Josephine: From Washington Working Girl to Fisherman's Wife, a Memoir: 1917-1959

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During World War I, before women had the right to vote in America, a young Josephine Lehman Thomas answered the patriotic call from Washington, D.C. and became one of the pioneering “government girls,” leaving her home in Michigan for adventure in the nation's capital. Through explored diaries and letters, her daughter, Margaret Thomas Buchholz, gives us an amazing chronicle of a trailblazing woman. Josephine worked for legendary journalist Lowell Thomas and traveled the world until the Great Depression dropped ...
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During World War I, before women had the right to vote in America, a young Josephine Lehman Thomas answered the patriotic call from Washington, D.C. and became one of the pioneering “government girls,” leaving her home in Michigan for adventure in the nation's capital. Through explored diaries and letters, her daughter, Margaret Thomas Buchholz, gives us an amazing chronicle of a trailblazing woman. Josephine worked for legendary journalist Lowell Thomas and traveled the world until the Great Depression dropped her and her new family, struggling to get by, on an island off the coast of New Jersey.

This fascinating personal history reveals the optimism of the early 20th Century, the emerging professional woman, the thrill of adventure travel and a sense of success, followed by the crash of the economy, losing everything, and ultimately happiness in a simple life by the sea.

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What People Are Saying

Frederic D. Schwarz
Josephine is an amazingly good writer whose work deserves to be read.
—Frederic D. Schwarz, former Senior Editor, American Heritage Magazine
Laura Shaine Cunningham
Margaret Buchholz's loving account of her mother's adventures from World War I until the 1950s, paints a beautiful portrait of a woman ahead of her time, and the deep mother/daughter relationship and their shared bond to Barnegat Bay. Josephine was one of the pioneering women "government girls" in D.C. After the war, she worked as a writer/researcher for the famous travel author and radio personality, Lowell Thomas, before she took up island life as a fisherman's wife. Margaret Buchholz's prose flows with the hypnotic ebb of the tides and I found myself mesmerized as well as charmed.
— Laura Shaine Cunningham, author of the memoirs Sleeping Arrangements and A Place in the Country.
Mary Walton
From the colorful and beautifully written diaries of her mother Josephine Lehman, framed by her own painstaking research, Margaret Buchholz has crafted a luminous biography of a spirited woman and her journey through the first half of the 20th century. Life dealt Josephine both extraordinary opportunities and devastating setbacks, and she navigated them all with panache. I loved reading this book.
— Mary Walton, author of A Woman's Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot.
Krysta Harden
The words and thoughts of gifted letter-writer and diarist, Josephine Lehman, capture the excitement and challenges of women working in Washington, DC during WWI. Jo was a true trailblazer when she answered the call for patriotic young women to work in our Nation's capital during a time of uncertainty and turmoil. I loved hearing firsthand about Jo's adventures and experiences. Even though her words were written during another time, they are relevant and timely today. Washington has changed a great deal for the female government employee and we owe our start to brave and exciting women like Jo.
—Krysta Harden, 21st Century "Government Girl"
Helene Stapinski
Through diaries, letters, dogged research and a keen, exacting memory, Buchholz writes the book her mother might have written had she not had children. In a marvelous reversal of nature, a daughter gives life to a mother.
—Helene Stapinski, author of Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781593220624
  • Publisher: Down The Shore Publishing
  • Publication date: 7/15/2012
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,523,783
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

MARGARET THOMAS BUCHHOLZ is co-author of Great Storms of the Jersey Shore, New Jersey Shipwrecks: 350 Years in the Graveyard of the Atlantic, and editor of Shore Chronicles: Diaries and Travelers Tales from the Jersey Shore 1764-1955. Her essays about the Shore have also been included in anthologies and collections. Buchholz was publisher of the Long Beach Island newspaper The Beachcomber from 1955 to 1987 and is still an editor. She currently lives year-round in her childhood home (described in this book) in Harvey Cedars, New Jersey, on Barnegat Bay, where her family has been coming since 1833.
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Read an Excerpt

On February 21, 1918, Jo went to work at the War Department's massive three-story temporary building on the Mall. It faced B Street, now Constitution Avenue. Until the end of May, when she was transferred to the shell-loading division as a private stenographer, she maintained a hectic schedule and rarely stayed home more than one evening a week. Jo always found time to write in her diary, however, and often typed both entries and letters at the office. She inserted the long letters into her diary, and sometimes apologized to the recipient for the carbon, explaining that she needed a copy for her diary.

A few days later, my mother transcribed her diary into a long letter to her parents, who, unknown to her, passed it on to her former boss at the Sentinel. He wrote a patriotic introduction and gave it page one space:

Thousands of American girls are flocking to Washington to do their part in the winning of the war. To many of them, the experience of the journey to the nation's capital and the sights of the feverish wartime activities, which are the life of Washington today, are new. The experience of one of these girls is the experience of all, and in the following letter Miss Josephine Lehman has voiced the thoughts that must have come to a great army of those who have gone there with the same aim. ... It is not a letter from just one young woman, but a letter from the composite type of true young American womanhood which finds its expression in the massing of thousands of individuals in the great heart of the Union.

