Rosie the Riveter: Women Working During World War II
My name is Mary Brancato. I’ll be 80 years old come October. Of course it wasn’t Brancato back then – it was Mary Stockton.
I was born and raised on an Oklahoma wheat farm. I’d only been to the city once or twice while I was growing up. Wichita , Kansas , was the big city – and it was the capitol of the world to me. In May 1942 we were six months into the war. I was 17 and had just graduated Lamont High School . As so many young women did in those frightening days, I felt compelled to do my part for the war effort. So, I decided to head for Wichita , home of Beechcraft, Boeing and Cessna aircraft builders.
My sister Phyllis was already married and living in the city and I went to stay with her. My Dad drove me to Phyllis’ in his old Model A Ford. I went to training school for three weeks before starting work at Davis Westholt – a small airplane parts factory – as a welder making tail pipes for B29s. My job was to weld two pieces of pipe together before they went off to be sandblasted and made perfect before being used. I like to think that some of my tailpipes were on the planes that helped end the war.
That was the most exciting time I’d ever had. It was an exciting time of life really – I was in the big city with a war going on and earning real money for the first time in my life. With my 40¢ an hour I went crazy buying clothes – at least that’s what my sister says!
But you were always aware of the war – and there were many sad times when families you knew, and ones you didn’t, received the telegrams that informed them of loved ones lost in the war.
Still, we tried to have the most fun we could and we lived for the moment, because everybody thought life was so short. It was everyone’s motto that you could be dead before tomorrow ever came. I guess maybe that’s why my husband and I got married after just three weeks of dating.
I met him at the parts factory. Of course there weren’t a lot of places to go back then – not like today with all the shows and things, but you could get into the movies for about a dime and that’s where we’d go on dates. But most of the time I was too tired to do much and I certainly didn’t go out very often – welding was a hard job – and the heat from the acetylene torch really tired me out. From 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. I sat in my uniform, which was a pair of blue twill coveralls and a cotton bandana to tie my hair up in, welding the two seams of stainless steel pipes together.
I didn’t really wear makeup back then – well maybe just a little lipstick. But I remember that an eyebrow pencil came in might handy for us girls in a time when you couldn’t buy nylons for love nor money. I could draw a pretty straight line up the back of each of my legs with that eyebrow pencil and it really did look like I had on hose for the rare occasions my friends and I went out dancing.
Nylons weren’t the only thing in short supply. We had rationing on gas, sugar, meat and tires, too.
The war changed my life. I probably would have been a stay-at-home housewife, instead, I continued to work throughout my adult life – including as a working mother of four boys – and was a postal service worker for 22 years, until my retirement in 1988.
Mary Stockton Brancato