Catalog Number: 2018.044.01
This week’s artifact is a World War II woman’s naval uniform worn by La Crosse resident Florence Thompson.
During World War II, the U.S. Navy established a military unit for female members, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. The WAVES was initially developed to free up clerical positions so that more men would be available for combat positions. Before WAVES, women were only allowed to serve as nurses in the Navy. To be eligible to enlist, women needed to be between 20 and 36 years old and have no children under the age of 18. Throughout the war, roughly 100,000 women served in varying roles. Some women performed clerical duties and others served as instructors.
Shortly after graduating from Logan High School in La Crosse, three young women enlisted in the WAVES in 1943: Lucille Will, Helen Jorgenson and Florence Thompson. The family of Florence Thompson donated her uniform along with a scrapbook and ephemera from her time serving in the WAVES to the La Crosse County Historical Society recently after she passed away in 2017.
After finishing her training at Hunter College in New York City, Thompson wrote home that she enjoyed her work very much and was thrilled about the uniforms and training.
In December 1943, Thompson was assigned to administrative work as a yeoman in the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Washington, D.C. While serving, Thompson had quite the experience on the East Coast, according to her scrapbook, which is filled with programs from sporting events, concerts and plays. In addition to souvenirs from her activities, Thompson also saved postcards and cards from home. A few of the postcards feature G. Heileman Brewing Co.
Five months after WWII was over, Thompson was honorably discharged. She returned home and enrolled at Luther College in Decorah, where she received her bachelor’s degree. After college, Thompson returned to La Crosse and worked for the county as a social worker for 25 years. Florence married Robert T. Moe in 1951 in La Crosse. After his death in 1999, she married Preston M. Olson, a former high school classmate of hers.
This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on November 24, 2018.