Marion Ross | Interview 1 | May 5, 2011

Oral History Center, UC Berkeley

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0:53 - Introduction: Born in San Francisco, Family Background, Immigrant Parent

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Keywords: California; Canada; Scotland; Scottish

Subjects: Community and Identity Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

3:36 - How her parents met

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Subjects: Community and Identity Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

8:13 - How they were raised and her fathers job

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Keywords: Bank of Commerce; Economist; Grammar School; Parenting; War Contracts

Subjects: Community and Identity Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

12:35 - Living in San Pedro and her Scottish side of the family

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Keywords: California; Scotland


16:35 - Attending grammar school and being exposed to art at an early age

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Keywords: 30’s; Art; Huntington Library; Los Angeles County; Museums; Public School

Subjects: Community and Identity Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

20:44 - Living through economically tough times

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Keywords: Economics; Low-income; Poor; The Depression; The Recession of 1937

Subjects: Community and Identity Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

24:57 - How her childhood lead her to study economics in college

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Subjects: Community and Identity Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

30:57 - Young women in the workforce and education

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Keywords: 20’s; 30’s; 50’s; Discrimination; Marriage; Play; Rosie The Riveter; Shipyards; The Twelve-Pound Look; Wartime Labor; Women in the Workforce; Working Women

Subjects: Community and Identity Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

39:36 - Being the only Caucasian girls in the 7th and 8th grade and her relationship with the Japanese

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Keywords: California; Elementary School; Framers; Japanese School; Los Angeles

Subjects: Community and Identity Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

44:01 - The different ethnic groups in Los Angeles while she was growing up

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Keywords: Immigrants; Italians; Japanese; LA; Language Barrier; Los Angeles; Mexican Town; Mexicans


45:40 - How different religions differentiated themselves in Los Angeles

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Keywords: Buddhist; Catholic Church; Japanese; Jewish; Jews; LA; Protestant Church; Shinto

Subjects: Community and Identity Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

51:48 - Her childhood in California

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Keywords: Books; Games; Reading

Subjects: Community and Identity Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

56:04 - Being in college when the attack on Pearl Harbor happened

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Keywords: 1941; Hawaiians; Mills College; Sophomore; University


59:27 - The treatment of Japanese students during Pearl Harbor

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Keywords: 1941; Japanese-Americans; Relocated

Subjects: Community and Identity Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

62:57 - Frank, her father’s Japanese worker

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Keywords: 1941; Pearl Harbor; Spy

Subjects: Community and Identity Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

71:52 - Higher Education in 1940

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Keywords: Higher Education in 1940

Subjects: Community and Identity Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front

81:11 - Mills College during the war

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Keywords: 1940; 1941; Oakland; Pearl Harbor

Subjects: Community and Identity Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front


REDMAN: My name is Sam Redman, and I'm here today, May 3 2011, for an interview with Marion Ross of Berkeley, California. Today we'll be focusing primarily on Dr. Ross' early childhood and her experiences in the Second World War. Following that, we'll speak about Dr. Ross' time on campus at the University of California, immediately after the war; and then we'll conclude with some discussion of her later life and career. I'm not sure how much we'll get through today, but let's start with the early -- First I'd like to begin by asking you to share your full name. Let's start with that.

ROSS: My full name is Marion Ross.

REDMAN: And the spelling on the last name is R-O-S-S, is that correct?

ROSS: Yes.

REDMAN: Okay, excellent. Would you mind telling me where you were born?


ROSS: No. I was born in San Francisco, on April the 27th, 1924. You can see my birthday cards still stand on my shelves.

REDMAN: Is that right? Wow.

ROSS: All full of flowers. So I was born as the younger daughter of two. My sister Elise is now deceased.

REDMAN: My sister's name is actually Elisa, spelled E-L-I-S-A.

ROSS: No, Elise, E-L-I-S-E, the German pronunciation. My father emigrated from Aberdeen, Scotland. Oh, I forgot to spell my name. M-A-R-I-O-N.

REDMAN: Perfect.

ROSS: And R-O-S-S. So he emigrated first to Canada for $300 a year, and then eventually the bank -- he worked for the Canadian Bank of Commerce -- they moved 2:00him. They first offered him $100 more a year, if he would move to -- It wasn't Toronto, it was Saskatchewan. And then they offered him another $100 a year, if he'd go to Dawson City, then the capital of Yukon Territory, which he did, and he became a Sourdough. This is a person who survived two winters in the arctic area. Then they moved him to Vancouver and then to San Francisco. In San Francisco, he met my mother, who was born in California. She was the daughter of an immigrant, a German immigrant whose name was spelled Scodie, by the immigration authorities. He came looking for gold. He didn't find it, but he had the wit to become a homesteader. He had a cattle ranch in Kernville, or outside 3:00of Kernville, and he was able to name it. He wrote to, I guess the postmaster general, asking for the name of Scodie to become a post office. They rejected it because there was already a Scotia in Northern California. So he named it Onyx [pronounced Oh-nix]. I know the American translation is Onyx, but he didn't know any better and he thought Onyx was a nice stone.

REDMAN: Can you maybe explain how your mother and father then met? You've done a very nice job of summarizing how they both arrived in the Bay Area, but I'm curious how they then met.

ROSS: Well, they both lived in a residential hotel, the Hotel Victoria. It's no longer there. It stood on, I think it was Sutter Street. They showed me once 4:00where it was. There was another resident there, a Mrs. Driscoll. She said to my mother, "I know a very nice young man that I would like to introduce you to." And Mrs. Driscoll did, indeed, do that. Daddy, I think was a very, very shy man. Well, people were shyer in those days. In many ways, their romance was fostered by a man that also lived in the hotel, Mr. Owen. Later, I met Mr. Owen. He was a jokester. Well, to tell you what I remember about him, once when we were living in Miraleste -- I was, oh, ten or twelve when he first visited. He worked in the islands, the Hawaiian Islands. He would pop in; it was just not announced that 5:00he was coming. He popped in once with an armload of fresh roses, whereupon Mama sneezed. She was terribly allergic to roses. So the next time he came, he arrived with a bunch of fake flowers. So he was a jokester. He and Peaches -- that was the name of his lady friend -- and Mama and Daddy double dated quite a lot. Then one day, he went with them someplace; I don't know where. But not with Peaches. So he excused himself and said he wanted to go into this drugstore, that he had a terrible headache and he wanted to get some aspirin. He didn't come back. Mother and Daddy went into the store and the clerk said, "Oh, he just 6:00passed through and went out the back door. He asked if he could leave by some other entrance than that in which he came. He didn't buy anything, no. He just asked if he could use the back door." Whereupon Daddy and Mama laughed thought, ah, yes, Clint is up to one of his tricks. So there was this history. And Mama and Papa were married in 1919, in the chapel of Grace Cathedral.

