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Oral-History:Edythe Baker

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About Edythe Baker

Baker had spent 11 years working at the electrical engineering department at MIT, and had just finished typing 12 or 13 volumes of Principles of Electrical Engineering, when she went to work at the Rad Lab in 1940 as assistant to Dr. DuBridge. She ran his office, setting up appointments, handling correspondence, in charge of the secretaries. DuBridge was a friendly person, and the atmosphere in his office and in the Rad Lab in general was harmonious. After the war she followed DuBridge to Caltech, and spent the rest of her career there working for him and Millikan.

About the Interview

EDYTHE BAKER: An Interview Conducted by Frederik Nebeker (with some comments by Carol Cooper), IEEE History Center, 2 August 1991

Interview # 123 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Edythe Baker, an oral history conducted in 1991 by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

Interview: Edythe Baker (with Carol Cooper)

Interviewed by: Rik Nebeker

Place: Home of Edythe Baker, Pasadena, CA

Date: August 2, 1991

Education and Recruitment to Rad Lab

Nebeker:

This is the 2nd of August 1991. I'm at the home of Edythe Baker in Pasadena, California. This is Rik Nebeker. I'd like to begin by asking you about your background, your education and training, before coming to the Radiation Laboratory.

Baker:

I was working in the electrical engineering department at MIT for 11 years, when Professor Edward L. Bowles introduced me to Dr. DuBridge. Later he asked if I would like to work in Rad Lab.

Nebeker:

Now the Rad Lab actually started in the fall of '40, as I recall.

Baker:

Yes. It officially had a name by that time. I think getting it together, talking about it, and introducing physicists throughout the country, and so on, began earlier.

Nebeker:

So from the very beginning you were recommended as secretary to Dr. DuBridge.

Baker:

Yes. At the time they felt it might last, five or six months, possibly a year. So no one knew, until it had a name and a future and a home.

Nebeker:

Were you uncertain about whether to accept that position?

Baker:

No. I was willing and ready.

Nebeker:

You knew it was an important position?

Baker:

Yes. It was a new challenge. I had just finished typing 12 or 13 volumes of Principles of Electrical Engineering at MIT. That took three years because in his books we saved spaces for diagrams and things like that. So I had finished off that. The timing was fine for me.

Nebeker:

I see. So from the very beginning you worked as Dr. DuBridge's secretary?

Baker:

Yes.

Early Days at Rad Lab

Nebeker:

What do you recall of that beginning period, the organizing of the Laboratory? It must have been very hectic with such a big recruiting program going on?

Baker:

Well, it was. There were people who asked if they could join. The president of General Radio in Cambridge, had an office opposite mine. We were both next to Dr. DuBridge. Easton, I think, wanted an offer, and they were happy to have him. I'm not sure, but this is the way it seemed to be. I was the only secretary there for the first four months. So you can see that it took a bit of time of gathering the people together.

Nebeker:

That must have meant there was plenty for you to do.

Baker:

Yes. [Laughter] I was willing and eager.

Nebeker:

You were also the only woman at Rad Lab in those first four months?

Baker:

I'm not sure. I know I was the only secretary.

Nebeker:

I see.

Baker:

There may have been one or two.

Nebeker:

There weren't many women in physics or engineering.

Baker:

There weren't many women of that caliber. Later there were, of course.

Nebeker:

Can you describe Dr. DuBridge's work in those first months?

Baker:

Well, I wish I could, but he was in his own office, and I was in mine, each performing our own duties. The appointments and things like that.

Nebeker:

Were you in charge of setting up appointments for Dr. DuBridge?

Baker:

Yes.

Nebeker:

Did you handle his correspondence?

Baker:

Yes.

Nebeker:

Now of course this was a secret matter in those years. Radar was top secret. Do you remember the security requirements? Did that cause problems for you?

Baker:

Not for me, no.

Nebeker:

Did papers, letters and so on, for Dr. DuBridge go through you first?

Baker:

Oh, probably. I opened mail, of course. We had an IN box and an OUT box, and nothing left the two boxes, mine or his. I would put them in his IN box, and take what he had for me to do from the OUT box.

