Murphy’s Area Research Center (ARC)
This collection was put together for the FFA. It is actually ten different manuscript collections, each with their own title and call number. Together all these different sources tell a story about the LaX Rubber Mills . . . and a lot more!
This collection contains two vertical files on the La Crosse Rubber Mills Co. and LaCrosse Footwear, Inc., six oral history transcripts of people who worked for the La Crosse Rubber Mills Co. and LaCrosse Footwear, Inc., and two booklets published by the Rubber Mills Co. that explain the manufacture of rubber. The two booklets have very unusual names: “Caoutchouc,” published in 1915 (31-pages), and “Caoutchouc II” published in 1925 (39-pages). Don’t be turned off by the name. These booklets are very interesting and informative. They are also filled with pictures of the factory and the production process.
The La Crosse Rubber Mills Co. opened in 1896 in La Crosse and moved to Portland, Oregon in 2001. They imported rubber from Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America for making rubber products, mostly footwear. Though they were a small company, they were unique and grew to be one of the largest employers in La Crosse. This collection not only tells the story of a factory, but brings to light ways La Crosse was connected to other areas in the world because of manufacturing. It also tells the story of unions, strikes, and the exploitation of workers in La Crosse.
All the parts in this collection work very well together. For example, many of the people interviewed in the oral histories talk about the same subject, thus providing a number of viewpoints on the same topic. Likewise, the booklets give background and images to some of the things discussed in the oral histories. Lastly, the vertical files have a wide range of information about everything covered in the both the oral histories and the booklets. Each part of this collection is strong, but together it’s even stronger!
PLEASE NOTE: The La Crosse Rubber Mills Co. changed its name to LaCrosse Footwear, Inc. in 1986.
CITATION FOR LACROSSE FOOTWEAR: La Crosse Businesses Vertical File: LaCrosse Footwear, Inc. (1896- present). Special Collections, Murphy Library,University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
CITATION FOR RUBBER MILLS: La Crosse Businesses Vertical File: La Crosse Rubber Mills (1896-present). Special Collections, Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
PLEASE NOTE: The citation for documents in the vertical files changes depending on what is used. For example, a newspaper article would be cited differently than a pamphlet. Look at a Chicago Style citation guide or ask a librarian or teacher how to cite your specific source.
The two vertical files are very similar. They have many newspaper articles, pamphlets, programs, newsletters, and advertisements that explain the history and the people working for the Rubber Mills and/or LaCrosse Footwear. Most articles date back to the 1970s, but there are some from before that as well.
One of the oldest newspaper articles is from 1887. It describes the factory when it was quite small and also tells about the imported rubber the factory used. Other articles talk about workers’ strikes, the company’s name change, and the company’s move to Oregon. There is also an issue from a newsletter called “LRM Footwear Footnotes” with an interview of a woman who started working in the Rubber Mills in 1907!
Bill Larkin, interviewed by Sandra Molzhon, UW-L Oral History Program, UW-L Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, 8 April 1997.
Jerry Larkin, interviewed by Herbert Tancil, UW-L Oral History Program, UW-L Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, 22 April 1997.
Donna Lemke, interviewed by Margaret Larson, UW-L Oral History Program, UW-L Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, 17 November 1994.
Richard Morkwed, interviewed by Sandra Molzhon, UW-L Oral History Program, UW-L Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, 1 April 1997.
George Schneider, interviewed by Dan Freudenburg, UW-L Oral History Program, UW-L Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, 19 March 1997.
Herman Tietz, interviewed by Howard Fredericks, UW-L Oral History Program, UW-L Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, 20 June and 25 July 1972.
The oral histories are interviews with people who worked at the Rubber Mills. Some people worked at the Mills for only a few years, while others worked there their entire life. These interviews cover topics like: unions, working conditions in the factory, pay, child labor, women in the workplace, family relationships, the Depression, the economy, and war. Some interviews focus on the Rubber Mills for only a few pages, while others talk about it for the entire interview.
Bill Larkin worked as a supervisor for various departments in the Rubber Mills. He worked for the company from 1961 to 1996. The entire interview is about the Rubber Mills.