REDMAN: So he wanted to just introduce these two lovely people and have them spend time --

ROSS: Well, no, they had been introduced by Mrs. Driscoll. But I think the romance wasn't proceeding as rapidly as Mr. Owen thought was suitable. Maybe he was prompted by Mrs. Driscoll, I don't know.

REDMAN: That's very amusing. I'm curious, then, what the two of them were like 7:00personality-wise. So you said your father was shy and your mother was allergic to flowers, but I'm curious if you could tell a little bit more about what they may have been like as people.

ROSS: Well, I loved them very much. They were probably very indulgent. Mama was keen on seeing to it that Elise and I turned out to be ladies. Mama could be very critical, and outspokenly critical. Daddy was very slow to make judgment. As parents, what one said, the other one would say, have you asked --


REDMAN: Your mother or your father.

ROSS: Or your father. We were fairly honest children and we'd say yes and the other one would say, and what did so-and-so tell you?

REDMAN: So it was important for them to present a unified front.

ROSS: Absolutely. Never, never disagreed on the treatment of us. Never.

REDMAN: Interesting.

ROSS: They were absolutely rigid about that. It also didn't matter what the other children did, what their privileges were. We did not go to camp, although everybody we knew went to camp. We weren't allowed to go to the movies in Los Angeles. No, they were very strict, in the sense of what we could do and what we couldn't do. But most of the things we wanted to do was done with their 9:00approval; and furthermore, their enabling quality.

REDMAN: I see.

ROSS: Absolutely.

REDMAN: I'd like to ask you a little bit about your early recollections from grammar school. Maybe in particular, I'm interested in both of your siblings and how their experiences -- or your sibling. How many siblings did you say?

ROSS: No, I just had Elise.

REDMAN: You just had Elise. So I'd be curious to compare a little bit about your two experiences in grammar school; and in particular, if you were interested in math and social studies from a younger age.

ROSS: No, my interest in the world of economics and government were stimulated by a marvelous high school teacher. I went to a very poor, instruction-wise, 10:00school in San Pedro. The first eight grades were in Miraleste -- M-I-R-A-L-E-S-T-E -- Elementary School. We had moved from San Francisco. Daddy, who had worked for the Canadian Bank of Commerce -- Certainly, he was employed by them when he married Mother; and he still worked for them for a while. Then after WWI, he had a job in which he -- what's the word I want? -- renegotiated war contracts between the US government and its suppliers of some materiel, because firms had contracts with the US government to make more materiel, and 11:00they didn't need it. So there were various clauses that could be worked out, that they ended the contract and paid off. Anyway, that job came to an end in 1927, I think. I was three years old and I don't remember this at all. This is what Mother told me. She said to Daddy that that was a good time, while he was between jobs, to go visit his parents in Scotland.


ROSS: I'm sure he would never have done it, because he grew up extremely poor, a poverty, I think, that no American can have experienced. So he went. He went for six weeks and came back. That was his only visit home in all of his life. His parents came to visit us when we lived in San Pedro, in 1929. I can remember 12:00that visit very, very well.

REDMAN: How old would you have been about that time?

ROSS: I was five.

REDMAN: So that might've been among your very earliest memories of your --

ROSS: Oh, I can remember the house we lived in in San Francisco, because Elise and I each had a turtle. [chuckles] A big turtle.


ROSS: It lived in the backyard. One day, they went and lived in somebody else's backyard. But I didn't have a dog until we lived in San Pedro. I can remember Tippy very, very well.

REDMAN: Sure. But then in '29, the grandparents came to visit from Scotland.

ROSS: Yes. Oh, Grandfather, he was seventy-two years old. I can remember he carried me up from kindergarten, up this steep hill. 18th Street was one of the 13:00steepest hills in San Pedro. He was strong. Grandmother, I have a fainter remembrance of her. She was stout and she wore dark clothing. Grandfather was merry. He was. Daddy had told me that his mother was a great reader. He would get books from the library for her. He told me that she was very ambitious. They had three sons. The oldest one went to London, to the civil service; Daddy emigrated; and Uncle Alick stayed home and worked for a shipping company.


REDMAN: But there was a line of education there. But there's also this history of deep poverty in the family.

ROSS: Elise and I visited Aberdeen in 1948. Uncle Alick, the youngest one, was living in the parents' house then and the grandparents were dead. It was a very nice granite house. But growing up, Daddy never talked much about what it was like except how smart Uncle Willie was. The sun rose and shone on Uncle Willie. He was the clever one. When Elise and I met Uncle Willie, happily, Mother had told us before we went, "If your Uncle Willie isn't everything that your father 15:00says he is, don't write home and tell us." So Mama was very wise in human relations, she really was. But no, I don't think Daddy's parents had much of an education at all.

REDMAN: Interesting.

ROSS: Because when we went to the grammar school that Daddy and Uncle Willie had attended, he had told us that Uncle Willie's name was on the board. Well, there was Daddy's, also, as number one. They were in different classes; they were four years apart. There was no age requirement past, I think, what we would call grammar school. You had to be very clever, and Daddy was, to have any education 16:00beyond that. Now I've lost track. Oh, Grandfather's visit in 1929. We lived in a terrible house. Oh, the garage door kept falling off. It was a spec house and we rented. I don't know what the rent was, but I know that the landlord had said to Mother that he would like to sell her the house, and Mother said, "You can't give it to me." [Redman laughs] Then they built this very nice house, where I grew up. So grammar school for me was at the Miraleste Elementary School. There, I had wonderful teachers. This was a L.A. County public school. I can remember the first teacher we had was Miss Sprung. She taught all eight grades in one room.

REDMAN: Is that right?

ROSS: Yes. It was a new building. It was beautiful; it was architect-designed. 17:00This was in what would now be called a failed subdivision, as it were, because in the thirties, they built the house. I've seen the architectural drawings, from October '29, and that was the year that Wall Street collapsed. So we had no neighbors for quite a while. But as I say, Miss Sprung taught sixteen children in eight grades. The next year, we were divided in half, and I think the following year, we were divided into three groups.

