Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Working Girls' Dorm

Former residents of the Working Girls Dorm at
reunion dinner (2012)
Working Girls' Dorm

Location: 510 South Kansas Avenue, Topeka, Kansas, USA

Opened: 1949

Closed: Mid 1950s? Later?

From the Topeka Capital-Journal, May 29, 2012:

The dorm, 510 S. Kansas Ave., was started in 1949 after the YWCA ran out of room. For $10 a week, 40 girls at a time had room and board.

Laura Hobrock, who lived in the working girls’ dorm for more than three years in the early 1950s, made about $100 a month working in a state office. While the $10 a week rent was sometimes difficult to make, she said, it was still very reasonable.

For the dozen women who met Tuesday for their 10th anniversary gathering at McFarland’s restaurant, 4113 S.W. Huntoon, the dorm was the only way they were able to move to Topeka for work. All of them came from small Kansas communities, from Valley Falls to Osage City and even farther, and the dorm provided a safe environment, as well as camaraderie.

There was always someone to go with you to a movie at the Gem Theater. At a furniture store across the street you could listen to records for free. And the restaurants, the women say, were wonderful.

Hobrock said Evelyn Cox, who the girls called “Mom Cox,” always knew what the girls were doing and what shifts they worked. Her room was right inside the dorm’s door, and her door was never closed. The girls always knew when they were getting too loud, because Mom Cox would whistle.

The flood of 1951? Some of these women remember going up on the roof of a tall downtown building to look at the rising water and hear men evacuating the area near S. Kansas and 3rd, just a couple of blocks away, over megaphones.

Others can tell stories of the labor strike at the Bell Telephone Co. in 1953. Leone Harries had only just started work at the company and hadn’t known there was a union, so she crossed the picket line to go to work. Vi Sklenicka, too, worked there and had to find a way to avoid the angry crowd of workers on strike.

“I couldn’t understand why people were calling me such horrible things,” Sklenicka said, shaking her head.

Other girls at the dorm worked for The Topeka Daily Capital, Capper’s, Hallmark and state offices, or attended Clark’s Business School.

Most girls stayed in the dorm until they got married. Hobrock had several roommates leave her before it was finally her turn to leave one and head down the aisle.

These women now try to have a reunion twice a year — once after Memorial Day and once after Labor Day — to reminisce about their days in the dorm. They hope that publicizing the reunions will draw in more women with fond memories of old friends.

Another interesting fact? There was only one telephone, a pay phone, for the entire dorm.

“One phone among 40 girls,” said Vesta Gwaltney, laughing.

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