Many people in the Effingham area contributed to the war effort in World War II. The prolonged conflict brought government contracts for military leather gloves to Illinois Glove Company, which had plants in Effingham and Champaign at the time.
Men cut the leather, and women did the sewing. One group of operators turned the thumb section, while others stitched the fingers shut. Output was paid by the piece, so the fastest operators produced the most gloves and earned the larger checks. Florence Wernsing Hardiek Koester was one of these workers.
As a widow with four children, Florence appreciated the opportunity the factory afforded. She went to work already familiar with the basics of sewing machine operation, as women at that time were more likely to sew for themselves and their families than they are today. However, commercial machines were sturdier in construction than the small Singer a woman was accustomed to using in her home.
Operators stayed on the same machines day after day, as they quickly learned their devices' idiosyncrasies. The Effingham plant had about 50 machines, which were electric with a foot pedal to control the speed of the interlocking threads. Each machine had an associated work table for stacking the raw material and organizing the operator's finished work.
Florence shared a strategy she used to increase her output. An operator could not sew during a mandated work break, and some women left the plant to go to a nearby establishment for refreshments. Florence chose to drink coffee at her station, which she purchased from the company's supply. Although she couldn't sew during a break, she could use the time to organize her work space. That meant she was ready to start sewing immediately when the break was over.
Gloves were uniformly packaged in boxes with a standard number, usually 24, and the operator retained a card that gave evidence of her production. The forelady collected the cards at the end of the shift. Payday was on Friday. Federal tax and Social Security were deducted.
The workers at Effingham Glove were entertained with a banquet once a year. Late in 1942, the meal was served at the Central School Gym. The plant manager, Ben Wolf, stated that the Effingham plant's payroll that year was a quarter of a million dollars.
At the start of 1942, Mr. Sam Shmikler, Illinois Glove Company's owner, offered the employees a bonus of 5 cents on the dollar if they would keep up the pace of production. They were successful, and a cash bonus in the amount of $12,500 was shared with the workers at the banquet. Dentist Dwight A. Niccum was the Master of Ceremonies that night, and Attorney Harry Parker was the speaker.
Illinois Glove Factory was a union plant. The union was the International Glove Workers' Union of America, and it was affiliated with American Federation of Labor (AFL). Union. Dues were paid monthly, and payment was recorded in an orange booklet with an AFL sticker and an ink stamp with the date.
A union presence was welcomed in Effingham at the time. The 16th Annual Convention of the American Federation of Glove Workers was held in Effingham. Delegates met at the American Legion Hall. Mayor H.B. Rinehart gave the welcome speech. After the business meeting, the delegates were invited to share a meal at the Hotel Benwood. The toastmaster that evening was Ernest Britton, the Superintendent of Schools.
Eugene Wenthe, President of the Effingham Chamber of Commerce, took the delegates for a tour of the town the next day. They visited Boos Block Factory, the Vulcan Last factory and Peevly Dairy. That night, there was a dance at the Thoele Pavilion in Teutopolis, and all employees from the Effingham and Champaign plants were invited.
Josephine Schwerdt Hatke, the author's mother, also worked at Illinois Glove during the war years. Like Florence, she was acutely aware that the speed of her machine was directly proportional to the size of her pay packet. Josephine tracked her hours and her pay stubs carefully.
In 1945, she worked 40 to 48 hours weekly at Illinois Glove, for an average of 44.3 hours per week. For the first five months of that year, she earned somewhere between 51 cents and 70 cents per hour doing piecework, for an average of 62 cents per hour. An inflation calculator reveals that 62 cents then is equivalent to $7.96 per hour today. Federal deductions was taken out of her pay, with the amount ranging from $1.80 to $6 per week.
Josephine kept a detailed account of her personal spending. House rent at 500 West Main Street in Teutopolis was $10 a month. That house stood in front of the location of the Subway shop today. Like many women, she did not own a car, and the charge for car fare to and from the factory was $2 a week. As gas and tires were rationed, carpooling was an essential part of the war effort.
A daily newspaper was an 8-cents-per-issue expense. Photographic prints from negatives were costly at 3 cents each. A bottle of nail polish ran 10 cents, as did a book of crochet patterns. She could watch a movie in a theater for 10 cents, but adding refreshments increased the cost of an evening out to 38 cents. The charge for a filling at the dentist was $1.
The price tag of a perm was $4, but the chemicals in it were strong enough that she could count on curly hair for months. The outlay for a shampoo and finger wave was 35 cents, but afterward she was set for a week, as ladies did not wash their hair daily.
Not all Effingham women employed in the 1940s were teachers, nurses or secretaries. Work at Illinois Glove met the needs of many, and they served their country as well.
Sources: Interview with Florence Koester 3/2/2018; Josephine Hatke notebooks and union materials; "Effingham Glove Plant Workers Given Bonuses," Decatur Herald 12/22/42; "AF of L Head to Speak at Effingham," Decatur Herald 12/26/42.