REDMAN: So more people eventually came into the school.

ROSS: Yes. But still, never got very big while I was there, because I was there in the thirties.

REDMAN: Interesting. So fairly modest in size.

ROSS: Yes. But we walked across an open field. I can remember my first, second and third grade teacher was Miss Black. And I adored her. She had brown, curly 18:00hair and was pretty as paint, or at least I thought so. We all adored her. Then Miss Jones, in the fourth and fifth grade. Miss Jones taught us a lot. She arranged all sorts of cultural excursions. We went to the Huntington, we went to the L.A. County Museum.

REDMAN: That's an impressive thing for young school children at that time, to go on these sorts of excursions.

ROSS: Yes. She had bright red dyed hair and looked a fright. She, in many ways, scared us; but we knew that there was a world out there.

REDMAN: And you were starting to engage with this world in some way, yes. 19:00Because I'm interested in museums, and libraries in particular, I'm curious if you could tell me a little bit about what the L.A. County Museum might've been like for a child at this time.

ROSS: Well, the tar pits --

REDMAN: Right, certainly.

ROSS: -- were thrilling. We did draw maps of Egypt and the Nile and we made little boats out of Daddy's pipe cleaners. But I think it was more the tar pits than what was in the L.A. County Museum, and the tar pits weren't part of the museum.

REDMAN: But at some point --

ROSS: They were together.


ROSS: Oh, I remember the visit to the Huntington wonderfully well. I fell in love with pictures by Constable. I still am.

REDMAN: So some of the art that you may have seen at that time is still 20:00influencing your life.

ROSS: Oh, yes. Absolutely.

REDMAN: Do you think that shows some of the significance of what art can do for the life of an individual, exposing children to art at a very early age?

ROSS: Yes, yes. I don't know that I believe in playing Bach when you were pregnant, but -- Oh, yes. I think children are capable of a lot more than they're given credit for, and I think they understand a lot more than adults who talk.

REDMAN: In light of that, I'd like to ask, then, a question about economics. The Great Depression had an absolutely staggering effect on the American people, and as you well know, there was another economic recession in '37 -- is that correct? -- when you were fairly young.


ROSS: I can remember that.

REDMAN: Can you tell me, from your perspective, what those tough economic times were like to live through?

ROSS: Daddy had a job, so we were never hungry. We were frugal. Did you know Virginia Smith?

REDMAN: I'm familiar with the name.

ROSS: I've been told that nothing passed Kerr's desk that she didn't look over.

REDMAN: I see. Clark Kerr, this is, yeah.

ROSS: Yeah. She was president of Vassar and was interim president at Mills, when we had the temporary vote for going co-ed and then the rescinding of that vote by the board of trustees, she became acting president for one year, and I worked for her. I admired her enormously. One time, she said to me what I knew to be 22:00true, "There is no substitute for living through the Depression." And she was truly poor. I don't know what her religious affiliation was, but she said her mother had the safekeeping of what little money this group had, and they knew she would be fair. We were not poor.

REDMAN: You hear this a lot as a theme, that the Depression influenced children and adults of that era in all sorts of very important ways. You believe that to be true, in terms of looking back at what administrators may have done, even in the 1950s and 1960s; a lot of it stemmed back to some of their upbringing during 23:00the Great Depression, you think?

ROSS: Oh, sure. We still were living in San Pedro when my best friend, Jackie Bastian, who had a wonderful dog, had to move and they sold the dog. Or they gave the dog away. I'm sure you couldn't sell dogs in those days. They went back to the Midwest someplace, and I don't know where, but he was a wonderful friend.

REDMAN: [That must have been hard for you.]

ROSS: There were truly hungry people. There really were. There were soup lines and I saw them; I knew that there were people that were hungry. Of course, I couldn't imagine missing a meal.

REDMAN: Right, certainly.

ROSS: So no, it made a tremendous impression.


REDMAN: At a certain age, children become aware of, there's this thing called money. There's this currency that drives all sorts of decisions, like your parents' or your friends' parents having to move away for one reason or another. And underlying this is this economic driving factor that would be very important in your future life and studies. I'm just curious. It seems like this is a remarkable economic time to come of age during. It must've influenced, at a certain again, then -- You mentioned this high school teacher later on who had such an influence in social studies. If you could maybe tell me how those things are perhaps connected, I would be interested.

ROSS: Well, of course, I didn't see the global picture. But certainly, I turned 25:00to economics as a graduate student, on my rather naïve notion that I could make a difference. But as a child, these were all just --

REDMAN: Abstract.

ROSS: That is, my parents did not hold political discussions, ever. My mother was totally, totally disinterested in politics or economics. Daddy used to put out two dollars when he went off to work in the morning, on the breakfast room table. He'd say to Mama, "Will this do?" And Mama would say yes, whatever he put on the table. Then if it wasn't enough, if we had to pay the vegetable man, who 26:00came around with fresh vegetables -- I think it was every other day -- then Mama would go downtown and if she needed any money, she'd go to the drugstore and write Mr. Coover a check. Mr. Coover used to deliver ice cream on Sunday afternoons. He'd drive up in his car, from the drugstore, bringing us a quart of ice cream, if we had company.

REDMAN: I see.

ROSS: Then we'd sit in the living room and have ice cream.

REDMAN: All right.

ROSS: They were not political people. Daddy did go on the board of education when Elise and I were in grammar school. He had strong views about education. 27:00I've said this in public; I've said it at Mills College. Daddy said one of the reasons to have an education is that you can go tell anybody, any man or any woman, to go to hell. And he never used the word hell. But I can hear him say it now. I remember, also when I was at Miraleste, Ruth Erb. She was the widow of a man who Daddy had been very good friends with in San Francisco. Mr. Erb apparently died very quickly and unknowingly, of a sudden heart attack, at about the age of forty. They had two children, two boys. She had to get a job. Some relation apparently was prepared to pay the boys' schooling someplace. So what she did was, she gave demonstrations in movie houses, of dishes and cooking 28:00ware. She came to San Pedro and -- Was it the Cabrillo Theater? I think so. Anyway, there were three theaters in town and she went to one. She stayed with us for, I think, the weekend, because those programs were on Saturday morning. I remember Mama taking Mrs. Erb breakfast in bed. We were so impressed by that because Mother never waited on houseguests, and here she was carrying up the tray.