Pages 1-10 Mr. Larkin talks a lot about work and his work experience. In particular, he discusses how he got his job at the mill, and his family and co-workers. (Some of his co-workers are also family.) On pages 8-9 he mentions women in the factory.
Pages 10-13 cover Larkin’s first day on the job and the smell of rubber. Amazing!
Pages 13-21 Larkin addresses wages and the Mill owners. The Funk family was one of the Mill’s founders and also one of the wealthiest families in La Crosse. On pages 14-15, he describes working with rubber.
Pages 21-22 discuss unions.
Pages 22-25 Larkin talks about how World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, and Desert Storm affected the Rubber Mills.
Pages 25-31 Larkin reviews the relationship between the company and the community, the company’s name change, and he gives his opinion on why La Crosse Footwear had the success it did.
Jerry Larkin worked as a chief engineer at the plant. He worked there from 1933 to 1976. The entire interview is about the Rubber Mills.
Pages 2-10 hit a wide range of topics, from politics and the Great Depression, to fellow mill workers, wages, and Tuberculosis! These are just a few of the subjects, therefore, for anyone interested in an overview of mill-related topics, these pages may be just the ticket. Also in this section, it is interesting to note that Jerry Larkin talks about his first day on the job. Bill Larkin’s oral history discusses the same topic, which may make for some enlightening comparisons or connections.
Pages 10-15 talk more about what his job was like, including having to take work home. In addition, Mr. Larkin discusses what he enjoyed about the job, unions, and how wars affected the company.
Pages 15-20 largely cover the mill’s relationship with La Crosse, the company’s growth, and his brothers’ jobs. However, on a completely unrelated topic, Larkin also provides insight into college sports!
Pages 20-29 also cover a lot of topics, including Larkin’s boss, Prohibition, changes made at the factory, and the Great Depression.
Donna Lemke worked on the assembly line and talks about what work was like as a woman. She worked there in the winter of 1947-1948 after graduating high school. Pages 9-16 cover the Rubber Mills.
Pages 9-13 Lemke talks about getting hired and what it was like to work at the mill, including how she dressed. In particular she discusses some of the dangers related to mill work and her memory of the factory’s smell. (She specifically notes the smell of the rubber cement.) Two other topics of note from this section are lay offs and the mill’s production during the wars.
Pages 14-16 discuss workers’ wages and more about getting laid off.
Richard Morkwed did not work on the factory floor. He worked in the billing department, the purchasing department, and later became the Vice President of Distribution. He worked at the company from 1948 to 1992. The entire interview is about the Rubber Mills.
Page 2-11 cover his history with the factory, including his first day on the job. Mr. Morkwed explains some of the different work duties related to the factory, and just like in Jerry Larkin’s interview, he talks about taking work home.
Pages 11-15 cover a number of different topics, but most notably, workplace atmosphere, layoffs, and the mill’s transfer to a new owner.
Pages 15-20 cover some very interesting topics, including, unions, the Korean War, buying rubber and cotton, the U.S.’s dependence on synthetic rubber during WWII, and company innovation. This part of the interview pairs nicely with the “Cauotchouc” booklets because they talk about the history of the La Crosse Rubber Mills where the factory got the rubber for making its shoes. Just a hint, it didn’t come from Wisconsin!
George Schneider bought the company in 1982 and became Chairman of the Board. The entire interview is about the company.
Pages 2-6 discuss how Schneider became involved with the company, product changes that happened during his watch, and his philosophy about the the mill.
Pages 6-11 comment on other factories that competed with the La Crosse factory, and innovative changes made.
On pages 11-15 Mr. Schneider talks about hist relationship with workers. These pages also discuss strikes. Remember Schneider was the mill’s owner, so his perspective is important to keep in mind.
Pages 15-20 cover the mill’s role in the community, places Schneider traveled on business trips, and his vision for the company.
Herman Tietz worked in the factory from 1906 to 1908 making shoes. Only pages 31-38 cover the Rubber Mills. The rest of the interview is about other topics.
On pages 31-33 Mr. Tietz describes what the Rubber Mills looked like way back in 1903. He talks about what his job was like, and also his wages.
