Friday, November 9, 2012


Japan had Tokyo Rose for their propaganda broadcasts. Nazi Germany had Mildred Gillars. Facist Italy had Rita Zucca. The United States had Commando Mary. And who is Commando Mary? Commando Mary was a novel radio program, a by-product of World War II, presented by Ernesta Barlow and featured prominent guest speakers.

This series was an outgrowth of the five-minute program, You and the War! Initially the series focused on discussions of outstanding summer courses teaching (in the form of a sales pitch) skilled wartime occupations for women as well as the salaried and voluntary war jobs available to America’s 45,000,000 women in factories, farms, homes, laboratories and offices. Months before the War Manpower Commission was created, this radio program launched a weekly campaign aimed at women to become more assertive and join the war effort. Used the fact-in-fiction method of dramatized presentations in the hope of clarifying in the public mind many misconceptions about the work done by women of the service.

The object of the program was to give accurately the principal opportunities of the moment for war work for women volunteer jobs as well as paid for all ages, citizens and non-citizens. Understanding that most women were not skilled mechanics or battlefield soldiers, the series dismissed most munitions options, promoting the importance of labor and war production. A strong emphasis on trade skills from sewing to mail delivery could help affect the war. The broadcast of December 20, 1942, for example, centered on news about what the blind were doing their part in war industries, and in civil life to fill in behind the men who have gone to war. For the broadcast of August 23, 1942, Ernesta Barlow gave a long list of jobs available to women over the age of 50.

Ernesta Barlow
The recruitment of nurses was emphasized perhaps more than any other fashion -- which fluctuated as the special appeals changed during the war. The U.S. Army lacked nurses in December of 1941, requesting the American Red Cross to employ local volunteer committees in every state to recruit thousands of women for the necessity. Two years later, the War Department felt there was sufficient numbers and asked that such recruitment methods come to a halt. Commando Mary honored the request and ceased promoting the necessity of nurses in October 1943.

At times the program appeared to be a forum for opinions but everything was scripted in advance, including the interviews, and approved ahead of time by the Office of War Information’s Radio Bureau. The department ensured that nothing was mentioned regarding the dangers to American soldiers, hoping to emphasize that the people’s war would end a little sooner with the cooperation of every American -- no matter what her sex or skills were.

Since a few months after Pearl Harbor, Commando Mary (a.k.a. Ernesta Barlow) visited scores of American factories, gleaning material for the Sunday woman’s radio program in which she told women about the kinds of war jobs open to them and the work that other women were doing. During the earliest of broadcasts, when a guest speaker was not available for the weekly program, Ernesta Barlow herself became “Commando Mary,” discussing the topic of the day. When a male guest was featured, the audience was told that “you too can become a Commando Mary.”

Caption that accompanied the photo.
In early 1943, Barlow began making publicity tours across the country and giving weekly reports of her findings. The war plants and munitions factories she toured were promoted with an emphasis that women workers (skilled or unskilled), were needed. In May of 1944, Barlow was asked by the Office of War Information to go to England and talk to factory workers there about American women in war jobs and answer their questions. Things never worked out for her to tour Europe, but the program continued with tours of American factories and war plants. During the series’ final six months, Ernesta Barlow herself was clearly referred to as “Commando Mary,” possibly influenced by the propaganda programs originating from Axis radio meant to disrupt the morale of American servicemen.

Ernesta Barlow was the former Ernesta Drinker and a descendant of a famous Quaker family. One of her ancestors was Elizabeth Drinker, whose book, Elizabeth Drinker’s Diary, is a literary and historical classic of the American Revolutionary period. Barlow was born in Philadelphia, the daughter of Henry S. Drinker, president of Lehigh University, grew up a tomboy, refused to go to boarding school and dragged out her debut for three years because she was having such fun. Then she married William Bullitt (at that time World War I correspondent for the Philadelphia Ledger and later American ambassador to Russia and France). She spent her honeymoon at the Paris peace conference.