Nebeker:

If he wrote a letter, would he write it out or dictate it? How did that go usually?

Baker:

Well, before too long we had three girls in the office. Betty Vaughan — now Betty Scotney — took over as typist and transcriber. The other two were Peggy Ahern and Bobbie Mason. So there were these three who shared whatever needed to be done.

Nebeker:

I see.

Baker:

My memory is a little vague about the early days.

Nebeker:

Yes. Well, let's talk about Rad Lab as a whole, the entire period that you were there. Can you describe your work routine? What was it that you were giving most of your time to?

Baker:

I kept track of what the other three girls were to work on.

Access to DuBridge

Nebeker:

Did you take phone calls for Dr. DuBridge?

Baker:

I'm afraid so, there were so many.

Nebeker:

Do you remember that you had to screen phone calls?

Baker:

No. Once we were inside the closed doors of Radiation Laboratory buildings themselves, it was not necessary. If outsiders come in and want to talk about something, why, you did.

Nebeker:

If people wanted to call Dr. DuBridge, they could get through? He wasn't so swamped with telephone calls that they had to be screened?

Baker:

No. They were cleared through my office as a whole. He would make his own phone calls whenever he wanted to. Any coming in to him, I think, cleared through my line.

Nebeker:

Was he so busy that it was difficult for people to talk, to make an appointment to see him?

Baker:

No. It wasn't. He was a very, very friendly person. He was always ready to listen and to help. He would drop what he was doing and come back to it later. He was a very good person to work for and with.

Nebeker:

Did he have certain times in which people from Rad Lab could just come in and talk with him?

Baker:

There were certain professors whom I knew who could say, "Is he in?" or something like that. It was perfectly all right. I would know by the person. I'd buzz him and say, "Dr. Bainbridge is here." It was more informal, it seemed, than it would be if you were doing a variety of research. We had the one subject of radar. That was it, what we were all working toward. It made it a little bit easier, you see. There weren't people coming in for other things as a rule.

Nebeker:

Yes. I'm just wondering how pressed he was by phone calls and people wanting to see him and correspondence to be answered, that sort of thing.

Baker:

I suppose there would be moments. But as a rule things ran smooth.

Nebeker:

If someone wanted to talk with him, would he make an appointment to see him at a certain time? Or would he generally be able to come in right away?

Baker:

It depended upon who was with him.

DuBridge's Correspondence and Filing

Nebeker:

What was the practice with correspondence? If DuBridge sent out a letter, it would be typed by one of you in the office there? Is that right?

Baker:

Yes.

Nebeker:

Would a copy be kept?

Baker:

A copy. I suppose in those days there were carbons, carbon paper. We always kept copies of everything. Toward the end of the Rad Lab, I worked with the archives getting what papers that I had into some sort of form, and they took over. I am a saver rather than tosser. I'm afraid I gave them a little bit more than they needed. However, now and again they were happy to have received these.

Nebeker:

How were letters filed there, do you recall? I assume you kept the letters that came in, and you kept, copies of the letters that went out. Do you recall how they were filed? Chronologically or by the writer? Or by subject perhaps?

Baker:

I'm afraid we all had access, but we also all knew the subject headings. As they grew, we improved the system, I suppose. I know in five years it was an awful lot of material.

Nebeker:

Do you recall that as a problem, that the files were growing — outgrowing — the office maybe? There were just so many papers to deal with?

Baker:

No, I think there were safes and four three-drawer files. I suppose I invented the filing system in the first four months. After that, we made adjustments so there were more of them. I don't remember exactly how we did it.

Nebeker:

I have not been to see the archives. I know that the Rad Lab archives exist. I don't imagine you have looked at those since 1946?

Baker:

No, I haven't been back. I haven't been back to MIT or Rad Lab at all. I've been back East five times in the years I've been out here, but I haven't been to Cambridge. My home is 23 miles south of Boston.

Nebeker:

I see. Were you doing work for any of the other professors there at Rad Lab, or did you work strictly for Dr. DuBridge?

