Rosie the Riveter: Women Working During World War II
I was born Geraldine Snyder on 6/16/23 in the town of Beaverton, Michigan. My parents were Welcome and Beatrice, I had a brother Jinks who was two years older, and a sister who died at age two.
My parents were small farmers. Mom went to school through 8 th grade and Dad through 6 th grade. I attended a one room county school through 8 th grade, then my parents decided to leave the farm and move to Flint , Michigan to find employment. I then attended junior high in Flint , and eventually transferred back to Beaverton , where I worked for my room and board in town. I graduated high school in 1940. I went on to college at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant , Michigan , intent on a two year teaching certificate. I attended for three semesters and unfortunately had to drop out for lack of funds.
I stayed living in Mt. Pleasant , working at a restaurant. I met and started dating James (Jim) Grisdale, a big, brawny man, and I stood barely five foot tall in my stocking feet. We happily became engaged in 1942. He was an oil field worker at that time, and got drafted in the Army February 19, 1943 . When he entered the service, I moved back to Flint to live with my folks.
At that time, my mother was working in a war plant and helped me get hired there too. The war plant was an old abandoned gas station and garage converted into a small factory. It was called The Strong Tool Co. , and made small shafts. There were 30 of us employed there, and the older women all wore dresses, but us younger gals wore slacks. Mom ran a lathe that made the shaft, and I worked the grinder. I had to look through a microscopic machine, sit on a high stool, and grind the star shaped grooves in the very end of the shaft. It was a grueling job, hard on the eyes and fingers, and that stool was hard on the behind! I worked at The Strong Tool Company for just three months before it suddenly closed shop.
My mom then got a job at Buick right away, while I wasn’t so lucky. I had heard that the A.C. Sparkplug plant in Flint was hiring, so I decided to check it out. It was nothing like being hired today. I had to go over to the main building which was enclosed by a very high fence and locked gate. People crowded all around the gate very early in the morning and at 8:00 am sharp, the boss would come out and just randomly point to a person. Those selected would enter, go to the office and fill out the necessary papers, and then being work immediately. I went every morning at 6:00 am for three weeks straight before I was selected.
I was hired as an “inspector” and was sent to General Motors Tech to learn the job. I had to learn how to use a precision micro instrument and a slide rule and measure very minutes sizes. My work had to be very exact. I was assigned to inspect the firing pins, thousands at a time. The pins were only about 1/4” long, and 1/8” round, so very nimble fingers were required. I was told these pins were sent to England and used in the bombs that were loaded into the R.A.F. planes. I sat on a high stool in a booth that had three sides covered. There was a screen in the front where I would put the firing pins on a fitter pin, and then it would magnify the firing pin onto the screen. The good pins were left in the tray, the bad ones were put in another. I inspected thousands of these pins about three time a week, 8 hours at a time. Every single pin had to be inspected, and I felt like I was doing a very important job for the War effort. If I wasn’t inspecting firing pins, I would inspect smaller tools. Every little part had to be measured and recorded, so it was very taxing work. If I ran out of small tools, I would move on to other types of tool, as you could not stand around with no work in front of you.
My foreman was a rough talking boss, he would talk a blue streak of cuss words. I could wear slacks to work so that was nice. We had no breaks at all, only long enough to use the restroom. You would get docked if you punched the time clock too early, or too late. There was a ½ hour lunch break in a lunch room, and you could not stop working until the whistle blew.
I worked the inspector job on the midnight shift from 11 pm to 7 am , six days a week. To get to work I had to take a trolley uptown, change trolleys there, and take another to the plant.
After a while, I was selected to be an air raid warden and first aid representative. I was excused to go to another building and take classes pertaining to first aid, taking care o the sick and inured, etc. I believe these classes were taught by the Red Cross. I had a big glow in the dark badge to wear and my duty was to get everyone to stop production in my department every time the alarm siren rang. I would turn the lights out and everyone under the tables for safety. If there were any injuries, I was called on to administer first aid.
I was working so much there was little time for social life. I would write to my fiancee Jim every day, and to lots of friends and relatives in the service. Once in a great while, I would splurge and got to a movie. I was saving all my money so I could go and visit Jim’s camp in Fort Bragg before he was sent overseas, and we wanted to get married before he left. In 1943 I resigned from A.C. Sparkplug and traveled by Greyhound bus to Fayettesville , North Carolina . I met a gal from Detroit and we became buddies. We shared our lunch with traveling servicemen and they shared their goodies with us. The USO handed out food to the servicemen at several bus stops. It was a friendly and interesting trip.