February 24: Heah Ah am, and it appeahs that if Ah stay heah ve'y long A'll jes nach'lly talk like this all the time. I just love it here!

At the station I obtained the address of a rooming house only two blocks from the depot but I didn't want to attempt getting lost so let a taxicab driver soak me for forty cents. The house was overflowing, but the lady of the house was kind enough to rout out a lieutenant and he carried down a small bed so she could bunk me in the parlor, which I considered extremely kind of her. Thanked the Lord I am gifted with an iron constitution so managed to get up for a formal breakfast and report to work by nine o'clock.

I was sworn into the Civil Service and sent over to the ordnance war building for work. A thin, middle-aged man and a big, young man argued over which should get me, both wanting a stenographer with business experience. I watched the fray in silence, mentally rooting for the young man. He won. My job is in the supply division of the ordnance department. The building is a mammoth new one and I have to have a pass to get in and out. This is the hardest department to work in, as they are so busy. The girls don't get many holidays but pay and promotions are good.

The government room registration office sent me to 1415 Massachusetts Avenue and I can't tell you how much I like it. The people who run it are real southerners, something like the old aristocracy one reads about. They have a daughter, Margaret Dudley, as pretty as her name and one of the sweetest girls I ever met. She has a southern accent, in fact, almost everybody does.

We have twenty-three girls living here, two, three, or four to a room, so don't worry about my being lonely. The rooms are large, so we don't mind it. I have two others in my room, Miss Dell Brokaw from Illinois, a tall, stunning blond and awfully dear, and Miss Grace Leonard from New York, also a big girl, with the most beautiful gown you ever saw. They call us the “Big Four Minus One,” “Amazons” and other endearing names. All the girls are the finest kind, splendid, and very congenial. They are pretty and have stylish clothes. We take our breakfasts and dinners here and lunch downtown. No one eats supper here. Negro servants serve dinner in courses, clear from soup to dessert and finger bowls. We have a piano and Victrola downstairs which we can use any time and the girls in the next room have a ukulele.

And soldiers! There are about fifteen camps within a short radius of Washington. It seems the soldiers I have seen would make an army big enough to demolish the Kaiser in a day — Sailors, Marines, aviators, cavalry, infantry and artillerymen, plain desk-holder-downs and many IWTGBCs. The initials stand for a certain order, which is going to petition to wear buttons that say “I Want To Go But Can't.”

Our house is a three-story brick and stone residence fronted with turrets and bay windows, situated high on a tree-lined terrace looking down six streets diverging from Thomas Circle, just a few minutes ride from work by electric car. It has old-fashioned furniture, grandfather clocks, big mirrors, cozy corners and fireplaces galore. It seems just like a college dormitory. On Saturday nights Miss “Mahgahret,” as the servants call her, gives dances and invites enough young men to go around. We roll back the living room rugs, or drawing room, as they call it, and have piano and Victrola music and refreshments and the entire wherewithal to make a real party. The German Embassy is next door; the joke is that it's the only empty building in Washington.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 20, 2013

    Even if you didn¿t grow up on the Jersey Shore (or more specific

    Even if you didn’t grow up on the Jersey Shore (or more specifically, on Long Beach Island), and even if you aren’t a woman (or more specifically, an ambitious woman who likes to write), and even if you aren’t obsessed with American history (or more specifically, the evolving roles of women in America from the early 1900s to the present), I still think you will like this book.
    Margaret Thomas Buchholz, or “Pooch,” as she is known to her friends, has put together a page-turning biography/memoir about the fascinating life of her mother, Josephine Lehman Thomas.  The subtitle, From Washington Working Girl to Fisherman’s Wife, is the only thing I don’t love about this book because it’s such an understatement.  It’s true that Josephine went from a Michigan farm town to various desk jobs in Washington, DC and eventually married a fisherman (well, sort of: after the Crash, he decided to use what was supposed to have been a recreational boat as a way to feed his family).  But she also became a ghostwriter for several famous authors, traveled all over the world, and had numerous adventures, which she described with great wit and clarity in journals and letters.
    Fortunately for us, Josephine was a packrat, and when Pooch moved into her parents’ house in Harvey Cedars, she found in the attic a vast trove of writing that would reveal more about her mother than she ever knew.
    Some people might have opened those boxes, read a few letters, and done nothing with them.  Instead, Pooch—most definitely her mother’s daughter—has produced a book that is truly a gift.
    Reviewed by Sarah Tantillo @OnlyGoodBooks Blog.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2013

    A memoir that not only give us an intimate look at an adventurou

    A memoir that not only give us an intimate look at an adventurous young woman who had two very different careers, but also allows us an opportunity to grow up with her daughter who was raised on Long beach Island. Even though this story can be can be viewed as
    two parts of her mother's life, we really can not have one without the other. As I read this book I found myself realizing the bond Ms.Buchholz shared with her mother was really a reflection that anyone of us could share with a parent or parents. We form strong bonds to places that leave a mark on our lives. Long Beach Island was one of these places for Josephine and her family.

    An insightful and thought provoking book. An enjoyable read. A story that induced an opportunity for me to reflect on my own memories.

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