Rosie the Riveter: Women Working During World War II
I was born in 1922 in Brooklyn, New York and raised there. So were my two sisters and brother. My parents had emigrated to the United States from Italy.
Following high school graduation I became a dress maker, having learned these skills from my mother. This industry began losing sales as the war ensued and I ultimately lost my job.
Our community’s civil defense included sirens, air raid warnings and many families invited enlisted soldiers in for dinner, etc. Many of them were so young it seemed to us that they didn’t know what they were doing. Although we were unhappy about his war, we shared enthusiasm to support the effort because we were attacked[in Pearl Harbor ]. Shortages of gasoline began and some foods became limited, but not fruits and vegetables. In fact, my mother even began our own Victory Garden .
Seeking employment, I went to the Unemployment Agency and was asked if I would be willing to work in another industry or profession. Desiring to contribute to the war effort I next found myself working in a DuPont Corporation factory in New Jersey – it made bombs.
So I left home for the first time and lived in a room at an estate converted by DuPont into housing for working girls. Needless to say, my father was concerned and my mother was worried. I guess we were all a little bit nervous. There was not much social activity after work and most of that time was taken up with writing letters and making new friends. My boyfriend, John Calvano, passed through Australia during the Army’s Pacific campaign. Receiving a letter from him there was a big thrill.
My job was to pack the gunpowder into the detonators of the bombs. Anyway, I was so focused on my job that the man in charge asked me if I wanted to become the line foreman and so I did. I guess I was doing pretty well and in time, he asked “Why are you working here?” I said that we all wanted to do whatever we could to help end this conflict swiftly and bring our boys home safe and sound. After all, I had a brother and boyfriend in the army overseas. He recommended I take a test administered by the Unemployment Agency which offered potential higher education benefits.
I passed. The Agency said if I go to New York University , they will pay my tuition, unemployment benefits and place me in a job after completing a course of study in one of their cooperative programs. In return, I would be obligated to remain in that job for “the duration of the war”.
It was 1942. I took Drafting English, as it was called, for eight hours each day – like a regular job. A year later, I was placed in a job at the Sperry Gyroscope Company, Brooklyn , N.Y. , as their first female “draftsman”.
Sperry helped develop microwave technology for modern radar systems. The company produced computer controlled and stabilized bomb sights for the B17 and B32 bombers, automatic pilots, computing fire control systems, mobile airborne radar equipment, and automated take off and landing systems.
I drew anything they[Sperry] gave me. Much of the job involved consulting with the men on how to build those things from the blueprints we drew. Eventually, I was promoted to the position of Assistant to the Manager of the Tool Design Department. I never made much of it all until business, government and schools made a big deal and fuss over the potential in competent workers. All I knew is that I did love it. What’s the difference where I’m a woman or a man if I’m doing a man’s job?
In spite of our nation’s circumstances, it was one of the most interesting parts of my life, showing me things I never knew existed. It taught me that if there’s something you think you should do, then do it. How did the war change my life? You couldn’t even go into it, but it did give me a better value of life. When victory was won we went crazy; the joy was crazy, and crying…
Oh, and my brother and boyfriend overseas? They both made it back safely. I married my boyfriend soon thereafter and started a family.