Secretarial Handbook

Baker:

No, I worked strictly in the director's headquarters. But there were little odd jobs that we all had: getting a driver to take Dr. DuBridge somewhere. I don't know that this is relevant, but in my box of papers I found that I had written a secretaries' handbook. I can't reread it. I have muscular degeneration, and I haven't thumbed through it. I don't know whether it was just my girls or how far it went. But from that, a person would know what we did there.

Nebeker:

I see. So that was for the Radiation Laboratory, a secretaries' handbook?

Baker:

Well, there were more than four. It's just a personal copy.

Nebeker:

Right. I mean this manuscript you wrote, this secretaries' handbook, that was for Radiation Laboratory?

Baker:

Radiation Laboratory only. I don't know if any of those are in existence. I don't remember mailing any of them to you. I don't know what it entailed. I'm not sure whether I picked up these procedures or invented them as I went along.

Nebeker:

I see. This is very interesting. It's dated April 15, 1944, entitled Handbook for Secretaries. I haven't seen this before. Now you're listed here as assistant to the director. Was that your official title in those years?

Baker:

Yes.

Office Harmony

Nebeker:

Just so that I understand clearly, your function was running that office? You had three other secretaries, you say?

Baker:

In Dr. DuBridge's office, yes. There were four all together.

Nebeker:

How would you describe your job? What sort of a job description could you give after the fact? You were supervising the work of the three other secretaries? Is that true?

Baker:

Yes. They were sharp, and they didn't need a great deal of supervision. We all worked out things together, as we went along. This is in the book. This is the picture. I'm the one on the left. I look tired. That's two of the secretaries. Bobbie wasn't there at the time.

Nebeker:

Was that a harmonious office?

Baker:

Yes. As a matter of fact, Rad Lab itself was harmonious. Everybody knew that it was something important, that it would end. They had time to take a breath when it was over. Bobbie Mason's husband was in the Navy, and she wanted something to do. It never got too hectic. We shared.

Secrecy at Rad Lab

Nebeker:

I see here that you did have the division of all materials into classified and unclassified. The classified was categorized as secret, confidential, or restricted. But you say you don't recall that as being a great nuisance, the security measures there?

Baker:

No because we knew everybody who came in the office. We would confront them if there were any problems.

Nebeker:

Do you recall how the documents were classified as secret, confidential, or restricted? If a letter came in, whose decision was it where that would be placed? Do you recall?

Baker:

Well, it was stamped "SECRET." Ours were classified by the time they came to us. We didn't have anything to do with the classifications.

Nebeker:

So a letter to Dr. DuBridge would already have been looked at by some security officer and classified?

Baker:

No, it didn't have to clear anywhere.

Nebeker:

I'm just wondering where in the process this stamp on the letter occurred? You say that the letters already had a stamp "SECRET" or whatever when it arrived?

Baker:

The incoming ones.

Nebeker:

That means that somebody must have already made that classification before it got to your office?

Baker:

If it came from outside. Or inside.

Nebeker:

This is a very interesting book. One of the things people are very interested in is the flow of information, and I can see there's a lot of it contained in here.

Baker:

As it says in the book, I had the windows painted when I came from MIT proper. When I came over to Rad Lab, I noticed that the windows showed stuff in there. Somebody tells me that it was classified and secret material and so forth. So I thought, why don't you paint it?

Nebeker:

So was that your suggestion that the windows be painted?

Baker:

The windows were painted.

Nebeker:

I see.

Baker:

When I was taught what radar was, things were clearer. I learned certain terms where not to be repeated. For example when the radio detection range left and the white cliffs of Dover, and bounced back, that was 10 centimeters. When the target was hit, it lost strength in its return. The difference, I guess, was 10 centimeters. So you weren't supposed to say, "10 centimeters" to anybody outside.

Cooper:

Yes, that's what I was getting at. There were two words that were never to be spoken. No one was ever to know what they were working on was 10 centimeters. Because if the people who were working on something similar in Germany got those two words — hah! the whole thing might click.

Nebeker:

Well, 10 centimeters is the wavelength of the radiation that's being pulsed out and received. But I know that that's crucial information because it tells what range of the spectrum is being used for the radar.

