Rosie the Riveter: Women Working During World War II



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Helyn A. Potter

June 1943

original photograph size: 4"x3"

Becoming Rosie the Riveter

When I jointed the War Effort, my husband was overseas in the Army Air Corp and I had an infant son, Gene. It was January 1943. All military wives were to receive a small allotment check – mine however was delayed or lost in the paper-work bureaucracy of the times (but re-established six months later). Off to the unemployment agency I went. At the unemployment agency, I was told that I could be trained to be a riveter, assemble-line worker, or a welder.

“What do you need the most?” I asked.

“Welders!” replied an elderly gentleman. So, welding was my choice.

The local high school provided the initial welding training. There I would train for three weeks – 40 hours a week – and earn 50 cents an hour. One morning the instructor read a list of names of women who had completed the 200 hours of training and were ready to be transferred to St. Louis for advanced training.

My name was read. But, I had only completed 90 hours of training. There must be an error.

When questions, my instructor said, “Helyn, you’re ready.”

However, when I arrived at the St. Louis Welding Center , the supervisor looked at my 90 hours of training with a frown and in a gruff voice barked “You’re not ready.” “Please sit over there.” So, I sat and waited while all the other women who had completed the 200 hours demonstrated their welding skills. When they finished the instructor reluctantly let me take the test also. I ran a straight bead at perfect penetration. “Well, okay.” he said. “You are ready.”

Three weeks later, we were sent to the Curtis Wright Aircraft Plant to take the Army-Navy Welding Test. I passed and was hired full-time at 65 cents an hour. I welded parts for the P-40 War Hawk (Flying Tiger), C-46 Commando Transport, and the Helldiver…stamping my name to every weld, a required safeguard for our Fly Boys.

With a nickel raise quarterly, I was soon earning $1.10 an hour to support my infant son. After several months my eyes were getting bad from the flame and fumes from the welding torch. This forced me to switch to riveting on the P-40 War Hawk fuselage until the end of the war.

War changes everything. I was a welder and now a riveter in an all-woman work force. Five years earlier, I was studying ballet, planning to become a ballerina. As we supported the War Effort, the collective soul of women changed.


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