Pages 33-36 covers how shoes were made, and again, the smell of the rubber is brought up. (See also Donna Lemke and Bill Larkin.) Mr. Tietz goes further on this subject and describes the lack of ventilation in the factory.
Pages 36-38 discuss unions, working conditions,and his brother’s fallout with management.
PLEASE NOTE: “Cauotchouc II” is also available as a digital resource at: http://murphylibrary.uwlax.edu/digital/lacrosse/LaxFootwearCatalog1925/01.htm.
La Crosse Rubber Mills Company. “Caoutchouc: The Manufacture of Rubber Footwear: An Illustrated Story of Rubber from its Growth to the Finished Product.” La Crosse, WI: La Crosse Rubber Mills Company, 1915.
La Crosse Rubber Mills Company. “Caoutchouc II: The Manufacture of Rubber Footwear: An Illustrated Story of Rubber from its Growth to the Finished Product.” La Crosse, WI: La Crosse Rubber Mills Company, 1925.
The two booklets “Caoutchouc” (1915) and “Caoutchouc II” (1925) are very similar. Indeed, the second one is just an updated version of the first. Both explain where the factory’s rubber came from, how it was produced, and the products manufactured. Also, both have pictures to go with the text. Reading these booklets will help establish the context needed to better understand the La Crosse Rubber Mills.
PLEASE NOTE: The Rubber Mills published these booklets for their own purposes, and can be considered corporate propaganda. Think about this while reading the words and looking at the pictures too.
“Caoutchouc: The Manufacture of Rubber Footwear, An Illustrated Story of Rubber from its growth to the finished Product,” (1915) is 31-pages long.
Pages 3-10 go through the history of rubber, where it came from, and how rubber manufacturing was invented. These pages are very interesting because they show that over 100 years ago La Crosse had connections with places you may have never thought possible.
Pages 11-26 discuss rubber manufacturing. These pages also have many photographs of workers in the factory, which along with the text, provides a kind of virtual tour of the rubber mills!
Pages 27-29 tour the administrative offices and give a conclusion to the booklet.
Pages 30-31 has pictures of different shoe styles made by the company.
“Cauotchouc II: The Manufacture of Rubber Footwear, An Illustrated Story of Rubber from its growth to the finished Product,” (1925) is 39-pages long. It is longer than the first one because it has more information and a more complete tour of the factory buildings with additional pictures. Inside the front cover is also a flyer stating the purpose of the publication of this booklet.
Pages 3-5 give a history of rubber and where rubber came from. (Remember that this booklet is very similar to the first!)
Pages 6-7 explains the “vulcanization” of rubber.
Pages 8-10 discuss where rubber comes from. In particular, this book looks at rubber from wild rubber trees vs. plantations.
Pages 11-26 covers rubber manufacturing and footwear production. There are many photos and it feels like a tour through the factory.
Pages 27-30 give a brief history of the Rubber Mills, its founders, and company growth. There are also pictures of the founders and illustrations showing factory changes over the years.
Pages 31-34 give a description of the administrative offices with photos.
Page 35 shows product distribution throughout the world.
Pages 36-39 has pictures of different styles of shoes made by the company and gives a conclusion to the booklet.
Reviewed by: Jennifer DeRocher
William Koch was born in 1882 in La Crosse to a family that lived on the North Side. He left school at the age of fourteen to begin working and help support his family. Throughout his life, Koch worked many jobs in La Crosse, including at the lumber mills, the railroad, and the Pearl Button Factory. He was married in 1910 and had two children. This interview was done in 1971-1972, when Koch was about 90 years old, however, Koch speaks very clearly about his whole life and is never shy to give his opinion!
This interview touches on many many subjects, however, this finding aid focuses on two major topics discussed by Koch:
The whole transcript is typed and a total of 348-pages long! But never fear, this finding aid lists just the pages needed for the two topics above.