REDMAN: That was because she had this education and was taking in an independent woman --

ROSS: See, in Mama's day, there were very few women who even went to college, and Mama had gone to college. I don't know if going to college would've given her a better job. Daddy carried $10,000 worth of insurance. And he told us -- I 29:00guess Elise and I were upset, either by Mrs. Erb not having any money or some other person who'd fallen on hard times -- that he and Mama expected Mama to go back to college and get a teaching credential. $10,000 would be plenty for a year. He didn't believe in being impoverished by insurance, because they had a good friend, also from San Francisco, Mr. Elliott -- I remember Daddy saying, yes -- and called him by his first name -- was an excellent insurance man and 30:00kept up his contracts by sending everybody a birthday card each year on his birthday; but that it wouldn't do to impoverish your husband by insisting on too much insurance. Later, when I was a graduate student, two of my friends -- and they were young then -- asked Daddy how much insurance they should carry. He gave them the advice, and one wife was furious! [Redman laughs] Daddy simply said, "Mm." Daddy never rose to the bait.

REDMAN: It wasn't something to get fired about, it was just a reality.

ROSS: Well, I've wandered afield.

REDMAN: Let me ask, then, about seeing young women with an education and being 31:00encouraged to have an education, or in some cases, middle-aged women or mother type of generation -- Because there's sort of this misunderstanding in popular American history, you might argue, that women prior to the Second World War did not have jobs and they did not have an education. But in fact, there were women in the workplace.

ROSS: The poor have always been in the workplace, thank you.

REDMAN: The poor have always been in the workplace, that's right. I'm curious, in light of your understanding of both your personal experience with these women who were educated or did have jobs, and sort of this notion -- Maybe I'm underestimating popular American history, but I think that there's this sort of misunderstanding that Rosie the Riveter was the first symbol of American women 32:00in the workplace, and that to me, seems inaccurate.

ROSS: It is inaccurate. Women worked very, very hard on the farm when we were an agricultural society. I remember there were men secretaries when I was a child, and the women, as the office staff, were behind men. Did you ever see the play by J.M Barrie, I think, called The Twelve-Pound Look?


ROSS: The pound is the currency in England. I'm not sure when this play was written, but probably no later than 1920. In it, a woman who's irritated with 33:00her husband and bored with her life. Her husband has this woman with this little machine come to the house, and he dictates to her. It's a business relationship. The married woman sees this woman coming and going on her own time, carrying this little black box and going down the street to catch a bus, et cetera, so she gets curious about this and she asks the woman what this is. This was an early typewriter. She's so envious of this woman, and the play's called The Twelve-Pound Look.


ROSS: Because that's what the machine cost.



ROSS: There's a very good book on professional women. Oh, she was secretary of commerce or the secretary of labor. Frances Perkins was the first woman in the cabinet; but then I can't remember now who it was. She wrote a book on sex in the workforce or something like that. What it was, was an analysis of the role that women played in medicine and some of the other professions in the fifties, compared with the twenties and thirties. The women who entered medicine in the twenties and thirties -- and there were a lot of them -- they stayed and they had a longer period as doctoring than did men in the twenties and thirties. 35:00Either it was so hard to get into medical school that only the most determined ever got there -- But nevertheless, there were more women in these professions than in the fifties and sixties. [Added during editing: Juanita Kreps was the secretary of commerce under Carter, and wrote Sex in the Marketplace, American Women at Work.]

REDMAN: That's sort of a mind-bending.

ROSS: It's not true that Rosie the Riveter was the first wave of women into the workforce.

REDMAN: Do you think I'm overstating this argument that popular history or sort of this popular understanding is that Rosie is envisioned in -- I don't want to take away from the important contribution of female wartime labor. But it seems as though we, as historians and economists and social thinkers, mark that as being this seminal moment, when in fact, there is this long history.


ROSS: We're so busy reinventing the wheel. It's true in all sorts of historical things -- that the Western world didn't discover gunpowder, didn't discover the things that the Chinese knew 3,000 years ago. So much of modern medicine goes back a long, long ways in China. No, I think that it's probably built into our genes somewhere that we want to be the first. Now, we're certainly the first people to have gone to the moon, the first generation that's gone to the moon; but so many other things are not the newness that we would like to think they are. One thing I think about Rosie the Riveter, there were very few women in the 37:00shipyard in which I worked, that were not in welding, in riveting. In the electric department, where they assembled circuit boards, staff were nearly all women. That was attributed to the dexterity that women do have in their hands. But it isn't all dexterity. There are now some women dentists. But oh, twenty years ago, 2 percent of dentists were women.

REDMAN: That's a position that requires dexterity.

ROSS: Yes, and 98 percent of the dental hygienists were women.

REDMAN: Right. That's fascinating. What a remarkably gendered field.

ROSS: I had a wonderful dentist and he went off to be head of the dental school, and I asked him if he wouldn't try to do something about that, because surely, 38:00that can't be anything but discrimination. Just until recently now, you could never become a plumber unless you had an uncle or a cousin who was a plumber. There were simply trades that were, well, almost family.

REDMAN: It strikes me, just in terms of my experience of interviewing mainly women, it doesn't seem to me surprising when I meet someone who lived through the Great Depression who was a man who became interested in engineering, let's say. But sort of the stereotype that we have today is that women are not 39:00encouraged to do math and science at all, and that there aren't any ways around this. But instead, I see that there were a lot of women who were interested in math and science careers. I'm just curious, from your perspective, if there were men and women -- or young women, in particular -- who, like yourself, showed any sort of aptitude towards fields like economics. I'm curious to see, then, how this plays out over the course of your career. I know that's an enormous question, but --

ROSS: Well, when Elise and I finished the eighth grade, we had to go downtown to San Pedro, to high school. Well, we had to go to the ninth grade, which was the third year of junior high. At the end of the sixth grade, we had the chance of transferring to San Pedro, seventh, eighth and ninth grades, and then ten, eleven and twelve a little later. Our parents put it to us, did we want to 40:00transfer? Because our two best friends, Patsy and Barbara, not related, were transferring. We said no. I don't know why we said no, but we did. That meant we were the only Caucasian girls in the seventh and eighth grade. The population of Miraleste Elementary School was made up of a few families on the east side of the Palos Verdes Hills and the Japanese farmers' children. The Japanese raised tomatoes. They dry farmed them. The Japanese children, after school, were bused home, and there they made little white paper cones to protect the little tomato 41:00seedlings. And on Saturday, they went to Japanese school in Los Angeles. So they were not really part of the after-school socializing. We were friends in school. The teachers, they could've been teaching in a public school in 2011. We had lots of emphasis on national festivities. Elise and I, one time I remember Mother made us -- she hated to sew -- made us plaid skirts and we had little tam o'shanters, and were little Scotch girls and did the highland fling. We all learned each other's national anthems.