Five years later she and Bullitt were divorced. She married Samuel Barlow, musician and composer, and made interior decorating her job. “Then came Pearl Harbor and I asked myself what I was going to do next,” she recalled. “So I thought up this radio program and here I am.” But it wasn’t as simple as that. Mrs. Barlow made an outline and a platter of her program and took them to some friends in radio and asked their opinion. After listening to her cosmopolitan accents, they dashed cold water all over any idea that she might be a radio commentator.

“You’ll never do,” said the first. “You have too much elegance. The public would never stand for you.”

“No,” said the second gloomily. “You wouldn’t have any higher rating than Toscanini.”

“Boys, that would be good enough for me,” said Ernesta Barlow earnestly.

But the friends had already turned away. So Barlow tucked her platter under her arm and marched up to the National Broadcasting Company with it. A week later it was accepted and soon Commando Mary was on the air.  “It scared the daylights out of me at first,” she said.
Barlow worked like a stevedore, visiting war planes in various states, talking to the women workers and pouring the story out over the airwaves. Barlow believed in drafting women for service in industry if needed. So she tackled another job as citizen Ernesta Barlow and not as radio commentator "Commando Mary." She eventually headed the women’s division of a citizen’s committee to pass a national war service act and outlined a campaign which she hoped would draw men to its support. 

Commando Mary aired throughout much of the Second World War for a total of 137 broadcasts. Very few books and encyclopedias even make reference to the program, so there is an apparent need to document the program, no matter how minor. The following broadcast log offers known (and confirmed) details of all 137 broadcasts. Unreliable sources, including newspapers, were avoided for obvious reasons. One example is the broadcast of August 16, 1942, which told of the need for Army and Navy nurses, and for women to take a home nursing course. Dr. Erwin Linebach had just returned from England where he served in the American Hospital, and told the radio audience just what sort of work women would be up against in taking care of Army and civilian casualties.

According to a number of newspapers across the country, Dr. Phillip Duncan Wilson, head of the New York Hospital for Special Surgery, commonly known as the Hospital for the Ruptured and Crippled, was scheduled for the interview with Ernesta Barlow. Dr. Duncan, who founded the American hospital in Britain which the American Army took over last July 15, was unable to attend so Dr. Erwin Linebach took his place. This change has been confirmed through a number of NBC inter-office memos and Barlow’s personal notes. So for the few that insist newspapers (which listed what was planned and scheduled to be broadcast), be assured that all of the information contained in this broadcast log is accurate.

Other sources:  
-- Helen Hiett Waller Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass.
-- The Library of Congress, Washington D.C.
-- Records of the Office of the Secretary of War, College Park, Maryland
-- The 4th Revised Ultimate History of Network Radio Programming, by Jay Hickerson

Broadcast Schedule 
Sunday 11:45 a.m. to 12 noon from June 21, 1942 to September 6, 1942
Sunday 10:45 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. from October 4, 1942 to January 17, 1943
Sunday 9:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. from January 31, 1943 to February 21, 1943
Sunday 9:15 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. from February 28, 1943 to February 25, 1945

Unless otherwise specified, the broadcasts originated from the studios of WEAF in New York City, the flagship station for NBC (Red). Special thanks to Jim Widner, Ken Stockinger and my wife Michelle for helping me with this article.

Episode #1  Broadcast June 21, 1942
Mary Anderson (speaking from Washington from 11:50 to 11:56) is the Director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau and an authority on war work for women. She talked about what American women are doing and accomplishing on the production line. She gave information about the requirements for war jobs and pre-employment training courses.

Episode #2  Broadcast June 28, 1942
Maria Unosha, a young Polish woman who escaped from Poland after the fall of Warsaw, told how Polish women fought through the siege of Warsaw. She is of a distinguished Polish family, but her account told of the valiant stand of Warsaw’s women and how the peasant and aristocrat shared equally in that staunch and heroic resistance to Nazi invasion.

Episode #3  Broadcast July 5, 1942
Laura MacCullaugh, an American citizen, was in Yugoslavia at the time of the German Invasion and remained there eight months after the invasion. MacCullaugh provided a first hand account of the women of Yugoslavia have gone into the hills of the Guerillas and fight with them -- and how those women and children left in the villages were often used as hostages.