Pages 2-14: In this opening section of the interview, Koch describes his German immigrant grandparents and other family background. He tells what his childhood was like growing up on the North Side of La Crosse in the late 1800s, including information on his education, all of the jobs he and his family members had—including his young sisters—and interactions he had with some nearby Ho-Chunk children. Koch started working when he was 14-years-old, and his early jobs included the Milwaukee Coal Chutes, the railroad, La Crosse Rubber Mills, Pearl Button Factory, Coleman Lumber Co., and even picking potatoes in South Dakota. Koch also remembered hunting with his Dad and seeing passenger pigeons (now extinct)!
On pages 75-82 Koch talks about lumber production at the sawmills. Never one to shy away from expressing his opinion, Koch also shares is view on harvesting logs in Wisconsin, the building of a road through the La Crosse marsh, and the effect logging had on Native Americans in Wisconsin.
Pages 84-94 cover “river pirates”. These are people who stole logs right off the river from the lumber companies. In addition, Koch also brings up log jams, logging accidents, and his memories of the rowdy lumbermen in La Crosse. In this section Koch also discusses La Crosse’s Redlight district and other memories of downtown in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
On pages 95-100 Koch describes the rivalry between the North and South sides of La Crosse. He discusses other La Crosse memories as well, including farm animals and community pastureland right in town! He gives his opinion about the Ho-Chunk in the area, and why many lived on “Indian Hill.” Koch eagerly shares his opinion on the sale of liquor to local Native Americans, and the role whites played in bringing liquor and disease to Native Americans. It is important to note that during this part of the interview, he makes anti-Native American racist remarks. In your notes, make sure to put all his questionable language in quotation marks. That way, people won’t think his language is your language.
Page 122-142: In this section, Koch talks a lot about helping fight fires with the firemen as a kid—not unusual at the time. He had fond childhood memories of horses being used in town, which he describes, but he also recalled common diseases and dangers faced by La Crosse youth. (Just a hint, some of the diseases and dangers were connected to the river.)
On pages 15-41 William Koch begins to talk about his job at the Pearl Button Factory. (Most of this 348-page interview is about the Pearl Button Factory!) He describes exactly how the button factory worked: first how cutting buttons worked, then what the clam shell industry was like, then clamming along Wisconsin rivers and the Mississippi River. He also uses great detail describing how pay worked at the factory for the various jobs. He remembers workers rioting because of their pay.
Pages 42-74 covers why Koch eventually left the Pearl Button Factory. He shares information about the people he worked with, including many female factory workers. He also describes the social life of the factory, like the breaks the workers were allowed to take, and other changes that made the workday more enjoyable. In this section Koch also describes further how the factory ran, including the machinery they used. Eventually, the topic turns to how the invention of plastic helped lead to the factory’s closure.
Pages A-Z: These pages are different. They are lettered, not numbered, and are inserted right between pages 74 and 75 of the transcript. (Weird) This section is a kind of “grab bag” of a whole bunch of topics, some new, and others touched on previously. Here is a highlights list: Koch talks about how river pollution made it hard to find clams for the factory. He further describes some of the people he worked with, including his fellow female factory workers. In particular, he discuses their work roles and wages at the factory. He vividly remembers innovations made at the La Crosse factory and how these helped the button industry nation-wide. Finally, Koch also mentions attitudes towards Germans during WWI.
On pages 176-190 Koch remembers how the Pearl Button Factory ground up extra shells and sold them to be used as chicken feed. He again describes the machine he designed, his career at the factory, and manufacturing at the factory.
Pages 209-214 give more information about the making of buttons.
Pages 237b-242 address Koch’s memory about unions, strikes, and labor organizers at the Pearl Button Factory.
Pages 302-304 return to the subject of the Ho-Chunk. This time Koch mentions their role digging shells for the Pearl Button Factory.
“The Third Term Panic” www.harpweek.com
Samuel D. Hastings was a lawyer, real-estate broker, and merchant who lived in La Crosse during the mid 1800s. During his time in La Crosse, Hastings dealt mostly with buying and selling land in the general area (La Crosse County, Trempealeau County and parts of Winona), but he also had strong political ties and eventually became Wisconsin State Treasurer.