REDMAN: Interesting.

ROSS: Yes. And we danced around the Maypole and somebody explained the various 42:00origins of the Maypole dance.

REDMAN: This all seems fairly cosmopolitan and progressive. Like you said, this could be an elementary school or a high school in 2011.

ROSS: No, this is in elementary school.

REDMAN: Wow. Okay.

ROSS: Oh, high school was a bore. [Redman laughs] No, truly.

REDMAN: So in elementary school, there was, in the Los Angeles period of your life - Because alternatively, I've heard this notion that the Japanese in California mainly kept to themselves, in an isolated community; whereas Mexican nationals or African Americans or Chinese Americans did, quote/unquote, "a better job of integrating into mainstream American society." And what you're saying, in your experience, is that that's not exactly the case.

ROSS: Well, the only group I knew as a child were some Japanese adults and my 43:00school friends. The Japanese at that time all lived on Terminal Island, totally segregated. Nobody lived on Terminal Island but Japanese, and nobody lived on the western Palos Verdes Hills except Japanese, and they were all dry farming tomatoes. They weren't allowed to own land. During WWII, it got taken away.

REDMAN: Sure. We'll get into that.

ROSS: Yes, a little later. So the Japanese that I knew were that there was a -- [phone rings; audiofile stops & restarts]

REDMAN: When we paused, we were talking about ethnic groups and this notion that 44:00the Japanese were particularly insular.

ROSS: Well, one thing, there was a tremendous language barrier. If you've ever known anybody who's studied Japanese, you find out how very, very difficult it is. But there were tremendous spaces, geographically, there were whole spaces of empty, empty acreage, both between Miraleste and this western part, and another great area of nothing growing, except garbanzo beans, between that and Lunada Bay. But in San Pedro there was a Mexican -- We called it Mexican Town. They 45:00were in an isolated area, but there were other people around them. But the Finns lived very close to one another. There weren't very many Finns, but they lived around together. And there was a distinction between Italians and Yugoslavs that was fantastically different. The Italians nearly all came from the island of Ischia, which is next door to Naples, or in the Naples Bay.

REDMAN: And they viewed themselves as being entirely distinct and separate from the Italians.

ROSS: Oh, yes.

REDMAN: I see. Okay.

ROSS: If you were an Italian, you weren't to go out with a Yugoslav boy.

REDMAN: Let me ask, then, about religion in those terms. I know certainly in the Midwest, the different religious distinctions were very sharp, even within Protestant divisions or between Protestants and Catholics. I'm curious in L.A. 46:00These ethnic divisions were strong. Or you might say racial divisions. But what about religion? Were different denominations talked about in this manner?

ROSS: There was only the one Catholic church in town and the Mexicans, the Italians, and some Slavs all went to the Catholic church. Now, the other Protestant churches had a mix of the other Caucasians. Mother read the Bible to us when we were little; they did not go to church. When we went to the ninth grade, as part of our socialization process, as I would think of it now, we 47:00wanted to go to church, or at least to the young people's groups, because that was important socially.

REDMAN: A lot of other kids would go.

ROSS: Yes. Mother and Daddy said to us, "Well, you could go to different churches and try it out." But there were two things we couldn't do. Well, yes, they did say this. Well, they were opposed; they didn't say they wouldn't let us. But we could go to church on Sunday and Daddy would drive us down and we'd sample.

REDMAN: Right, okay.

ROSS: One of our best friends was Jimmy Bloch. Jimmy was Jewish, so we wanted to 48:00go there. They said fine, but the Jews wouldn't have us. They made it clear to us that there wasn't -- Well, it never occurred to us; we didn't know any Muslims, so it never occurred to us. We knew that the Japanese people we knew were both Buddhists and some of them Shinto. But there wasn't any local branch of the Buddhist church or the Buddhist religion. But that also wasn't in our purview. But we couldn't become, or they wouldn't want us to become Christian Scientists or Catholic.

REDMAN: Interesting. [Your parents] had some opinions.


ROSS: Oh, yes.

REDMAN: And they were willing to voice those. But on the one hand, they were willing to let you try out different religions.

ROSS: Yes.

REDMAN: Interesting.

ROSS: I don't think it occurred to them that we might want to do something other than Christianity. Because they didn't read the Koran or the Bhagavad Gita. They didn't read any other texts to us. Well, we knew about Buddhism.

REDMAN: There was some sort of awareness of this being another distinct religion and it being quite distinct, in some sense, from Christianity or Judaism, and then this being representative of this local group that were friends or 50:00neighbors or people that were attending your schools.

ROSS: Yes.

REDMAN: That's a very interesting awareness to sort of come to.

ROSS: We actually joined the young people's fellowship of the Episcopal church, because Mrs. Nurse, wife of the minister, played all these wonderful tunes -- not just hymns -- on the upright piano. Oh, Daddy always said that the Episcopal church there should've been a mission, [they laugh] because it was so ramshackle and so broken down. When my parents got a new carpet for the dining room, they gave the Nurses the old dining room carpet. That's how poor everybody was.

REDMAN: Certainly. I can imagine that churches would be something that would 51:00suffer, in some sense. On the other hand, is the challenging economic times that --

ROSS: The Catholic church didn't suffer because it had a huge congregation. They and the Christian Scientists tithed.

REDMAN: And they did quite well, in terms of fundraising in that time?

ROSS: Well, they didn't have to fund raise, it came with the territory. In other words, they had a solid internal group.

REDMAN: Devoted followers, who would also contribute in some --

ROSS: Well, they tithed. Absolutely.

REDMAN: So that wasn't just a sort of symbolic -- it was an economic practice.

ROSS: Mm-hm.

