Home Front

Mary Terronez candling eggs.

Mary Terronez candling eggs at the Davenport Produce Company, 1940s.

Scrap Metal Drive, World War II, Des Moines, Iowa, ca. 1942.

Mexican American women in West Des Moines, Iowa, collecting scrap metal to support the war effort, 1942.

On the home front, Mexican American women worked in defense and food production industries to support the war effort and provide for their families while husbands and sons served overseas. They often worked in jobs that had traditionally been held by men. With two brothers in the Navy and one in the Army, Mary Garcia Rick first delivered telegrams for Western Union and then spliced ropes for military tents at the Mason City Tent & Awning Company. "It felt like we were doing something to help keep the boys safer," she explained.

At Solar Aircraft in Des Moines, Florence Vallejo worked as a welder to make covers for the bottom of Navy storage tanks. Lus Garcia supported her 7-month-old son while her husband was in the Army by working at the Rock Island Arsenal. She made $5 an hour, a much higher wage than her previous nursing home job, which paid just $4 a week.

At the Davenport Produce Company, Mary Vasquez, Mary Terronez, and many other Cook's Point women candled eggs. This involved putting the eggs in front of a light to check for fertilization and freshness.  After candling, workers broke the eggs and put them in a dryer to remove moisture and turn them into powdered eggs to send to troops overseas. 

In West Des Moines, Ila Rodriguez, her father, and several Mexican American women volunteered their time to collect scrap metal to support the war effort.

Younger siblings sacrificed educational opportunities to contribute to family incomes. With his three older brothers in the military, Henry Vargas decided to leave school after his father was killed in a hit-and-run accident in 1941:

I had three brothers go to the service so that only left me. . . . So it was up to me to help my mother because she had to go out and work. She worked at a produce company, very labor intense. I just couldn't see her coming home with her hands all bleeding from working in that. So I'd had it, I quit school.

World War II brought a new migration of Latinas to Iowa from Puerto Rico.  Puerto Rican women enlisted in the Women's Army Corps (WACs) and traveled to its national training center at Fort Des Moines.  After enlisting in the WACs, Blanca Vasquez left Puerto Rico and traveled to Iowa to train at Fort Des Moines. Below are a few of the photographs and documents that her daughter, Angela Vasquez Gaines, donated to the Iowa Women's Archives. 

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