WWII Working Women Seek National Site
By DARRYL E. OWENS,AP
Posted: 2007-08-26 07:55:41
Filed Under: Nation News
ORLANDO, Fla. (Aug. 26) - World War II was raging when Ludie Feltman Webber walked into Bechtel-McCone-Parsons Airplane Modification Plant in Birmingham, Ala., grabbed a rivet gun and helped put modified Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers into the sky.
"I grew up on a farm," said Webber, 90, who now lives in the south Orange County community of Williamsburg. "I'd done man's work like that all my life."
But man's work was new to millions of American housewives who, inspired by the "We Can Do It" attitude of the muscle-flexing Rosie the Riveter poster girl, traded in their aprons for coveralls. Now, 62 years after Webber hung up her rivet gun, the American Rosie the Riveter Association is launching a campaign to build a major national memorial for the 6 million women who ventured from their homes to serve the United States on the home front during World War II.
"We came home, the war was over, and we wanted to marry and start having children," said Fran Carter, once a riveter at the Bechtel plant who nine years ago founded the 2,500-member group. "We never looked back, never sang our song."
A committee for the American Rosie the Riveter Association will study possible sites for the monument, designs and fundraising options, and make its pitch at its annual convention next year. The organization's national president, Donnaleen Lanktree, says, "members would like to see someday a monument in Washington, D.C."
Supporters think now is the right time for a memorial because Rosie will re-enter the national consciousness next month when Ken Burns ' new seven-part documentary series, The War, debuts on public television.
Now is the time before Rosies run out of time to see it, Carter and others say. Headlines mourn the thinning ranks of World War II vets, dying at a rate of more than 1,000 a day. Less attention is paid to the millions of women who managed a well-oiled American war machine.
Rosie the Riveter was the inspirational but fictional star of the War Advertising Council's Women in War Jobs propaganda campaign. Rosie was plastered on everything from postage stamps to publications, including a 1943 Saturday Evening Post cover by Norman Rockwell, but is best remembered from a poster by J. Howard Miller that first appeared in 1942.
Miller's version was a bandanna-sporting American beauty who yanked up her sleeve and showed muscled skin, driving home her "We Can Do It" slogan. According to the Ad Council's Web site, Rosie helped mobilize 2 million women who joined the work force and collectively would bear her name.
While aircraft weren't built in Central Florida, women supported the war effort in other ways, including producing parachutes at Casselberry Textiles, said Tana Porter, a research librarian with the Orange County Regional History Center in Orlando.
Across the state, women labored in shipyards and welding shops and helped manage the state's agricultural industry, according the University of South Florida Web site on Florida during World War II.
The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History Web site explains the riveting process this way:
Riveters labored in pairs. The riveter drove the hot metal bolt with a pneumatic rivet gun. The "bucker" stood ready to catch the rivet with a steel block that caught the bolt as it shot through the hole and helped shape it into a second head to fasten the joint.
On a recent afternoon, Webber sat reminiscing about Rosie. Six decades later, age spots mark her hands like braids of rivets. Touching old photos of her younger self, her fingers are steady, as though they remember their way around a rivet gun. Her face glows recalling those bracing days.
She worked outside the home for the first time, though it grieved her to leave her children with a caregiver.
Still, her family needed the money, and her country needed her service. With the country on high alert after Pearl Harbor, she practiced riveting blindfolded in case the plant had to cut the lights because of attack. She worked on hydraulic systems and earned good grades for her work. And she earned flirty looks because the women for safety reasons removed their wedding bands.
"The men said they couldn't tell the single girls from the married girls," she said, so supervisors later "decided to let us wear the wedding band."
War or not, she said, "they didn't forget that (romancing)."
When Webber's husband, Orvill, was transferred, she quit her job. But her taste of man's work confirmed she could do it. She later ventured into building and selling homes -- a vestige of Rosie's secondary legacy as the spiritual godmother of modern feminism.
"The symbol of Rosie the Riveter reminds us that women have contributed at every level in our society to keep America strong and successful," said Vicki Donlan, author of Her Turn: Why It's Time for Women to Lead in America.
Seven years ago, the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park, which commemorates the men and women who labored in shipyards and factories in Richmond, Calif., during the war, was dedicated.
For Webber's daughter, Corrine Beckert, born seven months before Japan's surrender, "Rosies" were America's bedrock.
Riveting was "just one more thing she had to do: Juggle a household of three kids, patch some planes, take care of my dad and fix supper," said Beckert, 62, of her mom. "She's tough; she's a pioneer woman."
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