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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.