Episode #4  Broadcast July 12, 1942
The first part of this program was devoted to emphasizing what kind of voluntary war work was available for women age 18 and younger, and to the work being done by the YMCA, Girl Reserves and Girl Scouts. Kitty Bowen, a sophomore in Radcliffe, has been working in a war factory during her summer vacation. Bowen made overshoes for the Army in a Springfield, Mass. Factory. She discussed the college girls’ viewpoint on war work. The program closed with a discussion of industrial jobs for women and of the Women’s Auxiliary Reserve of the Naval Reserve.

Episode #5  Broadcast July 19, 1942
An extension of last week’s broadcast, with another discussion on volunteer jobs for girls under the age of 18.

Episode #6  Broadcast July 26, 1942
This episode lists volunteer jobs for women and paid jobs for the War effort. Lillian Martens, who works in a defense plant on the Eastern seaboard, is the guest speaker.

Episode #7  Broadcast August 2, 1942
Gene Sawyer, who has just returned from Honolulu, Hawaii, is guest speaker. She had been on the air for five years with her own program, Around the Town. All the girls and women of Hawaii are doing war work. Motor Corps, Engineering Corps, Red Cross, and USO morale work. Many are employed in making gas masks and “bunny masks” for children. Also provided is information regarding volunteer work in relief agencies and paid jobs for nurses in the Army and Navy.

Episode #8  Broadcast August 9, 1942
The guest speaker is Colonel Davis Graves, Regional Commander of the First Fighter Command on voluntary and paid jobs for women in aircraft warning service. “Hundreds of women are needed,” Graves explains. Then, Commando Mary discussed at length the WAVES -- how to join, what is needed and why.

Episode #9  Broadcast August 16, 1942
This broadcast told of the need for Army and Navy nurses, and for women to take a home nursing course. Dr. Erwin Linebach has just returned from England where he served in the American Hospital, and told just what sort of work our women would be up against in taking care of Army and civilian casualties.

Episode #10  Broadcast August 23, 1942
Miss Betty Finan, a real-life stewardess, had been scheduled to speak on the work of cargo ship stewardesses, on April 16, was unable to attend and was rescheduled for August 23. She told of the life of the stewardess ships, and how they must know nursing and medicine. Commando Mary gave a long list of jobs available to women over the age of 50.

Episode #11  Broadcast August 30, 1942
The SPCA calls for aids to be ready to go out as Animals Aids during air-raids. There was no guest for this particular broadcast, because of the time devoted to providing information about the WAVES.

Episode #12  Broadcast September 6, 1942
This broadcast told of the need of the Office of Civilian Defense (OCD) for Health Assistants, and told of the work women could do in the factories in California. Like last week’s broadcast, there was no guest speaker for this episode.

Episode #13  Broadcast October 4, 1942
Mrs. Staffold, a married woman now working in a gun factory, is the guest. She told about her work and how important women were in the factory.

Episode #14  Broadcast October 11, 1942
Margaret Wells, president of the National League of Women Voters of America, is the guest for this broadcast. The League, she explained, was a strictly non-partisan group and concerned itself solely with helping the woman voter to be fully informed on every aspect of the job as enfranchised citizens. Wells told women, as voters, how they could be of the greatest service to their country.

Episode #15  Broadcast October 18, 1942
Dorothy Thompson told of the Volunteer Land Corps in Vermont. She spoke of the labor problem for the farmer and how this is being taken care of by the Land Corps group.

Episode #16  Broadcast October 25, 1942
In honor of National Girl Scout Week, Eileen Busher, Senior Scout, told of Wing Scouting -- ground work for air training -- navigation, meteorology, and weather forecasting. She also told of other defense activities of the Girl Scouts.

Episode #17  Broadcast November 1, 1942
Discussion on jobs of older women.

Episode #18  Broadcast November 8, 1942
Discussion of paid jobs in airplane factories for women. This broadcast urged women to register as Nurses Aid. Commando Mary interviewed three Nurses Aids. Mrs. Harold Masback, Helen Weiseltheir and Mrs. Juta.