REDMAN: I'd like to conclude this first tape in asking about your childhood. We've talked about a lot of topics on this first tape, in terms of your upbringing and what life was like in California during the Depression. Is there 52:00anything else you'd like to add on that thought, before we get into your later life?

ROSS: Well, I think of it as a very happy time. When we went to school, Mama took us to the library every Thursday afternoon. Miss MacMillan was the librarian. She and Mama would talk books, because Mama read a lot. We would come home every afternoon after school, and Mama would be sitting in the kitchen, baking cookies and reading a book. Reading was built in. After dinner, Mother and Daddy would sit in two chairs in front of the fire, with one lamp between them.


REDMAN: So reading was absolutely central.

ROSS: It wasn't talked about. In other words, books were available. I've told this story so many times to my friends. When I was in the fourth grade, I came down to breakfast and asked them what albeit meant. So they explained to me what albeit meant. Daddy said, "What are you reading?" So I said, "Ottillo." Nobody had ever told me it was Othello. [Redman laughs] So Daddy said to Mama, do you think she ought to be reading that? And Mama said, "She can read anything she wants to."

REDMAN: That's a remarkable moment for a young person in fourth grade, to hear that from her parents.


ROSS: Now, of course, there weren't any unsuitable books around. In the summertime, upstairs, I would lie on my tummy -- we had a little balcony and the wind would blow in -- and I would spend all afternoon reading. When Elise and I were little, we played jacks. Do you know what jacks are?

REDMAN: I know what jacks look like. I have to confess --

ROSS: You move up from picking up one to picking up two, and then you could finally get hold of twelve.

REDMAN: Twelve, okay.

ROSS: Yes. We'd spend hours and hours playing jacks. Then in the wintertime, when it rained, we played Monopoly, endlessly.

REDMAN: Monopoly, that is absolute that I want someone who becomes a life-long 55:00economist to have played as a child. It makes perfect sense to me. [they laugh] Learning about money and investing and things of that nature. Wildly inaccurate, perhaps, but --

ROSS: So many other games didn't appeal to us. Daddy taught us to play poker. [chuckles]

REDMAN: But that never caught on?

ROSS: No. No.

REDMAN: My name is Sam Redman and I'm here today, May 3, 2011. I'm continuing an interview with Marion Ross of Berkeley. Today we are doing two parts of what we hope to be a multi-day interview, and this is the second tape. We talked, in the first tape, about your early childhood and growing up during the Great 56:00Depression. Would you be willing to situate me in time? About how old would you have been when Pearl Harbor was attacked?

ROSS: Oh, well, that was December '41. I was a sophomore. I went to college, Mills College, in September, 1940. I was sixteen. I'd graduated from high school in June of that year. I was a sophomore, and I was then an English major. I thought I was going to write the great American novel. At any rate, I'd been to chapel and I was walking back to my dorm -- we then called them halls, not dorms -- and there was somebody rushing through Olney Hall, screaming. I was 57:00bewildered. The news of Pearl Harbor had just gotten to us. There was no television and most of us didn't have radios in our room. There was a radio in the rec room, rec for recreation, in the basement. My sister and I thought that the rec room stood for it being a wreck of a place, because it was broken-down furniture, et cetera.

REDMAN: Was your sister at Mills College at the same time?

ROSS: Yes.

REDMAN: Now, I've heard accounts that Pearl Harbor took place during finals at Cal. My guess is that Mills was on maybe a different academic calendar at that time.

ROSS: Yes. At that time, Mills ended the semester the first week in February. So 58:00Christmas was a time for doing term papers. We later moved to ending the semester before Christmas. But there were a great many girls from Hawaii at Mills, and they all lived in Olney. There were at least twenty Hawaiian students. They weren't Hawaiians ethnically, they were children of missionaries or mainlanders who'd moved there for --

REDMAN: So mainly Caucasians who maybe still had families, some of them, in Hawaii, or friends?

ROSS: Oh, yes, they all had families in Hawaii. They came to Mills from Hawaii.

REDMAN: I see.

ROSS: And so they were resident in Hawaii; they were born -- Well, not all of them, probably, but most of them were born there.

REDMAN: Right. They called Hawaii home.

ROSS: Yes, Hawaii was home. It wasn't home just to their parents, but mostly to their grandparents; and some of them, even their great-grandparents. That's 59:00probably a little early. Mr. and Mrs. Mills has been in Hawaii for some period of their missionary lives. At any rate, so there was great upset and much to-ing and fro-ing. We also had a number of Japanese students, from Hawaii, some from California, and some from Japan. It's very nice; this year, May Watanabe, who was an American Japanese and was relocated, she's being given an honorary BA this next week. However, for those students who were seniors at that time, they 60:00were given real degrees in absentia. That was by decision of the president. An autocratic woman, but she did the right thing.

REDMAN: I'm sorry, was that decision particularly for the Japanese who had been relocated? Or for all students who then had to leave their education for one reason or another during the war?

ROSS: It was for all Japanese students, because all Japanese students either went home to Japan, if that was home for them, or they were relocated. For anyone who was a senior that year, they were given degrees in absentia.

REDMAN: I see.

ROSS: So now, May Watanabe is going to get her honorary BA degree, because she was just a sophomore, I think, because I remember her from that time. At any 61:00rate, there was much excitement. We had an assembly the next day, in which President Reinhardt addressed us all. She said this was a fateful day, et cetera, but that Japan was now the enemy, but that the Japanese people, and especially the students who we knew here, were not the enemy.

REDMAN: That must've been a very powerful, powerful moment, at sixteen.

ROSS: Oh, well, I was seventeen by then.

REDMAN: Seventeen by that time, sure.

ROSS: It was a fantastic address, it really was. That's what I think leadership 62:00is about, saying things you believe, and also as moral advice to the young. Because we were so unformed, we really were. I think if this had been a speech of hate, we would've had a different attitude.

REDMAN: Which it certainly could've been. From my understanding of that moment, there was a lot of fear and anxiety, especially on the West Coast, about a possible attack. It really shows a different perspective and tact to tell the students that the Japanese at Mills College were not the enemy. It's a very interesting moment.

