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Chester County Press

Honoring the defense women of World War II

11/12/2014 11:13AM ● By J. Chambless

A memorial garden, bench, and plaque have been installed at Oxford Memorial Park as a lasting tribute to the contributions of the defense women to the war effort during World War II.

By Steven Hoffman

Staff Writer

A ceremony to honor the defense women of World War II will take place at 10 a.m. this Saturday, Nov. 15, at the Oxford Memorial Park as a memorial garden, bench, and plaque are unveiled as a lasting tribute to their contributions to the war effort.

Oxford Borough Manager Betsy Brantner said that the community is invited to attend the dedication ceremony to hear some of the defense women share their stories about the experiences on the home front.

The dedication ceremony, Brantner said, is an opportunity "to remember these courageous women who worked in the dangerous munition plants in Elkton, Maryland. Women left their homes in surrounding states to do their part for the war effort. Many had husbands, brothers, or friends who fought in World War II, and this was their way of showing their support."

Derrick Maule, an Eagle Scout, completed a scouting project to honor the defense women of World War II. He raised the money to install the memorial garden, bench, and plaque.

"He did most of the labor himself," Brantner explained.

Civilian women played a major role in the war effort. Some worked six days a week on the production lines or staffing other positions in very dangerous jobs. Many of them worked with explosives with only limited safety precautions, helping to produce millions of tons of ordnance used by the military.

Oxford was one of the places where defense women relocated so that they could work in the munitions plants in nearby Cecil County.

"These were women who came in from all over the country," Brantner explained. "These were women who sometimes lost their lives or their limbs."

She said that her mother, Emma Hess Brewer, came to Oxford from Johnstown, Pa. to work in Cecil County munitions plants. Brewer had six brothers in the war and felt it was her responsibility to do something to try to protect her brothers, even though her own father did not want her to leave home.

"This was her way to do her part," Brantner said. "These were women leaving their families and their homes at a time when women didn’t do that."

When they women traveled to an unfamiliar town to work, they typically stayed with local residents and relied on the kindness of strangers for their food.

Brantner explained that her mother "spoke highly of the nice people in Oxford that gave her, a stranger, food and lodging in their homes. She made many friends here and always told me Oxford was her home. Until the day she died she spoke of "Mom Styer," a woman who opened her home to the defense women. My mom did what she could to make her feel welcome."

Brewer also told her daughter about the dangers the women faced working in the munitions plants.

"She talked about frequent explosions in the plants, one in particular wounded over 70 people and killed 15," Brantner explained. "She had other concerns, too. She wasn’t really sure what kind of material she was working with. At one point, one powder she worked with turned her skin yellow. She worried how her job would affect her future health."

The influx of thousands of civilian women to work in factories had a major impact on communities like Oxford.

"It really changed the landscape here. My mother used to say that Oxford was a town that never slept," Brantner explained. "It’s really something that you don’t think about—the impact that it had on the Oxford community."

Brantner said that she didn’t realize until she was older about how brave the defense women were to leave their families, ride a bus or train to an unfamiliar town, and stay with strangers while they worked in dangerous plants.

The contributions of the defense women often go overlooked, but the memorial in Oxford will help people commemorate and remember their part in World War II.

"You don’t always hear a lot about the defense women," Brantner said. "It was a very interesting time for everyone, but especially for some of these women. I have always admired my mom’s bravery and commitment to family. This was an adventure for her, but she also felt a calling to work in the ordnance plants as one way to help her brothers. And while here she made the best of it, making friends and cherishing them to the day she died."

The Oxford Memorial Park is located at the corner of Lancaster Avenue and Second Street.

To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email

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