This collection is made up of one box with a letter book and five folders full of letters written (in cursive) to and from Samuel D. Hastings. They are about Hastings’ business and political activities, and date from 1838 to 1872. Each of the five folders varies in length but on average there are somewhere between 100 and 150 letters in each! This finding aid, however, covers only the letter book and folder 1, and highlights only a couple of pages and letters from each. That’s because most of the correspondence is about land transactions and real estate deals, however there are some letters that focus on the Civil War, abolition, and the creation of the Republican Party. There may be only a few gems in this collection, but they shine brightly!
The letter book has page numbers so finding specific letters is not difficult, however the letters in folder one do not. They are identified by year, but take this as fair warning, you may still have to hunt!
This is a bound book, which holds around 400 pages (it is the largest piece of this collection), and is filled mostly with land transaction receipts and correspondence between Samuel D. Hasting and Francis Newland spanning a number of decades. Only the first 150 pages of the book were reviewed for this Aid, but in those pages there are a few worth noting: Page 49, relates to the Union; Page 68 covers a Republican Party conference that was held in Madison; and Page 91 is about the Trempealeau County militia. If these gems entice you, keep reading, there may be more!
This folder contains letters from the year 1838 until May of 1856. The early letters in this folder deal with Samuel D. Hastings while he was secretary for the Union Anti-Slavery Society based in Philadelphia. Letters dated in 1838 talk about the society helping to free 500,000 slaves calling it “the greatest day on Earth since the death of Christ.” Another letter from that same year describes the role Philadelphia churches played in the “fight for freedom” for all men. Besides these two letters, there are two more that discuss the Republican Party. One dated 1855, speaks about a branch of the part forming in New York State, and another, dated 1856 reference Geneva Wisconsin. The writer is very impressed with the party’s activities there, calling it “the self of true republicanism.”
Reviewed by: Allie Schmitt
Family of Robbie Moss
Robbie Moss was an African American woman that lived in La Crosse from the 1930s through to her death in 2004. She was born in Mississippi in 1912 and moved to La Crosse when she married Orby Moss, the grandson of Zacharias Louis Moss, one of the first Black American settlers in La Crosse. He settled here in 1852 and opened a barbershop. (This was just two years after La Crosse became established as a town, making the Moss family one of La Crosse’s pioneer families.)
Robbie was interviewed by Dr. Gretchen Lockett, a professor at UW- La Crosse, who is also African American. In the interview, Moss and Lockett talk about their experiences being African American in La Crosse between the early 1940s and 1982. They also cover major national and local events, such as WWII, workers’ strikes, and the Muriel Boatlift. Prejudice – theirs and others – and segregation is addressed throughout. There is also a fair amount of discussion about the relationship between La Crosse’s African American and Native American communities. Overall, this interview is a great window into what life was like as a minority in a small Midwestern city during the middle part of the 20th century. Although Moss and Lockett are the main “voices” in this oral history, there are others who speak as well, and everyone in the room has different experiences and different opinions about the racism they faced.
This oral history interview was recorded in 1982. It consists of two cassette tapes, each an hour long, but there is also a written transcript of the interview, which is 68 pages long.
There are many people talking in this interview. The interviewers are Dr. Gretchen Lockett, a professor at UWL, and an unidentified student. Robbie Moss is the primary person being interviewed, however her granddaughter and at least three other people are in the room as well, and they all talk. Because of this, the transcript can get confusing. Many times it lists people as, “GUEST,” “GUEST 2,” or “?????.” The person who typed the transcript often mixed up who was speaking. For this reason, it is highly recommended that you listen to the interview while you read the transcript. As you listen, you will begin to recognize the voices, making the whole interview much clearer.
Pages 1-7 are the part of the interview where Lockett and Moss talk about the Moss family and Robbie’s childhood. In addition, she talks about her experience being one of the few African Americans in La Crosse. In particular she remembers being refused service at places of business, segregation signs during World War II, Black soldiers at Fort McCoy (previously named Camp McCoy), and a La Crosse woman that was involved with in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Especially interesting is the part where Moss reflects upon her own prejudices against Native Americans.