ROSS: Right. Daddy had had a long-term employee from the Hawaiian Islands -- 63:00Japanese by ancestry, but born in Hawaii -- and in February, he was, quote, "relocated." He had been given the opportunity to move over the mountains, to work in the celery fields of Utah. Daddy had advised him not to do that, that Frank was now thirty, thirty-one and Daddy said, "You're too old for stoop labor." Daddy had a faith that the American government would treat Americans differently from Japanese. Well, he was wrong. Frank had married, oh, five or 64:00six years before that, because Elise and I went to the wedding. We didn't go to the wedding; we went to the reception. They had finally adopted a boy. Very, very hard to adopt in Japanese society. There's always some relation. If mama died, there's always some relation that would take care of the baby. But they had adopted a baby and mama and baby were sent to a different camp at first.


ROSS: At any rate, so Daddy drove Frank up to the station. Why were we home? We didn't go home, except for the holidays. Maybe it was later than February. But at any rate, maybe it's what Daddy told me. Daddy wept. I only saw him weep twice in my entire life.


REDMAN: Wow. What was the second time? Just to contextualize that. Do you recall the --

ROSS: Oh, yes, I recall. [chuckles] It's when Mama fell. She was very old by then, and there was a tremendous amount of blood. But she was all right. This is the time my brother-in-law took her -- I wasn't there -- took her to the hospital. She was okay; it was just an awful lot of blood. So I didn't see and Elise told me.

REDMAN: I'm really curious in that moment, because it seems to me that a lot in your father's generation had a really overriding faith in the US government, and in FDR personally.

ROSS: Oh, he hated FDR. [laughs]

REDMAN: Interesting. Because that would've been, in some sense, sort of counter to a lot of people in California, especially immigrants, who attached themselves 66:00to FDR and the government and were very pro-Democrat.

ROSS: Can I tell you a funny story?

REDMAN: Certainly.

ROSS: Daddy appeared as a witness for somebody -- it was an Italian -- for his citizenship. The judge asked him some questions, et cetera. Then in answer to one of them -- I don't remember quite how it goes, but -- the would-be citizen said, as part of his correctness - He said, "I vote the straight Democratic ticket, and have ever since I came." [they laugh] Oh. So yes, I understand that. But back to this business. San Pedro was much affected by the war, of course, 67:00because very shortly, up went all these barrage balloons, as deceiving elements in the war. And of course, we had blackout curtains.

REDMAN: But just going back to your father dropping off Frank at the train station and that being such a powerful moment for him.

ROSS: Well, Frank was really quite a wonderful person.

REDMAN: But I'm curious why so many Californians did not have such a powerful emotional reaction to the Japanese being interned. Your father's reaction strikes me as something I can really relate to. That you have friends in the community and then they're being taken away and being mistreated. It seems like it would be something that would be a controversial moment. But by and large, 68:00there was little controversy about it.

ROSS: Oh, no, people thought that it was the right thing to do. But Daddy thought there was one man in the Japanese community who may have been a spy. The FBI rounded him up on December 8, and he committed suicide in the hospital.

REDMAN: Interesting.

ROSS: Because we didn't go home until Christmas vacation, an overnight business. Daddy said that he played too good tennis for being a farmer.

REDMAN: [chuckles] That's fascinating.

ROSS: No, he was a fisherman, but Daddy said he played too good tennis.

REDMAN: For being a fisherman.


ROSS: Right.

REDMAN: Okay, so there was some other story there.

ROSS: But to finish up about Frank, Mama, in her quiet way -- She had a long, long-time friend, Aunt Thea, who was married to a professor of botany at the University of Michigan then. But meanwhile, Frank and his wife Hana had been reunited. Mama got the idea that Dr. Gleason -- Uncle Alan, Thea's husband -- might do something for Frank. She wrote Thea. In the old boys network, Uncle Alan, who was a true professorial type, wrote a three-volume work on the 70:00blackberry. [Redman laughs] At any rate, he knew and Mama knew there was a language program at Michigan. Frank was instrumental in helping to teach Japanese.

REDMAN: Wow. Interesting.

ROSS: So then towards the end of the war, Frank and Hana lived in --

REDMAN: Ann Arbor.

ROSS: Right.

REDMAN: Fascinating.

ROSS: So his talents were used.

REDMAN: That's a nice story, that your parents had his interest in mind and were friends with him. I'm interested, in that that seems that that's such a rare account of an emotional relation --

ROSS: Well, they didn't socialize with Frank and Hana, you understand. They didn't socialize with them. But one time Elise and I got into some sort of, oh, minor scrape, I can't imagine why. It was in daylight. We ended up in a part of 71:00town that we shouldn't have been in. So what did we do? We called up Frank. I guess we called Daddy's plant and --

REDMAN: Did he come and get you then?

ROSS: Yes, he came and got us.

REDMAN: Interesting. Okay.

REDMAN: Now let me ask, then, taking us back to Mills College, can you tell me about what Mills College may have been like in September of 1940, when you 72:00arrived as a freshman? I'm just interested in sort of getting a before and after snapshot of higher education, in some sense. What was it like in 1940?

ROSS: The campus was beautiful. I don't know, I've filtered out so much. Olney had once had two bedrooms with a study in between. But by then, the middle room had been turned into a bedroom. There were three of us in each little compound, 73:00and I had the center room in my little compound. It was tiny. Tiny. But we had a wash basin in the room, and of course, the john and shower down the -- Were there showers or just a bathtub? I can't see that. I had Dr. Diller for an advisor, and he recommended that I take this wide variety of courses. I took astronomy and English composition and music and history of the Old Testament, which he taught. That was an eye opener because he was a wonderful historian. Most of the students in that class were daughters of ministers, with very fixed views about the rightness of the Bible. Mama had explained that the Bible wasn't 74:00all written in one day; it was by different people at different times, and some of the stories didn't quite match. So that was all right by us. He took this very sophisticated historical research, so there was a lot of upset in that class; that's what I remember. Then music appreciation class was a disaster, as far as I was concerned. I tried very hard and I didn't get it. Didn't get it. So you want to ask me about the social life?

REDMAN: Yes. Well, let me just go back quickly to the Old Testament course. It seems to me like that would be a situation where a lot of students would be introduced to the very concept of critical thought for the first time. Here, 75:00geez, let's jump into this topic that cuts to the core of what your parents' identity is or your family identity or your personal identity as a Christian. So I can sort of see some of that backlash. But I'm interested then, as you become a faculty member yourself, seeing how the other students around you absorbed critical thoughts. From the sound of it, your mother had sort of instilled that very early on, by saying, some of these stories have conflicting ideas and it wasn't all written in one day. It's not just taking it as the literal word of God, capital G; it's looking at it with a different sort of a lens. For my own college education, it seems that I learned as much by the bad professors as the good professors, in terms of my thinking later on as a scholar, in terms of how 76:00to teach and how not to teach, I guess. So there was a lot going on there in that freshman year, it sounds like. I'm curious then if we could talk about either that or your social life, I'd be interested in, as well.

