“Margaret Buchholz’s loving account of her mother’s adventures from World War I until the 1950s, paints a beautiful portrait of a woman ahead of her time.”
— Laura Shaine Cunningham, author of the memoirs Sleeping Arrangements and A Place in the Country


From Washington Working Girl
To Fisherman's Wife

By Margaret Thomas Buchholz

“In a marvelous reversal of nature, a daughter gives
life to a mother.”

— Helene Stapinski, author of
Five-Finger Discount:
A Crooked Family History

6" x 9", 240 pp., illustrations
ISBN 978-1-59322-062-4

$26.95 Hardcover
ISBN 978-1-59322-042-3

For hardcover, please allow additional time for delivery. Also available on Amazon as a Kindle ebook.
Cruise of the Mopelia
This is a silent film shot in August/September 1929, when Josephine was on a Caribbean cruise on the German Count Felix von Luckner's four-masted schooner, Mopelia. Josephine was working for author and news broadcaster Lowell Thomas and her job was to interview Luckner. It includes scenes shot in Bermuda, Santo Domingo and Jamaica, plus lots of on-board activities ranging from a "crossing-the-equator" ceremony to climbing in the rigging to the serious job of manning a four-master under sail.





DURING WORLD WAR I, before women had the right to vote in America, a young Josephine Lehman Thomas answered the patriotic call from Washington, D.C. and became one of the pioneering “government girls,” leaving her home in Michigan for adventure in the nation’s capital. Through explored diaries and letters, her daughter, Margaret Thomas Buchholz, gives us an amazing chronicle of a trailblazing woman. Josephine worked for legendary journalist Lowell Thomas and traveled the world until the Great Depression dropped her and her new family, struggling to get by, on an island off the coast of New Jersey.

This fascinating personal history reveals the optimism of the early 20th century, the emerging professional woman, the thrill of adventure travel and a sense of success, followed by the crash of the economy, losing everything, and ultimately happiness in a simple life by the sea.


“From the colorful and beautifully written diaries of her mother Josephine Lehman, framed by her own painstaking research, Margaret Buchholz has crafted a luminous biography of a spirited woman and her journey through the first half of the 20th century. Life dealt Josephine both extraordinary opportunities and devastating setbacks, and she navigated them all with panache. I loved reading this book.”

— Mary Walton, author of A Woman's Crusade:  Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot. 

“The words and thoughts of gifted letter-writer and diarist, Josephine Lehman, capture the excitement and challenges of women working in Washington, DC during WWI. Jo was a true trailblazer when she answered the call for patriotic young women to work in our Nation’s capital during a time of uncertainty and turmoil. I loved hearing firsthand about Jo’s adventures and experiences. Even though her words were written during another time, they are relevant and timely today. Washington has changed a great deal for the female government employee and we owe our start to brave and exciting women like Jo.”

— Krysta Harden, 21st Century “Government Girl”


On February 21, 1918, Jo went to work at the War Department’s massive three-story temporary building on the Mall. It faced B Street, now Constitution Avenue. Until the end of May, when she was transferred to the shell-loading division as a private stenographer, she maintained a hectic schedule and rarely stayed home more than one evening a week. Jo always found time to write in her diary, however, and often typed both entries and letters at the office. She inserted the long letters into her diary, and sometimes apologized to the recipient for the carbon, explaining that she needed a copy for her diary.
A few days later, my mother transcribed her diary into a
long letter to her parents, who, unknown to her, passed it on to her former boss at the Sentinel. He wrote a patriotic introduction and gave it page one space: “Thousands of American girls are flocking to Washington to do their part in the winning of the war. To many of them, the experience of the journey to the nation’s capital and the sights of the feverish wartime activities, which are the life of Washington today, are new. The experience of one of these girls is the experience of all, and in the following letter Miss Josephine Lehman has voiced the thoughts that must have come to a great army of those who have gone there with the same aim. ... It is not a letter from just one young woman, but a letter from the composite type of true young American womanhood which finds its expression in the massing of thousands of individuals in the great heart of the Union.”