Episode #19  Broadcast November 15, 1942
This broadcast focused on a discussion on communications and radio jobs. Senora Isabel de Palencia from Spain now exiled in Mexico, is guest. She is a writer and lecturer, and told how the women of Mexico are equipping themselves for this war.

Episode #20  Broadcast November 22, 1942
In recognition of Thanksgiving, this broadcast focused on Indian women’s attitude towards the war and their war activities. Guests included Begum Shah Nawaz and Oveta Culp Hoboy. This program originated from Washington D.C., instead of New York City.

Episode #21  Broadcast November 29, 1942
Discussion of jobs in airplane factories for women.

Episode #22 Broadcast December 6, 1942
The weekly guest was Evelyn Thompson Brown, who worked at the Sperry Gyroscope plant on Long Island.

Episode #23  Broadcast December 13, 1942
Discussion on the SPARS (the Women’s Reserve of the Coast Guard), and the requirements to become a recruit. During this broadcast, there was a discussion of the role of music in therapeutic work, and suggested a united nations chorus to be built in each community to gain knowledge of our allies.

Episode #24  Broadcast December 20, 1942
This broadcast centered on news about what the blind were doing in war industries, and in civil life to fill in behind the men who have gone to war.

Episode #25  Broadcast December 27, 1942
Discussion of Civil Service jobs for women.

Episode #26  Broadcast January 3, 1943
A report from the First Fighter Command about the women airplane spotters. A discussion of the new Shopping Service for the men in service, called Service Men’s Service. The guest speaker for this broadcast was Capt. Ralph T. Millet, Aircraft Warning Service Officer of the First Fighter Command, who told of the work women could do in this service.

Episode #27  Broadcast January 10, 1943
Discussion of war jobs which take some college training. All the training is free and some actually receive pay. Mary Grigs, of England, was invited to come to the U.S. by the Department of Agriculture to tell radio listeners how the young women from Great Britain have gone into agricultural work and saved the farms and helped produce food for the country.

Episode #28  Broadcast January 17, 1943
News about schools and colleges where training is given for special war work for women. There was no broadcast on January 24.

Episode #29  Broadcast January 31, 1943
Discussion of the American Legion Auxiliary and of the work they have been doing along the volunteer war effort. Mrs. Alfred J. Mathebat, National President of the American Legion Auxiliary, discussed the contributions by these women. Commando Mary also discussed the Women Flyers of America and how women could get into actual flying service for the duration of the war.

Episode #30  Broadcast February 7, 1943
Discussion of jobs for women in factories and shipyards.

Episode #31  Broadcast February 14, 1943
Discussion of work for half a million women from coast-to-coast. Women were needed to fill the many jobs in transportation, bus drivers, truck drivers, train conductors, etc. The weekly guest was Joseph B. Eastman, Director of Defense Transportation, who told of the part women could play in transportation today.

Episode #32  Broadcast February 21, 1943
Discussion of work in ammunition factories for women, specifically the Remington Arms Factory in Bridgeport, Conn.

Episode #33  Broadcast February 28, 1943
Discussion of war jobs for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Episode #34  Broadcast March 7, 1943
Sewing jobs for women in the Naval Clothing Bureau.

Episode #35  Broadcast March 14, 1943
Discussion of the life of a WAVE in training school, such as she saw it at Hunter College.

Episode #36  Broadcast March 21, 1943
Discussion about jobs making PT Boats, specifically the work of the Electric Boat Company at Bayonne, New Jersey.

Episode #37  Broadcast March 28, 1943
Discussion of the work at the Hercules Powder Company near New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Episode #38  Broadcast April 4, 1943
The first half of the broadcast featured a discussion on Greek War Relief. The second half featured a discussion on volunteer work with the Boys Clubs of America. Eight boys from the Kips Bay Boys Club joined together giving their Victory Pledge.

Episode #39  Broadcast April 11, 1943
Discussion on the recent work of the Red Cross, and an interview with a nurse, Mrs. Florence Conrad, who served in the French battle zone.

