The Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Society is deeply saddened by the December 13, 2022 passing of Dorothy Jean Boley of Hinton, West Virginia. She was a Chesapeake & Ohio Railway retiree, avid supporter of the Clifton Forge-based organization, and a pillar at the Hinton Railroad Museum.
Born on March 9, 1923, in Hinton, West Virginia, Dorothy Jean Boley was part of a World War II hiring wave on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway that saw many women go to work for the railroad when huge numbers of male employees left their railroad jobs for the United States armed services. She was believed to be the last living female wartime hire on the C&O Railway.
Like the well-known image of “Rosie the Riveter,” representing women who entered the blue-collar workforce when men enlisted to serve in various branches of the military, women like Ms. Boley also stepped up in clerical and operational roles on American railroads. Hired by the C&O in 1943, she would go on to serve 43 years on the railroad.
According to the C&O Historical Society, not only were female employees needed to replace members of the predominantly male workforce that went overseas during World War II, but wartime rail traffic saw the railroad’s operations pushed to its limits, with troop trains, war materials, and increased coal traffic being shipped over the Chesapeake & Ohio’s main line.
For example, in the summer of 1942, the U.S. armada of 34,000 men and 86 million pounds of material that took part in Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa, sailed from Hampton Roads after primarily traveling to the Virginia coast over the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway.
According to C&O Historical Society President Mark Totten, because of the role they played in the American workforce after stepping up during the nation’s time of crisis, the generation of female railroad veterans like Dorothy Jean Boley deserve the same reverence as the nation’s “Rosies.” Totten stated, “Ms. Dorothy Jean Boley shared memories that included seeing German prisoners of war captured from the Afrika Korps, traveling west through the New River Gorge aboard C&O trains to stateside camps, as she hand delivered paychecks to C&O road crews who were too busy in wartime to leave their trains.”
In her railroad career Ms. Boley was secretary to the division superintendent and, in her later life, dedicated her retirement to the Hinton Railroad Museum, serving as a living link to the history that organization preserves in her hometown. According to her obituary, Dorothy Jean graduated from Hinton High School, class of 1941, and Charleston School of Commerce.
C&O Historical Society President Totten remembered the mutual support and respect between the Hinton Railroad Museum and their non-profit organization, “On her 99th birthday this year, I called Dorothy Jean Boley to wish her a happy birthday. She said she received her C&OHS magazine the day before, immediately read it, and wished us luck on our current projects, including the restoration of a former C&O Railway office car in our collection.”
In that conversation, Ms. Boley recalled a story about her family member, Pauley Boley, who married C&O vice president Earl Rucker. When Mr. Rucker came to Hinton, he did so on Office Car 25 and hosted his wife’s family for dinner. Ms. Boley said that Mr. Rucker’s butler on the car during the 1940s-1950s, Mr. James Simbly, was a Hinton native.
Totten recalled his reaction, “I said that must have been a great way to impress your wife’s family.”
A year ago, the C&O Historical Society dedicated a publication, the 2022 calendar “Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Through the New River Gorge,” to Dorothy Jean Boley for her career as part of the “machines, nature, and human grit that conquered the wilderness of the New River Gorge” and for her tireless efforts to preserve local transportation history at the Hinton Railroad Museum.
In October, Totten and Boley had one final encounter, during 2022’s Hinton Railroad Days, when the Autumn Colors Express excursion train brought hundreds of visitors to her hometown of Hinton as part of the town’s annual festival. There the two caught up and discussed the future of the festival that is a local tradition and the transportation history that both the C&O Historical Society and Hinton Railroad Museum strives to preserve.
C&OHS President Mark Totten concluded, “As we mourn the loss of our friend and supporter, we are grateful to have known her, and thankful for the work she did not only to preserve history, but to write it.”