ROSS: Well, I didn't have any social life. I suppose I was in the process of adjusting. We had been told by Mama, at frequent intervals, "When you go to college," etcetera. It was assumed we'd go to college. My two best friends [in high school] were in the class ahead of me and another friend, the same thing, 77:00but she didn't go to college, she eloped -- which was a staggering shock to me. Oh, she did go to college, but she eloped her freshman year, that was it. At any rate, of our graduating high school class, Elise and I were the only two girls who graduated from college.

REDMAN: Wow. It's a pretty staggering attrition.

ROSS: It was not an academic high school. I think five boys rode in one of their fathers' cars to UCLA, as freshmen. It was a poor place. It was poor. So back to college. I don't know quite what I expected, except it was going to be a wonderful new world.


REDMAN: So you were looking forward to it.

ROSS: Oh, yes! Oh. Yes. We loved it.

REDMAN: Do you recall why you chose Mills, what attracted you to Mills?

ROSS: Yes. They didn't have SAT scores then, and the college boards were only in the east; but there was a Stanford -- It wasn't called the Stanford achievement test, but it was a Stanford test. They graded us A, B, C, D or 1, 2, 3, 4, because I remember we took it in Long Beach High School. Mama drove us over there on a Saturday. We didn't know what these people were doing, walking up and down the aisles. At any rate, so I got a 1 and Elise got a 3, which meant acceptance.


REDMAN: And one was --

ROSS: Top.

REDMAN: -- the highest.

ROSS: Yes. I was offered a scholarship. Stanford took 8 percent of its class as women. Mama didn't want us to go to Berkeley because there was no dormitory life and you had to live in a boarding house or join a sorority, and we were anti-sororities. Mama had been a Theta, so she could've introduced us to the 80:00Theta group here, but -- I don't think we would've pledged. I don't think they would've invited either of us; but we didn't want it. Mama didn't want us to go east because we'd marry some Easterner. [they laugh]

REDMAN: That was a terrible fear, I suspect.

ROSS: Yes, it was. We thought about Pomona, but we didn't want to live there. It was smoggy. It was smoggy then. Was it tar they burned? What was it they burned in the wintertime to keep the frost from destroying the oranges? It was real 81:00smog; it was black.

REDMAN: Wow. Okay, yeah. Disgusting.

ROSS: Yes, yes. What did they burn? I can't remember. Anyhow, so it was a new world. We took ourselves to the opera.

REDMAN: To what extent did you experience San Francisco and Oakland?

ROSS: Oh, we went to the movies at Grand Lake. The bus went there. We went to the opera and we went to the de Young museum, frequently. No, we were bent on improvement. Yes, we were.

REDMAN: So a lot of reading and experiencing new things.


ROSS: Right.

REDMAN: Interesting.

ROSS: It's what college was about.

REDMAN: Certainly. So then in 1941, in December of 1941, a lot of things, I suspect, changed at Mills. Now, at Berkeley, I know that a lot of young men were either drafted or joined and left. There was still one more semester left for a lot of seniors, but people left school and went into the service or worked for the federal government. How about Mills? What was the transition immediately after Pearl Harbor, if any? I suspect there was.

ROSS: Well, a number of the Eastern students, their parents withdrew them. Totally non-Japanese students left.


REDMAN: I know that there was a lot of looking towards the Pacific, in terms of attention on the West Coast, for obvious reasons. On December 8, it would've seemed like the prudent thing for some families in the East, to withdraw their daughters from Mills.

ROSS: Well, it was a hysterical time. Then later, the transportation problem for their going home for Christmas became very problematic.

REDMAN: Did that instill more of a seriousness of the fear? Was the situation of the war already a grave enough situation to sort of understand that this was a major world event? Or this was something new or different, something that you hadn't quite experienced before; that people were withdrawing from school and 84:00going back east and that Pearl Harbor had been attacked? Overnight, it seems to just be this incredibly dramatic life change.

ROSS: Well, it was dramatic. After all, in WWI, the US as a whole was remote from attack. In WWII, Hawaii was just a territory. And it didn't have the tourism that it has now, and it was detached by -- It's a five-hour flight. I think it's a five-hour flight to Hawaii, isn't it?

REDMAN: There's a lot of ocean.

ROSS: Yes, there's a lot of ocean. I'm afraid there were a great many people who 85:00really didn't see the importance of Hawaii. You know that the extension of the draft by congress -- was it in '38, or was it as late as '39? -- only passed by one vote.

REDMAN: Is that right? Okay.

ROSS: Oh, America First. Pro-German was big.

REDMAN: Wanting to isolate, stay out of the war.

ROSS: Not our business.

REDMAN: Yes. Did you find that reflecting in California? I know certainly, that was the attitude of a lot of folks in places like the Midwest, and there was absolutely an element of that in Washington, D.C. But was that true in California, too, that a lot of people thought, before the war, this is none of our business, let's stay out of Europe? Was that the sentiment that you saw?

ROSS: When I was a senior in high school, pushed by this wonderful civics 86:00teacher, I was the representative of San Pedro High School at the World Friendship Club annual debate, in May of 1940. This is when, a few days before the meeting, Holland and Belgium were overrun. This is before France fell. The question [chuckles] that we were posed was, should the US intervene on Britain's behalf in WWII? I was the only pro person in that discussion. This was of all the high schools in Southern California.

REDMAN: What year, do you recall, was this again?


ROSS: I think it was May 15, 1940, and I think France --


ROSS: France hadn't fallen yet, but Belgium and Holland had been overrun.

REDMAN: And you were the only representative.

ROSS: I was the only one from the San Pedro club who took the pro position. At this meeting, I think there were two of us. I think there were four of us, but I'm not sure about that, four of us on the panel. I don't remember. But I know that I was the only person, and I was the representative for San Pedro.

REDMAN: So in other words, there was a large degree of resistance to us entering the war, still, in California --

ROSS: Yes.

[End of Interview 1]