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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Bonnie E. Cone, January 7, 1986. Interview C-0048. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Teaching navy V-12 officer candidates at Duke during WWII

Cone describes teaching navy V-12 officer candidates at Duke during World War II. Although Cone did not aspire to teach at the college level professionally, she explains that she did so during the war because she felt it was her duty to use her skills to aid the war effort. The excerpt includes an anecdote in which Cone fondly describes teaching her "non-mathematical V-12 boy," future <cite>Sophie's Choice</cite> author, Bill Styron, and being considered as an officer for WAVES, a new organization for women emergency volunteers in the military. Cone does not seem to have interpreted her work as pioneering, although her nomination to WAVES suggests that her work was seen as worthy of recognition by others. Nevertheless, she emphasizes that she was merely meeting her duties as an American citizen in a time of war.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Bonnie E. Cone, January 7, 1986. Interview C-0048. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

I have a tremendous experience at Duke teaching in the program there.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Tell me about that.
BONNIE E. CONE:
Well, we had these young men from the fleet, and I had marines as well. They were all sectioned after they came in. They were supposed to be very bright when they came but then they were sectioned according to mathematical ability when we got them there. I had some of the best sections to teach. We taught twelve months a year, six days a week, and it was a thrilling experience to work. One of my students was Bill Styron, the author, and I remember, Bill wasn't so interested in what I was doing in that math classroom, but he was an officer candidate, too, and we had to stay together. He was already writing at that time. I remember when we finished our work together, he said to me, "You know, if I ever achieve anything in writing, I am going to send you a copy of my first book." Well, you know, he saw something in Time magazine in '65 when we became a campus of the University. He was going overseas on a trip, and he had this magazine. He saw where I was, and he had already published several books by that time, and so he wrote me a nice letter, which is in the archives, and sent me a copy of his first book which he autographed. So, he was not interested in mathematics, but interested in writing, and he stayed with it and has succeeded. You probably know his . . .
LYNN HAESSLY:
Sophie's Choice.
BONNIE E. CONE:
Yes, and others, and others. And I think it is right remarkable that he has kept his contact with Duke. He finished his degree after the war was over and has been on the library board at Duke and has given copies of all of his works to Duke in all the languages into which they have been translated. I'm very proud of him, of my non-mathematicalNavy V-12 boy.
LYNN HAESSLY:
How long was the course that you taught to the military men? Was it just a matter of weeks that each course was taught?
BONNIE E. CONE:
Well, they were semester-length courses just like regular college work, and we did have some non-military people in these classes, too.
LYNN HAESSLY:
What was it that you were teaching?
BONNIE E. CONE:
It was college algebra, and trig, and analytical geometry. I don't believe I taught calculus there. I believe those were the areas which I taught.
LYNN HAESSLY:
So these were not courses specifically designed to enable them to do the statistical work that they were doing?
BONNIE E. CONE:
It was basic college work which they had to have if they were going to go on to be officer candidates in the Navy. They were going to be officers in the Navy. They were candidates.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Why did you agree to go to Duke to do that?
BONNIE E. CONE:
Well, I just know that on my own I would not have done it. I needed to be sure I was not getting out on a limb because I needed to continue to work. Anyway, Dr. Gergen contacted Dr. Garinger, who was my principal, and Dr. Garinger said yes, he wanted me to do that but he wanted me to come back to Charlotte. My job would be available when I came back. So that assurance, you know, made it easier for me to do that. It was not easy to work twelve months a year as we did. But, what was easy during the war? Everybody who was a loyal American citizen had to do the best he could do for his country, and they made me feel that was it. Well, Duke was not going to let me, with my little bit of math ability, not be used. Before the teaching thing came up, I know they recommended me-the WAVES was a brand new thing then, and they were trying to get officers for the WAVES-they recommended me and, well, I had to go through with the process of being checked out completely. I thought if I had been eligible, if I had really been an officer, I think it would have killed my mother because, you know, women didn't do things like that in those days. But I have a missing molar, and the missing molar, if I had been a man would have been alright, but to come in as an officer in the WAVES in those days you had to be perfect, even to having all your molars.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Did you want to be a WAVE?
BONNIE E. CONE:
No, I really have to say that is not what I would have chosen to do. But no man chooses to go into the battle either, but you were an American citizen and if this was where you could serve your country best, you know, I just felt I had to do what I had to do.