NORMAN — “Rosie the Riveter” posters influenced many women during World War II to work in military factories. The work was hard and the money good.
“I wonder how hard it is to get a job out at the base,” May wondered. Her neighbors already worked every day. “I wouldn’t mind trying. Even though my office experience is dated, I’ll bet I could find a factory job.”
Her husband left the room, rather than discuss it.
May asked her neighbor how difficult it was to get a job.
“Just think, we could ride together.”
Her neighbor took her to the base and introduced her to the supervisor. He asked May to fill in her personal history to the day she was born.
“For a security clearance,” he told her.
The next day, May joined her neighbor. The minute she entered the warehouse, the supervisor met her.
“Here are your tools,” he told her. “Put on this tool apron and go work with that group.” He nodded toward a small knot of people working on an engine. “They’ll show you what to do.”
May joined the group and someone shoved a drill into her hands. “But …” she stammered, “don’t I need to know what to do, first?”
“You’re wasting the war effort. Get started.”
May came home with an extroardinary headache. She quit after working a while because she was pregnant.
“After the baby’s born,” she said. Her husband just nodded.
Many women held out to the end of the war. Most were “retired” as the warriors returned, needing jobs. Some ladies, accustomed to earning, looked around for what was available, usually finding only low-level work.
Jill and her friend, Teri, heard they were hiring at the candy factory.
“Do you think they’ll pay as well as the factory?” Teri said.
“I doubt it,” Jill said, “but it may be easier.”
After a week, Teri’s husband decided to take the children down to visit Mom at the candy mill. They were aghast to see Teri and Jill working on a huge assembly line of hot, striped holiday candy. The pieces of candy moved so fast the women could hardly keep up. They wore heavy plastic gloves and snatched at the candy as it sailed by. If they caught it, they dropped it into a box.
“Hi,” Teri said. “What a surprise! I can’t stop. If we don’t catch the candy as it goes by, it gets melted down. That goes against us. So ‘hi’ and ‘bye’.”
Jill waved. She was sweating and moving fast. She didn’t have time to talk.
Teri arrived home that night and fell exhausted onto the couch, as usual. She met a unified front of family. She listened and didn’t return the next day. Her friend, on the other hand, moved up to supervisor and remained with the company many years.
Women today as astronauts, inventors, doctors, judges, teachers and many other things raise the flag higher than their ancestors so their daughters may see opportunity –– and follow.
Shirley Ramsey, a retired professor of journalism, lives in Norman.