I reached Fayettesville on New Years Eve. I was sent by the USO to a hotel to share a room with another girl, until I could have a room in a private home that took gals who were visiting servicemen at Fort Bragg . Well, I was a greenhorn, having never traveled or stayed in a hotel before. I didn’t realize they had a hotel safe, so I tied my hard earned $500 in my hanky, then pinned it into my jumper pocket. My roommate waited until I was asleep, then stole all my money. She paid the hotel bill, and it was later thought she took the midnight train out of town, at least this was the conclusion the police came to afterward. I spent all New Years day looking at mug shots at the police station, but to no avail. I lost my money, but gained a valuable lesson. I had to wire home for money, I had bonds so my folks knew I could repay the money as soon as I got home. They telegraphed my the money so I could stay in North Carolina until I got married.
Fayettesville was a segregated town. The blacks stayed on one side of the street, and the whites on the other, and there was no crossing over to the other side. Blacks had to sit in the back of the bus, and were not treated well considerately at all.
I then moved into a rooming house to live. Jim had to stay at camp and couldn’t get into town until the weekend. I got the blood tests and necessary exams needed to get married, but Jim decided he didn’t have time to go through all the hassle, he was ready to get the show on the road! He was able to get three days off in a row, and we rode a rickety old bus across the border to Bennetsville , South Carolina . We arrived at midnite, went to the court house, and found two other eager couples ahead of us. We were married at 1:00 in the morning on January 9, 1944 by the Judge of Probate, and had two policemen as witnesses. It rained cats and dogs all weekend long. Sunday morning we went to the bus station and took the bus to Camp Legune where Jim’s sister and brother-in-law were station. They were a WAC and Marine respectively. We spent a pleasant day and night with them before returning to Fayettesville on Monday. We said our goodbyes Tuesday morning – Jim was headed overseas and I was going back to Michigan .
Jim sailed on the Queen Mary, going to England , then across the channel to France . His name is on the Wall of Liberty where the Battle of Normandy took place. He then went to Belguim, Luxenburg and Germany , receiving three battle stars and finally coming home safe and sound.
I returned to Flint now known as Mrs. James Grisdale, and discovered I was pregnant. Since pregnant women didn’t get hired, I moved in with my folks, and got a job baby-sitting six days a week. I did this until May, 1944, when I decided to move in with my aunt in Beaverton . She had a farm and I helped with the cooking and cleaning until my baby boy Tony was born July 13, 1944 . Having a baby certainly was a different experience in those days. I went to the Gladwin Hospiial and one thing I remember is that the Army insurance required you to stay in bed for 10 days after giving birth – you couldn’t even put your feet on the floor. They wouldn’t pay for the hospital bill if you did get out of bed. Jim had his sister wire me a dozen red roses; that was really something special.
After having my son, I left the farm in Beaverton and rented a two bedroom apartment in Flint . My allotment was raised to $80 a month for the baby, before I had him it was $50. I also got an extra $30 more when Jim was overseas. There was no child care then, so I had to stay home and raise Tony on my own. My apartment was upstairs, I had a kitchen and two bedrooms, I shared the bathroom across the hall. I had no television, no car, no newspapers. I walked around Flint , rode a trolley, wrote letters or read True Story magazines for entertainment. I did have a little radio and my favorite program was Hit Parade every Saturday night. I had an old granite wash dish and I planted lettuce in it, and sat it out on the back outside stairstep. That was my Victory garden.
Then I had great news. One of my girlfriends from Mt. Pleasant was moving to Flint while her husband went in the Army. She rented a room in the same house where I was living. She was wonderful company for me, we ate together on her days off from the Coney Island Restaurant where she worked. It was so good to have a friend to talk to. One of our very special days was when we would get our meat ration book. We would pool our stamps together and head to the little grocery store. We would buy some liver and two big onions. Boy, would we have a feast! This was our special treat each month, and we sure enjoyed it. Liver was the cheapest meat we could buy, but it tasted like filet mignon to us.
Jim was discharged from the Army on December 9, 1945 . We borrowed my dad’s old Ford and packed up and moved back to Mt. Pleasant . Jim got his job back in the oil fields, and I went to work raising our family. It was rough at times, we didn’t earn enough money to buy a car for six years. We ended up having five children, and when they were all in school in 1967, I got a job working in the Central Michigan University mailroom. I worked there for 20 years, and retired in 1986. During that time, I took classes and earned an associates degree and a Bachelors degree in English.
I lost Jim in 1998 after 54 years of wedded bliss. I am now 81, and live alone in my small house. I do lots of reading, gardening, and bird feeding. I love to bake and do canning for my grandchildren. I also am a field editor for Taste of Home magazine and try out new recipes. I’m enjoying my children, 13 grandchildren, and 11 great grandchildren. My health is great and I am very active.
Because my family was heavily involved in the Armed Forces, I’ve written a lot of letters and done a lot of worrying and praying over the years. My dad was in France in World War I, my husband was in the European Theater in World War II, my brother was in New Guinea in World War II, my sons Tony and Greg served in the Army in Korea , and my son Kyle was in the Navy for six years.
My wartime experiences have taught me patience, to be happy with what I have, and to be thankful I am alive to write about it.