Baker:

Yes. And that's where radar got its name. A lot of people don't know that.

Cooper:

That was their password.

Nebeker:

I see. [Laughter]

Cooper:

Because I've lived with it a long time, I'm only trying to help you out.

Work Organization and Atmosphere

Nebeker:

Let me ask you about the atmosphere at Radiation Laboratory. You've said that the office that you worked in was harmonious and that the entire Laboratory seemed that way to you?

Baker:

When the girls I worked with and others arrived, we had little get-togethers. It was always friendly. No one was vying for best position, or wanting to climb, or asking for increases. It was the thing to just work hard and get the job done. We didn't know then, of course, the length of time it would be. But very few would want to leave. As I say, there were always people asking if they could come, if there was something they could do. See, it was the end of the Depression, in '38 or '39. It grew slowly at the beginning. I didn't, of course, meet all the girls as the Lab got too big. It was impossible.

Nebeker:

Did you have anything to do with the hiring of secretaries at Rad Lab?

Baker:

No. I think that I may have hired them after they were screened. There must have been a personnel office that they would have to go to.

Nebeker:

But you did talk to prospective employees at times and then advise on who should be hired?

Baker:

There were only about 40 in the beginning. Some of them were the key professors.

Nebeker:

Of course the Laboratory grew to a few thousand employees, so that they were must have been a large number of secretaries who came to work there.

Baker:

Oh, yes.

Nebeker:

But you weren't involved in the selection?

Baker:

I wasn't involved in the selection of the other offices' help. No, as I understand it, the Lab grew to about 5,000.

Nebeker:

Yes. The executive office where you worked consisted of who?

Baker:

There were at least Dr. DuBridge and I in the beginning. I suppose it grew. F. Wheeler Loomis was his assistant. He was the next one in the office. It was fortunate that they were able to attract the people that they got to do the work. It was so much different from industry or Cal Tech, which has innumerable projects, of course, going on. This was one subject.

Nebeker:

How was it different from industry?

Baker:

Focusing on one project. But it wasn't so much that it was secret; we'd enjoy that. We just wanted to contribute to the war effort in some way, and this is the way we could do it. These people were from Lexington and Arlington. They were all in outer Boston and had heard of this. Of course everyone knew about MIT, and this was supposed to be connected with MIT. I don't know anything about having to advertise. We recruited by word of mouth.

Nebeker:

None of the secretaries in the executive office quit the job because she was dissatisfied?

Baker:

Oh, no.

Nebeker:

Was the pace of work very intense?

Baker:

No, but it was steady.

Nebeker:

What about the hours of work? Were they regular?

Baker:

Eight to five. If anyone had to stay over to finish anything, to help a person, or to help her boss, they were willing. We worked Saturdays. We worked all holidays but Christmas.

Nebeker:

Is that right!

Baker:

So you see, they themselves became very interested. It was catching. .

Nebeker:

How did you feel about the fact that it turned out to be such a long-term job?

Baker:

Well, I didn't mind.

Nebeker:

You liked what you were doing?

Baker:

I liked it, yes. I was always contented and willing. I was only sorry that I had to commute. I walked to the station, spent three quarters of an hour on the train, and took the subway to Kendall Square. I then walked from Kendall Square to MIT. I stayed three different places when I worked at Rad Lab. I moved in with a friend on this side of Boston by the Cambridge Bridge. Then I moved in with a French couple for a little while. Then I shared an apartment with Louise Goldie. She worked at the British branch of the Radiation Laboratory. She worked for Dr. Trump, who was a relative of the Trump. That was an interesting aspect of it. So when the commute got too much, I move in closer to the Lab.

Nebeker:

What was the social atmosphere like at Rad Lab? Were there many social activities outside of working hours?

Baker:

I think there were little groups of their own. There are two or three pictures in here that show them having a great chit-chat; a very happy, happy group. I didn't join them because I had to commute. Everybody was tired by the time the day was over. When I was living closer to Rad Lab, I didn't get involved much. But I'm sure there are people who did, who lived in this little area.

