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Meet the Babcocks: A Typical American War Worker’s Family

January 27th, 2013

The Babcocks, an American family. Rochester, NY. March, 1943. [PHOTO: Library of Congress]
Yesterday, the archival photo blog, Shorpy external link, shared a great photo of the Babcock family from Rochester NY. The image is one of a collection of 38 photographs external link by Ralph Amdursky for the U.S. Office of War Information. The series shows how the Babcocks, a “typical American war worker’s family,” lived in 1943 during the height of WWII…

Mr. Babcock is an air raid warden [PHOTO: Library of Congress]
A quick online search shows that Rochester is loaded with people named Babcock. Even a few local companies and a street in Brighton external link share the name. But I haven’t been able to figure out if the family in this photo series is 100% genuine. They sure are doing all they can to help the war effort. Mr. Babcock, is a plant supervisor and also serves as an air raid warden. He fishes with his sons and makes sure the family attends church every Sunday. Mom cooks, cleans, mends clothes, and grows all the vegetables the family eats. Shirley, the daughter, is studying to become a nurse and helps with household chores. And the boys, at least one of whom is a boy scout, make airplane models and learn how to tie knots. They are, at a glance, your typical American family, from your All-American City; Rochester, NY.

Mrs. Babcock doing the family washing with an electric washing machine and a wringer [PHOTO: Library of Congress]
Mrs. Babcock doing the family washing with an electric washing machine and a wringer.

Shirley Babcock at right in the front listening to a lecture with other student nurses [PHOTO: Library of Congress]
Shirley Babcock at right in the front listening to a lecture with other student nurses.

Earl Babcock watching while Howard, his brother, in his Boy Scout uniform, practices tying knots [PHOTO: Library of Congress]
Earl Babcock watching while Howard, his brother, in his Boy Scout uniform, practices tying knots.

Mr. Babcock explaining an operation to one of the men whom he supervises at the plant [PHOTO: Library of Congress]
As a war worker, Mr. Babcock is allowed enough gasoline to drive to work daily.

Mr. Babcock explaining an operation to one of the men whom he supervises at the plant [PHOTO: Library of Congress]
Mr. Babcock explaining an operation to one of the men whom he supervises at the plant.

The Babcocks attend church every Sunday morning [PHOTO: Library of Congress]
The Babcocks attend church every Sunday morning.

Mrs. Babcock, Shirley, and Earl greeting Mr. Babcock in front of the house [PHOTO: Library of Congress]
Mrs. Babcock, Shirley, and Earl greeting Mr. Babcock in front of the house.

Mr. Babcock and his two sons, Earl and Howard, fishing on Sunday afternoon [PHOTO: Library of Congress]
Mr. Babcock and his two sons, Earl and Howard, fishing on Sunday afternoon.

Mr. and Mrs. Babcock enjoy their garden and grow most of their own vegetables [PHOTO: Library of Congress]
Mr. and Mrs. Babcock enjoy their garden and grow most of their own vegetables.

The two Babcock boys having a little fun before going to sleep [PHOTO: Library of Congress]
The two Babcock boys having a little fun before going to sleep.

Howard and Earl Babcock playing in front of their house with their cycles [PHOTO: Library of Congress]
Howard and Earl Babcock playing in front of their house with their cycles.

Shirley helps Mrs. Babcock with the shopping. [PHOTO: Library of Congress]
Shirley helps Mrs. Babcock with the shopping.

Shirley Babcock is very handy at the sewing machine and she helps her mother with the family sewing [PHOTO: Library of Congress]
Shirley Babcock is very handy at the sewing machine and she helps her mother with the family sewing.

Earl Babcock's school day begins with the salute to the flag [PHOTO: Library of Congress]
Earl Babcock’s school day begins with the salute to the flag.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, January 27th, 2013 at 11:00 am and is filed under Art + Culture, Rochester History, Rochester Images. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

7 Responses to “Meet the Babcocks: A Typical American War Worker’s Family”

  1. Vicki says:

    The 1940 Census lists a Babcock family living in a rented house at 239 Selye Terrace. Howard A. Babcock is listed as HOH, with Mary E. as his wife, and Earl (4 years old), Howard (10 years old), and Shirley (18 years old) as children in the household. Dad is listed as a machinist, and Shirley as a salesperson. The house shown in the picture on this site doesn’t look much like the one in Google maps, but the Census information dates from 1940, and these pictures must have been taken later. They may not have been on Selye Terrace when the pictures were taken.

  2. @Vicki, good detective work! That definitely sounds like the family. And you’re right, the house and neighborhood don’t seem to match up with the photos. The family may have moved into their own place by 1943… or more likely, the USOWI arranged these scenes specifically for the photo shoot.

  3. Troy says:

    The flag salute the children are performing is the old Bellamy salute which was replaced with the modern hand over heart in December of 1942. That along with it being a warmer time of the year from the garden and dress makes me wonder if these weren’t taken in 1942 or prior.

  4. Wow, @Troy, that’s interesting. That’s certainly a possibility. I think sometimes the dates attached to these library photos are just a best guestimate made by the librarian or who ever did the archival work.

  5. Vicki says:

    Troy, thank you for the info on the Bellamy salute. I was surprised; it looked uncomfortably like the Nazi salute, even with the upturned palm.

  6. Tom says:

    239 Selye Terrace in Rochester is definitely not the building pictured…it does look much more like a Brighton home. For some reason this has gotten me all sidetracked with my day.

    It looks like answers may be fading away….
    Earl died in 2011, Howard Jr just passed last month…

    http://www.pinesfunerals.com/new_view.php?id=67901
    http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/democratandchronicle/obituary.aspx?pid=162457768

  7. Kristo Miettinen says:

    Ralph Amdursky, the photographer, is apparently still alive and living locally. Here is a recent story on his career:

    http://www.rit.edu/news/magazine_story.php?id=49568


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