I'm putting out a call to any Howard County resident who was a Rosie the Riveter during World War II and to family members of a Rosie. You are a Rosie if you answered the government's call through articles in magazines and fliers — "Women, you could hasten victory by working and save your man." — and joined the new work force and helped build planes, bombs, tanks and other weapons that would eventually win World War II.
If you performed volunteer work during that time (1941 to 1945) with the Red Cross, USO or any other organization, served coffee to servicemen, rolled bandages, helped with ration books, or were a streetcar driver, heavy construction machinery operator, worked in lumber and steel mills, unloaded freight and more, you are also a Rosie. More than 6 million female workers answered the government's call for help.
At the end of October, I attended a meeting of the Laurel chapter of The American Rosie The Riveter Association, "an organization established to honor the contribution of women workers on the home front during World War II and to promote patriotism and responsibility among all Americans." The Laurel Chapter is the eighteenth in the nation; there is also one in Baltimore.
The meeting was well attended, with three Rosies; eight Rosebuds, who are female descendants of Rosies; three Rivets, the male relatives and spouses of Rosies; one Rosebud partner and one Rivet partner, who promote the legacy of Rosies, but do not have an ancestry link. Ron Kasemeyer of the Laurel Chapter is the first Rivet partner in the country.
"All these Rosies have a stamina you just don't want to miss," Laurel chapter President Ann Marie Miller said.
This was evident in the three Rosies, Wilma Foster, Gladys Beall and Jeri McIntire, present at the meeting. Dawn Frizzell, of North Laurel, attending for the first time as a Rosebud, said that her mother had worked for the War Department as a secretary. In addition to Ann Marie, the other chapter officers are vice president, Wilma Foster, of North Laurel, Ann Marie's mother; secretary, Margie Streicker, Wilma's other daughter; and treasurer, Jerry Streicker, Margie's husband. Margie and Jerry live in Reisterstown.
The highlight of the meeting was 87-year-old Laurel resident Jeri McIntire, telling her story about the 14 months she worked as a welder at a Boston shipyard. She was anxious to leave home because of her cruel stepmother and did so after her graduation from high school. She then went to work with the Roy Rogers World Championship Rodeo, which entertained the troops.
Jeri and a girlfriend worked in public relations for the rodeo, hitting cities ahead of the rodeo to promote the entertainment venue before it arrived, by singing and playing the guitar. The two also exercised horses during the day and one day Roy, himself, came up to them and asked why they weren't doing the square dance on the horses, which was part of the rodeo. Since the horses knew the dance, it wasn't any problem for them to ride the horse while it danced, so they became entertainers.
At some point while working for the rodeo, Jeri saw a poster, calling women to join the war effort. She went to the Boston Navy Yard, was interviewed, fingerprinted and received a top-secret clearance for her job as a welder. Friends had discouraged her from becoming a welder, but she persisted. The welding course was scheduled for 10 days, but she finished in five.
"I took to welding and loved it," Jeri said. "Overhead welding was the hardest, but I excelled at it."
The ships she worked on were either being built or were damaged. She worked outside during the 7 to 11 p.m. shift and said that it was not too bad until a blizzard hit and it was very cold. She was advised to go to the Army Navy store to get a leather jacket. She said she "felt like a zombie" with all the clothes she had to wear to stay warm. She recalled climbing down ladders to the ship's hull five decks below, carrying all her welding gear.
Jeri said that the camaraderie was wonderful. They would eat lunch outside around a fire in a coal drum. She developed friendships with people she had never met. The workers formed basketball and baseball teams.
Radio equipment wasn't allowed in the shipyard, but a male shipfitter, whose son was fighting in the war, had a radio and they would sometimes listen to war reports at lunch and he would keep them apprised of what was going on overseas.
On payday, when they got off work, she and the other workers would go to Topsy's Chicken Coop, where they would cash their paychecks and have something to eat. They would then go to the movie theater and see a movie, sometimes a double feature. They would go home to sleep and then it was back to work again.
