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"I Kind of Liked to Think of Myself as a Singer, an Actress, or
Anything but a School Teacher"
How WWII Changed My Career Dreams

Fran Thompson

December 5, 1994
Interviewer: Rheba Massey

Fran was born in a small town in Texas and earned a Bachelor of Science in Art Education, but she wasn't very excited about having to make a living and present herself seriously to the farmers who served on the Board of Education. She fell into some teaching jobs, but still didn't know what she wanted to do with her life. And then Pearl Harbor was bombed, and the next day the principal got all the children together to listen to President Roosevelt declare war on Japan. Now Fran was in a dilemma. She wanted to do something for the war effort, but if she went into the WAVES or WACS, she feared she would spend the rest of her life with a typewriter.

Still undecided, she took a typing job for the summer in a school for glider pilots. She had gone up in small planes several times with her brother who was a pilot, and when the woman who had been teaching meteorology to the glider pilots moved on, she fell into that job. She had saved some money and thought she wanted to be a fashion designer, so she moved to Florida to work for an art school. Then one day she read that the Surgeon General's office was looking for people with backgrounds in art and psychology and with varied work experience. She applied, and was stunned two weeks later to get a telegram telling her to report to Mills College in Oakland California to be trained as an Occupational Therapist.

The field was so new, she could hardly speculate about her new career. Although a few women had served injured soldiers during WWI as "reconstruction aides," OT was a field that basically began during WWII. In 1945 when Fran studied, a whole year's training was compressed into a four-month period, followed by an internship. Fran was sent to Brook Medical Army Center in San Antonio, Texas, a vast medical center. She worked with patients with physical and mental disabilities and had special training in working with tuberculosis patients. The TB patients suffered from boredom, as they had to be isolated and were delighted for the chance to learn a craft. She later worked with polio patients in the Army Navy General Hospital in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

During most of this time, Fran was a civilian, but in l947 she was commissioned as a First Lieutenant in the WMSC. After the war ended in 1948, she was stationed in Georgia and later Hawaii. It was while she was in Honolulu that the Korean Conflict began and she became a chief therapist specializing in the treatment of physical disabilities - such as teaching blinded veterans to type.

After 10 years in the military, she was ready for a change and wanted to put her knowledge to use - so she did end up teaching, after all! She taught for four years in the OT school at CSU starting in 1955. She came to Fort Collins because she liked the mountains; but she had a hard time feeling at home here, having enjoyed a sense of family in the military. Although she was given the rank of assistant professor, she was poorly paid. When she married and had a child, she wanted to work only part time, but the department wouldn't permit that. She eventually became involved with the League of Women Voters, an influential organization in Fort Collins, and became one of the founders of the Volunteer Clearing House, working to help the Hispanic Community to gain greater acceptance and success in the community.

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