Words from the Wise: Alice Bey was a fighter for equal pay during WWII
Published 4:10 pm, Friday, May 19, 2017
J: So now, where were you born?
A: Bridgeport, Conn.
J: And where are your parents from?
A: My mother was Polish and my father was Ukrainian.
J: Did you go to school in Bridgeport and grow up there?
A: Oh no no. After I was born we moved to Greenwich and I lived on Davis Avenue and my father bought the little old bungalow in Old Greenwich where I live now. It’s been added on, passed down and all that. But my mother unfortunately got Streptococchus and she died at 38, they had no cure for it at the time. So when she died, my sister and I went to go live with my aunt in Stamford.
J: So you went to Stamford with your aunt and your sister.
A: Yes, I was graduating from high school, in fact the last year I spent at her place but they didn’t know because I took the bus to Greenwich to finish the school here ... But I had terrible asthma when I was a kid... I was allergic to cats, dogs, dust, feathers, everything. And that’s all we had those days. My mother was from Europe. They had these big feather beds, these huge pillows. The pillows in those days, there were no synthetic feathers.
J: Did you have any pets?
A: Oh yeah, I had a cat and a dog. I missed one year of schooling because I couldn’t get to school, because I was so badly asthmatic.
J: When you were in high school, what did you do for fun? With your friends or your sister?
A: I was very good at art. I won two state prizes in art … oh, I can’t remember now. That’s the trouble when you're 98.
J: Do you remember what pieces they were for or what you made that got the award?
A: The first one ... up in the attic were these bayonets and hats from the war, and so the teacher said make a picture of that. So that's what I did for the first one.
J: So which war was that?
A: Second World War. I won that prize easily. My second one, I say, was a real original thought, my thought. In the attic there were cobwebs all over the place and the teacher taught me to make the cobwebs. So I won that easily. The second year, my mother was already in the hospital.
J: So she died when you were in high school.
A: Yeah, and my teacher wanted me to go to art school. My sister, she ...left school when she was 16 years old. My sister’s name was Julia, but my mom called her Julie. She left school very early, and she wanted to get married and everything. The teacher wanted me to write to these very rich people in Greenwich so they would sponsor me in art school, and I never did because I felt my sister needed me.
J: So you helped her?
A: Well, after my aunt died, we went to live together. With two of us renting a place and paying for it we could get along, but otherwise it would have been very difficult.
J: When did you meet the man you were going to marry?
A: Wayne. But his name was really Clifford.
J: How did you meet him?
A: Well, at another place in Stamford, I met him. Oh, that was the biggest mistake I ever made. We got married about a month or so before the war broke out in Japan and he enlisted in the army. So he was in the army about eight years. Then he went to Japan. But I'm telling you. He was a big mistake.
J: What happened when he came back?
A: Well, he began drinking and he didn’t work.
J: What did you do? Did you work?
A: Yes, I was working
J: What did you do.
A: The factories.. But I left there and I was talking with the person who places you. They were taking tests on my dexterity and I said to them, “I thought you were going to find me a job to take over men’s jobs.” And they did. I was one of the first women trained to take over men’s jobs in Stamford.
J: What was the training for?
A: Precision work, machines and all the precision. In Old Greenwich, they told us right away they would take us. If we got the course, they would hire us, and sure enough they hired us. And I heard from Wayne, he's going overseas, please come to Florida and see him. So I went to see him and came back to the place in Old Greenwich, and I said to the girls, “How much are we getting?” The girls said only 40 cents an hour. And I said, “Only 40 cents an hour! We’re trained!” And I said, “Who’s the most important person here?”
J: What was the normal rate then?
A: Forty cents per hour, but the men were paid much more. But at any rate, this man was the president of the company. He said (he would watch us) and a few months later we got the biggest raise they could give, and they said, “We found that women are better at precision work than men are.” ... I was living in Stamford, I had to take a bus down to Old Greenwich all the time. I came back and said, “I'm not gonna take the bus all the time,” so I got a job here in Stamford. So I went to this place, Schick’s, Shick’s shavers, and they were doing war work there. They said, “Oh, we will give you a job for 60 cents an hour.” I said, “60 cents an hour! I showed them all the tools and bits I ground. And I got hired and he said, “You’re probably not only a good machine worker, but probably a very good sales person too.” I was there for about 11 years or so.
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