With tears weling in her eyes, Jeri related a very sad day when she went in to work and was told that the woman who worked before her had been killed on the job when a crane dropped a bulkhead on her. Jeri was asked if she wanted to take the day off. She didn't because she knew that bulkhead had to be finished for a ship that was needed in the war effort. She said that the woman had left two children and she got through that shift by singing every song she knew and praying for the woman's family. She received an award pin for her perseverance and dedication to the job that emotional and stress-filled night.
Jeri's last job at the shipyard was on a landing ship, Tank, which was used to carry large quantities of cargo and to land troops on shores. To describe her welding work, Jeri said that it is "like a woman's sewing, just like stitches." After the war, the men came back to their jobs. The shipyards wanted to keep some of the female workers but not in the same jobs. Jeri returned to the rodeo to honor the rest of her contract.
After Jeri related her story, Trevor Miller, a Rivet and Ann Marie's son and Wilma's grandson, remarked that he works with shipyards and builders and that women are still employed in this industry because they can fit into small spaces and they pay more attention to detail.
On Nov. 9, I attended a Rosie the Riveter event at the North Laurel Community Center hosted by the North Laurel 50+ Center and the Laurel Chapter of The American Rosie the Riveter Association. This was the first adult program the chapter had conducted outside of their regular meetings. They have done some school programs.
There were more than 50 people in attendance, with the three Rosies that I met at the Laurel Chapter meeting and 96-year-old Iva Van Alstine, a Rosie from Baltimore. After patriotic songs, all four Rosies told their stories.
Wilma Foster, 86, of North Laurel, was 16 years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941. Prior to that time, she didn't think that the war would touch the homeland. Displaying two ration books from the period, she said that she worked in the war plants on ration books until she was 18 years old. Ration books contained coupons for items that were scarce during the war, such as coffee, gas, sugar and shoes. Clothes weren't rationed because people made their own clothes in her day.
When she turned age 18, she went to work for Fairchild Aircraft, in Hagerstown, as a riveter on the swing shift. There were not enough small planes for the war and she helped make the PT-19 fighter trainer planes. She said they made thousands of these planes. Wilma hated the blackouts and said that 1943 was the worst year for blackouts.
They had blackout curtains and cloths to cover anything which had a light source, such as a radio. She remembered walking home from the plant at night during blackouts. She would often see a soldier on her route who was there to protect the workers. She spent four years at Fairchild.
Gladys Beall, who will be 90 years old in December, worked before the war, but not during the war at the Oella fabric mill in Howard County, where navy blue wool uniforms were made. From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., she worked as a specker, using a wooden dowel dipped in ink to cover spots on the cloth where the dye didn't adhere.
When the mill was converted to make khaki for the soldiers' uniforms, speckers were no longer needed, so Gladys continued her role as wife and mother and volunteered at Fort Meade, where she served coffee and doughnuts to servicemen.
During World War II, with six children and a husband in the service, Iva went to work at the Remington firearms factory in Illion, N.Y. She operated a drill press and drilled peep holes in the gun sights on Remington rifles. She was paid about 90 cents an hour.
Jeri McIntire was the event's last speaker.
At this event, I learned more about The American Rosie the Riveter Association. It was founded in 1998 by Fran Carter, of Birmingham, Ala., who is now in her 90s. She wanted to recognize and preserve the history of women, including volunteer women, during World War II.
At both of these Rosie gatherings, I felt like a witness to living history and was inspired and motivated by these women who stepped up to work to support the war effort. We have all seen the iconic poster, put out by the War Production Coordinating Committee at that time, which shows a Rosie in work clothes and a red and white bandana around her hair, flexing her arm to show her muscles and saying "We Can Do It!"
These women certainly did do it and more.
Go to http://www.rosietheriveter.net to find out more about these remarkable women and the organization that is preserving their 'herstory.' One of the goals of the organization is to get every Rosie's story recorded, either in writing or orally. If you are a Rosie in Howard County or a descendant of a Rosie, call Anne Marie at 301-498-3397.
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