February 24: Heah Ah am, and it appeahs that if Ah stay heah ve’y long A’ll jes nach’lly talk like this all the time. I just love it here!

At the station I obtained the address of a rooming house only two blocks from the depot but I didn’t want to attempt getting lost so let a taxicab driver soak me for forty cents. The house was overflowing, but the lady of the house was kind enough to rout out a lieutenant and he carried down a small bed so she could bunk me in the parlor, which I considered extremely kind of her. Thanked the Lord I am gifted with an iron constitution so managed to get up for a formal breakfast and report to work by nine o’clock.

I was sworn into the Civil Service and sent over to the ordnance war building for work. A thin, middle-aged man and a big, young man argued over which should get me, both wanting a stenographer with business experience. I watched the fray in silence, mentally rooting for the young man. He won. My job is in the supply division of the ordnance department. The building is a mammoth new one and I have to have a pass to get in and out. This is the hardest department to work in, as they are so busy. The girls don’t get many holidays but pay and promotions are good.

The government room registration office sent me to 1415 Massachusetts Avenue and I can’t tell you how much I like it. The people who run it are real southerners, something like the old aristocracy one reads about. They have a daughter, Margaret Dudley, as pretty as her name and one of the sweetest girls I ever met. She has a southern accent, in fact, almost everybody does.

We have twenty-three girls living here, two, three, or four to a room, so don’t worry about my being lonely. The rooms are large, so we don’t mind it. I have two others in my room, Miss Dell Brokaw from Illinois, a tall, stunning blond and awfully dear, and Miss Grace Leonard from New York, also a big girl, with the most beautiful gown you ever saw. They call us the “Big Four Minus One,” “Amazons” and other endearing names. All the girls are the finest kind, splendid, and very congenial. They are pretty and have stylish clothes. We take our breakfasts and dinners here and lunch downtown. No one eats supper here. Negro servants serve dinner in courses, clear from soup to dessert and finger bowls. We have a piano and Victrola downstairs which we can use any time and the girls in the next room have a ukulele.

And soldiers! There are about fifteen camps within a short radius of Washington. It seems the soldiers I have seen would make an army big enough to demolish the Kaiser in a day — Sailors, Marines, aviators, cavalry, infantry and artillerymen, plain desk-holder-downs and many IWTGBCs. The initials stand for a certain order, which is going to petition to wear buttons that say “I Want To Go But Can’t.”

Our house is a three-story brick and stone residence fronted with turrets and bay windows, situated high on a tree-lined terrace looking down six streets diverging from Thomas Circle, just a few minutes ride from work by electric car. It has old-fashioned furniture, grandfather clocks, big mirrors, cozy corners and fireplaces galore. It seems just like a college dormitory. On Saturday nights Miss “Mahgahret,” as the servants call her, gives dances and invites enough young men to go around. We roll back the living room rugs, or drawing room, as they call it, and have piano and Victrola music and refreshments and the entire wherewithal to make a real party. The German Embassy is next door; the joke is that it’s the only empty building in Washington.

My hours are from nine to four-thirty with double pay for overtime. There is a movement to lengthen the federal employees working law to eight or nine hours and all the department clerks went to protest, but even if they do give us longer hours I can realize that we still are not sacrificing much. One morning I went to work without my pass and had a difficult time getting into the war building, but talked my way in. Will have picture taken Tuesday for a permanent pass.

MARGARET THOMAS BUCHHOLZ is co-author of Great Storms of the Jersey Shore, author of New Jersey Shipwrecks: 350 Years in the Graveyard of the Atlantic, and editor of Shore Chronicles: Diaries and Travelers Tales from the Jersey Shore 1764-1955. Her essays about the shore have also been included in anthologies and collections. Buchholz was publisher of the Long Beach Island newspaper the Beachcomber from 1955 to 1987 and is still an editor. She currently lives year-round in her childhood home (described in this book) in Harvey Cedars, New Jersey, on Barnegat Bay, where her family has been coming since 1833.

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