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Ardith Wingeier Westie has stories to tell. Her stories can be found in the letters she kept and later deposited within the Archives of Michigan. Her story is unique, but within it, we also gain broader insight into the experiences of a working woman, homefront life during World War II and the character of Lansing, Michigan.
A New Job
In June 1943, Ardith Wingeier Westie needed a job. Her husband, Charles, was serving in the military, and she had to care for their not-quite-one-year-old daughter Judy. At the time, she and Judy were staying with Charles’ parents in Dearborn.
She traveled to Lansing by bus and interviewed with the Michigan Education Association. MEA soon hired her as a staff writer for their magazine. She later explained that she found “a job, an apartment and day care for Judy” all in one day!
Ardith described the MEA job in a June 25, 1943 letter to Charles. “I believe it would be very interesting work, in pleasant surroundings, among nice people,” she wrote. She indicated that her annual salary would be a minimum of $1,680, which would be about $22,622 in today’s money. On that salary, she would support both Judy and herself, with expenses including rent, food, clothing, frequent bus fare and Judy’s day care.
Ardith acknowledged to Chuck that “the salary would be “less than I would make teaching a year and then working in the summer.” Nonetheless, she felt that the MEA job had many benefits. She cited the “steady income,” a greater amount of vacation time (two weeks) and “having after work hours free.” She also felt that the MEA office would be “a wonderful place for contacts.”
Ardith had other reasons for taking the job. Looking back in 2014, she noted that both her family (in Fenwick, Ionia County) and Charles’ family (in Dearborn) wanted her and Judy to live with them. She added, though, that such arrangements would entail “as many disadvantages as advantages.” Lansing held a promise of greater independence.
Life in Lansing, Circa 1943
Ardith expressed happiness about moving to Lansing. “I would be living in a town with good cultural opportunities,” she told Charles in 1943. She described Lansing as “a pleasant city,” noting that it had “plays and music and little theatre and a college, etc.”
Looking back in 2014, Ardith described Lansing as “a busy, bustling place.” She also described it as “very noisy,” mentioning “heavy industry” and drop forges in factories that now produced materials for the war. For recreation, she cited theater productions and shopping, specifically mentioning popular department stores such as Arbaugh’s and Knapp’s. Ardith said that she did “a lot of walking” and spent a lot of time riding on buses.
Ardith can, of course, tell many more stories from that time. She can talk about working at the MEA, raising her daughter, dealing with day care workers and baby sitters, making daily visits to the Post Office and nightly letter-writing sessions next to the radio. These experiences are all reflected within her original letters, which are now preserved for posterity. Ultimately, it is the stories and experiences of people such as Ardith Wingeier Westie that constitute the real body of our history.
More from the Charles and Ardith Westie Collection
Letters and Artifacts on Display – January 25, 2014
Letters and artifacts from the Charles and Ardith Westie Collection will be displayed during the Michigan Historical Center’s 2014 Statehood Day celebration on January 25. This year, the event honors both the 177th birthday of Michigan and the seventieth anniversary of D-Day. Click Statehood Day Celebration for more information.
See the Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator Website
Interview with Ardith Westie, January 21, 2014.