On pages 10-22 the other people in the room begin to talk more. They share common experiences of racial discrimination. In particular, Moss remembers Black American soldiers being refused service in downtown La Crosse, which she compares with her own experience being turned away at a La Crosse drugstore. In addition, this section covers a number of very important local and national events. For example, Moss remembers the time during the 1980s when there were Cubans (many who were Black) in La Crosse due to the Mariel Boatlift. She remembers community backlash against Black Americans and Native Americans, and the La Crosse Telephone Company Strike of 1977. When the workers went on strike, the company responded by finding replacements – Black and white – from the South willing to come up and work. Robbie shares her theories of La Crosse’s prejudices at this time.
A very interesting part of this interview is the conversation about Black organizations in La Crosse, like the NAACP, the Black church in La Crosse, and Black settlements around the region, such as the one near Hillsboro. Nathan Smith is mentioned. He was a prominent Black American in La Crosse in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Pages 23-37 are all about racial attitudes and behavior in La Crosse and the Midwest. The group discusses their personal experiences and theories about race in La Crosse, but also the difference between racism in the Midwest and racism in the South. (This subject is especially interesting because for many white Midwesterners, northern racism is a subject they may have never considered. Here you get to learn about it by someone who directly experienced it.) They also talk some more about the racism Cubans faced in La Crosse in 1982, why they could not find jobs, and how the media reported about them.
On pages 37-50 Robbie Moss’s granddaughter shares her views and experiences as a Black American college students in La Crosse (mostly Viterbo, where she went to school). This turns into a discussion about religion and racism in the community. Moss weighs in as well, telling what it was like for her children in terms of school, dating, going to events like prom, and all the other typical things children do in general. This section also returns to the subject of the hardships for women of color, and what it was like to live in such a prominently white community. Robbie Moss’s memories of what it was like when famous Black musicians came to La Crosse is really interesting! (By the way, Duke Ellington, Peaches & Herb, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, and Louie Armstrong – whom Robbie and her son met – all came to La Crosse during Moss’s lifetime.)
Pages 50-66 return to the subject of Black churches in La Crosse and employment challenges. Moss remembered not being able to get a job at Trane Company and the National Gauge and Register Company. They voice their different theories on the subject of jobs.
Alvah Casterline was a blacksmith in the town of Burns, Wisconsin. This collection contains his daybook, which tracks the work he did along with how much he charged for his work.
The organization of this book can take some getting used to. He organized it by placing the name of the customer at the top of each page. He then keeps track of all their orders and what they owe him until they settle the account. Some of these unpaid accounts can last for over a year! Something that is frustrating with this book is that the page order is out of place, certain chunks of the pages are not where they should be. So, if you cannot find a certain page it might be farther back in the book.
At the far left of each page there is the date the order was completed, followed by the name or description of what he made, then the price with the left column being dollars and the right column cents. Very rarely did anything cost over a dollar. At the bottom of the page he will total up the cost and note the date that the account was settled.
This is the general order of the pages in the book:
Originally the pages were all in order by number, but at some point sections of pages got jumbled around and ended up in this order.
This finding aid has been organized into three categories: farming, bartering, and logging.
The first category is pages that serve as good examples of farming activity in this book.
Pages: 1-4, 6-32, 36-42, 97-110, 112-120, 169-195, 197-200, 123-139, 141-145, 149, 150, 152-168, 45, 47-52, 54-69, 71-90, 91-96.
It should be very clear that the majority of the work that Alvah was doing was making and repairing tools for farmers. In many of these examples you can also see examples of Alvah bartering for food with these farmers.
On most of the pages in this book Alvah will include items he bartered for with his customers in order to subtract it from the total cost of the money he made. However, these pages are ones where there is a lot of bartering going on.
Pages: 13, 17, 105, 107, 114, 177, 196, 146, 148, 151, 53
The majority of the bartering is farmers giving Alvah food, such as wheat, corn, and oats as a way to help pay for their orders. There are also unique examples, such as on page 146, Henry Vonus worked in Alvah’s garden for a day to help pay for his orders.