Episode #40  Broadcast April 18, 1943
Discussion about work for women in the Grumman Aircraft plant in New York City, of how they train their women workers, and how they treat them so well in their complicated and respectable jobs. Mrs. David Long of Harrisonville, Missouri, the wife of a country doctor and head of the Women’s Field Army, tells about the Army, because it has a part in the keeping of the civilian population as a strong army behind the Armed Forces. She told how the Army spread information about the cure of cancer, squelching the superstitions which people have and that hinder them from getting a possible cure.

Episode #41  Broadcast April 25, 1943
A report on the new requirements of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferry Squadron, the Consultation Service for women in New York to help them pick out the kind of war work they can do, on the Women’s Land Army (farm work by women, in which they do what the government considers the most useful work they can do). This broadcast also features an interview with Maj. Robert Jones, former golfing champion, now Director of Warning Center Volunteers for the First Fighter Command, telling about the need of women for that service. Jones and Barlow also discuss a job for which there is a course at Simmons College, Boston, Industrial Personnel Counselor, by giving to the Blood Donor Service.

Episode #42  Broadcast May 2, 1943
Report on how we may save a soldier’s life; about some Civil Service jobs, and a tie-up between housewives and our military equipment (the job of saving and salvage). On the salvage, Alice Pentlarge of the War Production Board, was interviewed by Commando Mary.

Episode #43  Broadcast May 9, 1943
Discussion about the work in the G.E. plants, in which women are making war equipment, and the activities connected with the war of the Junior League in the U.S. and in Canada. A former National President of the Junior League, a visitor to the National Junior League Conference in New York, has come from Canada, Mrs. George V. Ferguson, and told how the basic idea behind the League is public service which is now war service as well, done by helping the girls find the organization in which they can best serve.

Episode #44  Broadcast May 16, 1943
Discussion of the work of the WOWS, the Women Ordnance Workers at Aberdeen, Maryland. They explain how women have proved their ability to test tanks and guns and other ordnance, so that they are being hired to the work in ever-increasing numbers. Commando Mary describes her experiences in a jeep test.

Episode #45  Broadcast May 23, 1943
Discussion about women working to build submarines at the Electric Boat Company at Groton, Conn.; the pride they have in their boats, and how several companies like this exist throughout the United States, all of which employ women at challenging jobs. There is also a discussion about the Radcliffe Personnel course starting in July.

Episode #46  Broadcast May 30, 1943
Discussion about the Women’s Land Army. Interview with Hazel Hunkins Halliman, an American woman who lived in Britain during the Blitz, who talked about women in Britain and how they are 100 percent mobilized.

Episode #47  Broadcast June 6, 1943
Discussion about women asking for guns at the American Type Founders in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where women do minute detail work as well as the simpler production jobs. Interview with Lucrezia Bori, formerly a star of the Metropolitan Opera Company, now one of the leaders of the Metropolitan Opera Guild, told of the work of the Guild in procuring instruments for musical therapy work on what used to be called “Shellshock” cases. Bori urged women to form groups and get instruments so that the work of our medical corps carries on in the field of psychology.

Episode #48  Broadcast June 13, 1943
Interview with Mrs. Ingeborg Lorenz, employee of the Connecticut Railway and Lighting Company, on women working in buses both driving and keeping them in shape. She urged women to help keep our transportation going.

Episode #49  Broadcast June 20, 1943
Discussion of women’s work at the Bulova Watch Co. making hack watches for bomber crews -- the part of them that is so small that it can hardly be seen, the synthetic sapphires for other precision instrument makers as well as the Bulova works. They make other precision instruments like telescopes as well. Commando Mary interviews Mrs. Graham Campbell, from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, who is the wife of a captain in the Army. Campbell told about the file of the addresses of Army wives that the women have started there, in order that their friends can keep track of them, and even their husbands find them after they have been away through this agency.

Episode #50  Broadcast June 27, 1943
Discussion of many phases of women’s war activity, and warning women who will only work for a short time to take only certain kinds of jobs. Interview with Joan Bloomfield, a Canadian woman who has received recognition from Britain’s Ernest Bevin for her work in housing, feeding and looking after the welfare of armies of workers all over Britain. She talked about her work.

This is part one of two. 
The remaining episodes will be featured in a future blog posting.