CHICAGO — A portrait of one of the Clinton women who wiped grime from railroad locomotives during World War II is featured in a new exhibition at the Chicago History Museum, “Railroaders: Jack Delano’s Homefront Photography.”
She is Dorothy (Stevens) Lucke, who was born in 1909 in Clinton, was married here in 1930 to Albert Lucke, and died here in 1986, a few months after her second marriage to Isaac Leslie. Her family and friends called her by her first husband’s name until the end of her life.
Lucke’s daughter, Diane Johnson, recalls that her mother’s “pay was decent, she had decent hours. All she did was climb around the engines and clean them. But she got dirty.” Delano’s photograph makes the point about the grease and grime Clinton’s female engine wipers put up with as railroads’ equivalent of Rosie the Riveter, the iconic World War II woman worker.
Clinton’s Rosies worked for the Chicago & North Western Railway, taking care of engines that ran to and from Chicago. They filled in for men who enlisted or were drafted into the armed services. The C&NW also hired women at Boone and Council Bluffs in Iowa, Chicago and Proviso in Illinois, and Madison, Green Bay and Milwaukee in Wisconsin. When the war ended, they lost their jobs to returning servicemen.
Delano made a number of photographs in Clinton’s rail yards as part of an assignment to tell the nation’s railroad story for the federal Office of War Information in 1942-1943. He was told to emphasize workers over railroad equipment to show that hard work like Dorothy Lucke’s was essential to winning the war. Today his 3,000 railroad photographs constitute the largest concentrated body of images about railroads and their workers taken in less than a year. The pictures are in the Library of Congress and can be viewed online.