Pages: 4, 5, 33-35, 105, 111, 177, 201, 140, 46, 63, 70, 91
These pages show Alvah making a lot of equipment used for logging. Rodney Lower (Pages 5, 105, 63) appears to have done a lot of logging, on page 5 Alvah makes him axes and wedges for splitting wood as well as hooks and a sled for dragging the lumber.
Reviewed by: James Derr
Ruth (Ries) Zillmer, interviewed by Charles Lee, La Crosse Area Research Center, Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin La Crosse, January 8, 2004.
From 1943-1954 America had its first women’s professional baseball league, the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley – yes, the chewing gum guy – created the league to keep the American pastime alive throughout WWII when a majority of the top male baseball players joined the war effort to serve their country. The first four teams formed in 1943 with 64 women, but eventually that number would grow to many more teams and over 550 female players!
This collection includes oral history interviews of two women who played in the AAGPBL, Ellen (Ahrndt) Proefrock and Ruth (Ries) Zillmer. Oral histories are recorded interviews with people who have personal knowledge of past events. In these interviews the former players cover topics related to their personal life as well as what life was like as a player in the league. Both women answer questions about subjects like uniforms, social expectations, tryouts, practice, and life on the road. They also address issues related to WWII such as the role of women in the workforce, gender roles, and public opinion of women’s sports during this time.
The histories are .wav format on a CD and can be listened to with any audio program such as iTunes or Windows Media Player. The quality is good so you can understand everything being said, but there is not a transcript so you must take your own notes for direct quotes. Also, the interviews are not very long so they are easy to listen to in their entirety, but if you’d like, you can use the times provided below to easily jump to a section you’re most interested in.
Ellen (Ahrndt) Proefrock played second base for the South Bend Blue Sox in 1944. This interview talks about her experience in the league.
Personal History (1:13-9:34) – In this section learn about Ellen’s life on the family farm and her early years playing baseball. At one point she recalls how her dad built a baseball field on their farm and all the community kids would come there to play.
Life playing in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (9:34-29:55) – During this part of the interview Ellen talks about her daily life while a part of the league. She discusses the players’ uniforms – they wore skirts – and attending “Charm School” as a part of her baseball training. Ellen also talks about practice, player salaries, bus trips, and having to live with another family during the baseball season.
Opinions (29:55-27:15) – Near the end of WWII the men started to come back and so many of the “girl” teams were disbanded. In this section Ellen gives her opinions of the legacy and the end of the AAGPBL.
WWII (37:15-44:51) – During the war women took on many new gender roles, including playing baseball. In this part of the interview Ellen talks about women in the workforce, why the AAGPBL was formed and women’s liberation after the war.
Life after the AAGPBL (44:51-58:00) – In this section Ellen talks about being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the 1992 movie A League of Their Own. Ellen talks about how both these events really put the AAGPBL on the map.
Total Time = 58 minutes
Ruth (Ries) Zillmer was a pitcher for the Rockford Peaches from 1951-1952. In this interview she recalls what life was like playing in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League.
Personal History (00:40-8:47) – Ruth was born in Illinois before moving to a farm in Wearworth, Wisconsin, when she was 12 years old. In this section Ruth talks about growing up playing catch with her brother, and on various country school teams. Ruth played on a traveling team organized by the girls at her high school!
Life playing in the AAGPBL (8:47-22:31) – Ruth was a pitcher for the Rockford Peaches. In this section she talks about the team manager, William Allington, and learning how to properly slide into base while wearing a skirt. Ruth also discusses social expectations, uniforms, and tryouts.
WWII (22:31-31:27) – The 1940s was the time that “Rosie the Riveter” was telling women that they were needed in factories but after the war women were expected to return to their traditional gender roles in the home. In this section of the interview Ruth talks about the difference between the early years of the war and league and the later years when she played. She also talks about what girl’s athletics were like during this time including basketball, which was played only half court and with no dribbling.
Life after the AAGPBL (31:27-48:18) – The league officially ended in 1954 after only 6 teams remained. In this part Ruth talks about returning to school, getting married, and her continued interest and involvement in baseball. During this last section Ruth also talks about the Hall of Fame Induction, player reunions, and the legacy of the league.
Total Time = 48 minutes
Reviewed by: Megan Hackbarth