Post War Housing
First, it was the ship workers, then it was the returning soldiers and their new families–housing in Manitowoc in the 1940s was hard to come by. Gert, whose parents lived on a farm near Denmark, found room for her young family with her parents, eventually purchasing their own home with the assistance of her husband’s parents. But for the others, a place to call home was harder to come by.
Dixie and her girlfriends first lived in an un-insulated attic before moving to a small trailer behind Charlie Hynek’s Tavern on Rapids Road 1. Since there was no plumbing, the girls used the bathroom in the tavern and washed their clothes outside in a basin. In the winter, Dixie said it was so cold that frost would form on the trailer walls. After her brother married and purchased a home, he offered to rent out the upstairs and conditions improved immensely.
If you were to picture World War II “on the home front,” Custerdale would be a perfect reflection. On the west edge of Manitowoc, as part of the government’s Public War Housing Program, arose a housing project of 650 units called Custerdale Village. It housed about 2,200 people who worked in the shipyards and war-effort industries. The pre-fabricated units were built close together and came in several configurations. Since the homes were considered temporary, they were constructed on blocks with the plan to disassemble and move them to the south after the war. However, because of the post-war housing shortage, the city purchased the homes to be sold to returning soldiers. It was here that Germaine and her husband found a “double unit”, which consisted of two four-room units for a slim $18 a month rent.
Germaine remembers that there was only one door, the front door and that the closets had curtain rods rather than doors. When the homes went up for sale, her father suggested that it was a deal they couldn’t pass up, even though one of their two units had to be sold off because the city was putting in streets. Over the years, Germaine’s dad really did fix the house up adding a back door, a breezeway and garage and even sliding closet doors. Later they modernized the kitchen and it was her home all her life.
Today, the average maternity hospital stay is forty-eight hours with an average price tag of $8,802, but when our ladies were young mothers life was quite different. Certainly, the cost factor has dramatically changed since their hospital bills were between $18 and $27—but the post-partum care is even more startling. Each of the women spent nine days in the hospital—in bed. “When I got up, my feet felt like they had pins in them but I look like a million,” Germaine remembered. Dixie said she could hardly stand up after so much bed rest. Then you had to go home and fend for yourself unless you had a mother or mother-in-law who could come to the rescue. You did what you could, they all remarked. Virginia told of a nurse who would take their candy telling them they were not the first who ever had a baby. Each laughed since they all remembered the nurse. They also noted the nurse never had any children so was really not much of an authority without first-hand experience.
Virginia Barbeau, Dixie Meyer, Gertie Lasch, & Germaine Wiegand
We are grateful for the sharing of these stories.
Dixie Meyer, 1912 – 2012
Virginia Barbeau, 1921 – 2015
Gertrude Lasch, 1920 – 1913