It was 1942, and the fighting had begun. Across the country, men were putting down the tools of work and picking up the tools of war.

That was the situation that Ralph Edwards, manager of the Firestone Service Station at 102 N. Broadway, found himself in. He had lost his service drive attendant to the war effort and was now pumping gas himself.

That’s when Miss Gladys Strain stepped in.

Gladys, 19 years old and a recent graduate of Stewartville High School from a farm near High Forest, had just moved to Rochester and was looking for work.

Dressed in the company’s uniform of blue slacks, white blouse and an overseas cap, Gladys may have shocked a few customers when she first stepped out to pump gas and check the oil.

But it didn’t take long before customers were comfortable with Gladys’ abilities as Rochester’s first female filling station attendant.

Lens on History is a weekly photo feature by Lee Hilgendorf, a volunteer at the History Center of Olmsted County.

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