"All Woman Sawmill" Topic for Lecture at Fox State Forest

March 21, 2007


Amanda Nickerson, Communications Specialist
Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests
(603) 224-9945, ext. 301


"All Woman Sawmill" Topic for 2nd in Series at Fox State Forest

HILLSBOROUGH, N.H. March 12, 2007 — “I never talked about it, because when I did, no one would believe me,” says Barbara Webber, one of a dozen women hired by the US Forest Service in 1942 to help saw up trees downed by the Hurricane of 1938. You can hear her homegrown version of the “Rosie the Riveter” story on Tuesday, March 27 from 7 to 8:30 pm at Fox State Forest in Hillsborough. In the second presentation of the 2007 Cottrell/Baldwin Lecture Series, UNH Cooperative Extension forest industry specialist Sarah Smith will present “They Sawed Up A Storm: The Post-1938 Hurricane Salvage Operations.” Her slide presentation will tell the story of how a group of local mothers, daughters, and sisters came to operate an “all-woman” sawmill on the shores of Turkey Pond in Concord.

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and the New Hampshire Division of Forest and Lands are co-sponsoring the series. For more information, please call 603-224-9945 or visit www.forestsociety.org.

The devastating hurricane that roared up the east coast back in 1938 left 600 people dead and $400 million in property damage in its wake. According to Smith, it was one of the most destructive storms to ever hit New England, flattening 15 million acres of forest. In response, the federal government initiated a huge salvage operation. It was before the time of widespread use of chain saws or mechanized skidders. Consequently, it would be several years before residents could cut their way out of the tangle of toppled timber using their handsaws and oxen. Nevertheless, so much wood was cut that it had to be stored in ponds until mill workers could cut it into usable lumber. According to Smith, Turkey Pond in Concord received the largest deposit of logs anywhere — 12 million board feet of white pine.

However by 1942, with World War II well underway, not enough able-bodied men were available to process the wood. In desperation, the US Forest Service decided to copy other wartime industries that were hiring women. They built a sawmill “designed to be operated by women” on the pond’s north side. They recruited a dozen women from the families of local sawmill workers, including Barbara Webber, who was 23 at the time, and her 18-year old sister Norma. “They thought of it as something interesting to do while their boyfriends went to war,” reports Smith. Nevertheless, the group worked hard and never missed a day, no matter what the weather. Smith’s presentation will include photos from scrapbooks kept by the female sawyers, along with tales of the unique trials and tribulations they underwent.

The Cottrell/Baldwin Lecture Series will continue on Tuesday, April 10th, when the Great Marlow Fire of 1941 — another, less beneficial result of the same hurricane — will be the topic. Historian and producer Tracy Messer will present his documentary about this historic conflagration that burned across 24,000 acres in three days, without the loss of one human life.

The series will conclude on April 24th with a presentation by Dr. Allen Koop from the Dartmouth College History Department, entitled “Stark Decency": A World War II German Prison Camp in New Hampshire.” The Cottrell/Baldwin Environmental Lecture Series at Fox State Forest honors the environmental, conservation, and scholarly legacies of the late conservationists Annette and Bill Cottrell and the late state forester Henry Baldwin. The series is proudly co-sponsored by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands, and is held annually at Fox State Forest in Hillsborough.

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests is the state’s oldest and largest non-profit land conservation organization. In order to preserve the quality of life New Hampshire residents know today, the goal of the Forest Society, in partnership with other conservation organizations, private landowners, and government, is to conserve an additional one million acres of the state’s most significant natural lands for trails, parks, farms and forests by 2026.