Women Workers and Housing Issues

Glen M. Leonard
History of Davis County

During World War II, many Utah women joined the civilian forces at defense plants and military installations. They worked as drivers, guards, ammunition inspectors, safety specialists, machinists, and in other traditionally male jobs. For most women, this was their first job outside the home. They went to work in slacks, a new phenomenon for American women. Other women volunteered in hospitals, helped the Red Cross or USO, or cared for children whose mothers were working. Utah’s newspapers joined the plea for women workers, reminding them that it was their patriotic duty to apply for the positions at the military depots. Women responded in such great numbers that by 1944 they constituted thirty-seven percent of the Utah labor force, double the percentage of four years earlier. Even with this government work for men and women, agriculture remained a dominant way of life—and women retained primary responsibility for housework and the care of young children. On-site nurseries offered help at many government facilities.

While the defense jobs attracted thousands of local and transplanted workers, many positions at the military installations remained unfilled. Farms experienced a similar labor shortage, caused largely by the loss of farm workers to high-paying defense jobs. To compensate for the loss, government agencies increased wartime food production quotas on the farms and helped recruit farm laborers. In 1942, for example, sixty-six Japanese Americans from a relocation camp in Arizona helped with the tomato and beet harvest in Davis County. Two years later, the county commissioners rented land in Layton and set up a farm labor camp for around 200 Mexican nationals. Some POWs from the Italian and German camps in Ogden also augmented farm labor.

Temporary workers moving in from other locations created an unprecedented demand for housing in the Davis-Weber region. Because living quarters were scarce, some local residents took in single workers as boarders. Apartments were developed hastily in basements or spare rooms, and even in chicken coops. To prevent profiteering in what was a nationwide housing shortage, Congress froze rents in July 1942. New accommodations were rushed to completion to fill the local need. In the Layton area, private landowners developed the Hill Villa, Skyline, and Ellison subdivisions. When these failed to meet the need, the government shipped in 300 trailer homes to create the twenty-acre Layton Trailer Park on Easy Street (Hill Field Road, on land later developed as the Layton Hills Mall). Prefabricated Quonset huts were built at the Naval Supply Depot as dormitories for single men. New government villages appeared almost overnight to house families who could not find housing—200 units at Anchorage in the Clearfield area; 400 at Verdeland Park, just east of downtown Layton; a similar number at Arsenal Villa in Sunset; and 600 multiplex apartments at Sahara Village near Hill Field’s south gate. Some of the government housing was built over the protests of local homebuilders and property owners, but more than half of all new housing was privately built. Most of that was financed through loans from the Federal Housing Administration. To compensate for gasoline and automobile shortages, buses were provided to transport personnel to work from the satellite communities.

Typical of the temporary government homes were the 600 four-plex units built by the Federal Public Housing Authority at Sahara Village, a symmetrical assemblage near the south gate of Hill Field. For about thirty-four dollars a month, a renter got an apartment with a concrete floor in a painted cinderblock building. Each unit came with a coal heater, gas stove, gas water heater, and electric refrigerator, along with a table, four chairs, and single beds. Utilities and maintenance were provided at no extra cost. Serving the community of 1,800 residents were a grocery store, meat market, drug store, barber shop, beauty shop, tailor shop, weekly newspaper (the Sahara Star), and post office. Religious services, a children’s nursery, dances, and other recreational activities were available in a recreation hall within the village’s administration building. “Utah’s Fastest Growing Community,” as it was called, was created in the pattern of the company towns seen previously in Utah only in mining areas. Similar support services were available at the other government housing parks built to sustain the war effort.

Wartime military installations created a need for new schools. In the early 1940s the Davis School District built the Sahara Village, Verdeland Park, and Hilltop elementary schools in the Layton area and Wasatch Elementary in Clearfield. In 1939 the district had opened North Davis Junior High School in Clearfield and added a southwest classroom wing to Davis High School to serve increased enrollments.