Nebeker:

This book also mentions that there were these informal groups of Rad Lab employees that were called "gangs." The word "Jolly Boys" and some others were named there. Did you see any of that in your work?

Baker:

No. I never heard that.

Nebeker:

What was your impression of how Rad Lab was as a work place for women?

Baker:

I don't know, I think it was good. I think highly of a lot of the key men who worked there and their secretaries. It was really just great! Because you see there were no needling, no jealousies, no unhappiness. They didn't overdo wanting to help. It was just smooth.

They didn't want ladies to dress glamorously.

But you couldn't wear shorts either. You can tell by all the pictures. Of course everybody smiles in a picture, but they really mean it. It really was a long-lasting memory of women working together. Comparisons may be odious, but compared with what women go business suit and the briefcase and flying and through today, with a $200 traveling, and their hair-dos, [Chuckling] things were much more sensible those days.

DuBridge as Boss

Nebeker:

I wonder if you could say a little bit more. You've said that there was a very good spirit at Rad Lab and that your office was a harmonious one. Could you say a little bit more about how it was to work for DuBridge?

Baker:

Oh, well, it was very pleasant. He was a fine man. He was friendly. He would go out for a walk and wave to the gardener. Anybody who wanted to see him just came by my desk and said, "Is he in?" I'd just buzz him and say, “It's so-and-so is here”. He always wanted them to come in. He was "hail fellow, well met" everywhere. He really was. In April of '45 or 46 he came back to Cal Tech. I followed in September of that same year and have been here ever since. I'm a New Englander, and I don't really leave New England too often. [Chuckling] I don't like to travel such a distance for any big length of time. But, as I say, I'm still here. But that's partially true because my family is kind of disappearing. But he was well liked wherever he went. He went with Nixon for a year and a half. I think his duties here were over anyway. He was a wonderful man to follow Robert Millikan. Robert Millikan had been here 22 years, and Dr. DuBridge, 24. The combination of those two was real good because no one was so well liked. Of course Dr. DuBridge found it little bit harder to get going with the war over. But he really was a wonderful gentleman.

Nebeker:

So did he ask you if you would be his secretary when he accepted the position here?

Baker:

Yes. I was going over to England for a couple of weeks and asked if I could wait until I got back to make a decision. Then he asked me, and I said, "Well, I think I might." "Oh, my goodness!" he said. "your enthusiasm." [Chuckling] But it all worked out. It all worked out just great.

Nebeker:

Another question about the office atmosphere: Was he fairly relaxed generally? Or was he very demanding on the others of you in the office?

Baker:

Oh, no. You couldn't use the word "demanding."

Nebeker:

At times of stress he kept his cool, as they say? Do you recall a particularly stressful time?

Baker:

Oh, there may have been one or two when I knew, or just sensed, that it wasn't a good get-together with somebody. But it couldn't be more than twice.

Nebeker:

Did he display anger on many occasions toward people in the office?

Baker:

I've never seen him angry.

Nebeker:

Is that right!

Baker:

I've never seen him angry. I met his mother, and I met his father, and watched the two children grow up.

Nebeker:

How about the atmosphere here at Cal Tech as compared to Rad Lab? I'm thinking about the immediate postwar period here compared to Rad Lab. Was it a very different feeling in working for DuBridge at the two places?

Baker:

No, I think it was more or less the same. He was highly respected, well liked. As I said, he was easy to work with and for.

Nebeker:

So it wasn't like there was a very clear wartime atmosphere and then a very different atmosphere when you moved here to Cal Tech?

Baker:

Oh, I suppose the pace was a little different. There were so many different jobs. Things to be picked up from Dr. Millikan and take them into his hands. I'm afraid I don't express myself very well.

Nebeker:

No, I think that's clear. You've said that things were fairly informal within Rad Lab. So that a person, as far as you could see, didn't have to follow certain channels of chain of command in communicating. Or that there were very clear protocols for requesting things.

Baker:

Pretty much. If someone wanted to see Dr. DuBridge and I thought they should see someone else, I would suggest it. Or he would see Dr. DuBridge and Dr. DuBridge would chat and send him somewhere else. But mostly they knew who to see.