marching feet, of keen, honest American eyes approaching on of the biggest jobs that feminine America has ever had to meet. For the WAVES are not an auxiliary; the WAVES, or women reserves, are part and parcel of the United States Navy.  (Indianapolis Star, October 28, 1943).

Though it may have taken a national emergency to bring women into the Navy, once there, they stuck fast. In 1948, Truman signed the Women’s Armed Forces Integration Act, which allowed women to serve as permanent, regular members of all branches of the military. The success of the WAVES (Women’s Naval Reserve Corps—the acronym stands for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), WACS (Women’s Army Corps), SPARS (Coast Guard Women’s Reserve Corps), WASPS (Women Airforce Service Pilots) and woman Marines proved the idea of a segregated corps for women obsolete.

More about the Indiana WAVEs (as well as professor James Madison’s poignant account of a Hoosier woman who served and died in the Red Cross) and lots more besides can be found in Cardinal Stage's  36-page Student Companion playbill, available with admission to All My Sons.

Ellen MacKay
Associate Professor,
Deptartment of English
IU College of Arts and Sciences

For ticketing information, see  Individual student tickets, $10. Professors who wish to bring their classes should contact Heidi Harmon, Cardinal’s director of Group Sales, for discounted tickets (; 812-336-7110). 

All audience members are invited to join Cardinal Stage and IU faculty members for two post-performance talkbacks.  

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