by Cindi Barton and Holly Rennick
FIRST AUTHOR'S NOTES
We contribute this slice of heritage to National Women's History Month. (Whoops! NWHM was in March. Well, for the one next year.)
There were eighteen million Rosie the Riveters, two of whom were Alice Jean Crowder and Diane Stapleton Estes and they welded, not riveted. They welded very well, thank you, according to the Kaiser Shipbuilding inspection tallies. In terms of rivets (if you're a literal male), we had Rose Bonavita who drove a record 3,345 into a torpedo bomber in 1943. A Rosie really named Rose!
History says that World War II was won by American industrial might. (Should we have said "Herstory"? Considering Ms. Bonavita, "Herstoria"? Vocabulary got complicated after the Rosies burned their bras and the US got licked in Viet Nam.)
Give the picture at http://www.asstr.org/files/Authors/Holly_Rennick/Rosies.jpg a gander.
Rosie on the left, in her polka-dot bandana, flexes her muscle in the "We Can Do It" 1943 poster. And do it she did, once she got to California.
Rosie on the right is Norman Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post cover. Think she got that satisfied in an afternoon of peening rivets? Dr. Freud! We got one for you!
If these two Rosies had just been building war machines, they would have had to wear hardhats.
SECOND AUTHOR'S NOTES
See if you can find the "play within the play". I didn't invent the structure. I think Shakespeare did.
NEW HIRE #1
Richmond Kaiser Shipyard Welding Crew #138: Calvin McKee, chief, Dennis Selfridge, Alice Jean Crowder and Warner Marti -- Kaiser's best burners, we boasted. Our hardhats had 138 over a big V for victory. I'm Alice Jean. I bring in more take-home pay than my husband Stan who's a rigger.
But Calvin got on with General Electric's sub division, and Dennis had the seniority. Myself, I'd started later in the shipbuilding trade, leaving college for the War effort. I'd been studying for the stage, since I have some talent. (Well, OK, I was having some grade problems, too.) But now welding for two years, I was getting to be an old hand. Hell, it got me to California, same as if I'd opted for the cinema.
Stan, the first rigger I ever met, swept me off my feet by the Golden Gate and got me in what looked to be the family way, so we got married. Turns out to have been a false alarm, but we'd already tied the knot.
Welding Crew #138: Dennis Selfridge, chief, Alice Jean Crowder, Warner Marti and one new hire -- Kaiser Shipbuilding's best burners, we hoped.
"So this must be Chester Estes," I judged when I saw Personnel escorting the gangly new-hire into Shipway 11. LeeAnne in Personnel had tipped me that the new one was single; it's interesting how new hires get classified. Her understanding was that this one learned to weld on the farm. Kaiser gets us from all over.
Watching the new hire reminded me my first day, but twenty times more, me being a woman. Poor guy. Males want so hard to impress. Dumped into the scurry, he's thinking he made a bad job choice. My first day, I'd known the Bette Davis bit. Hi there, fellas! Worked like a charm.
I just hadn't realized why Stan had driven me to see the Bay lights from the far docks. I just wasn't used to brandy, I guess, but maybe at the same time I was ready to live a little. Welcome to California!
I hoped this new one would give it a couple of years; it can take a while, but you get to like it. Me, I'd chosen Kaiser for the wrong reason -- the overtime. Now I'd found a better reason to punch in, welding real ships, proving that us dolls can do it faster, even.
I was pleased that the guys made a point of formally introducing themselves to Chester, the new one. And after a few jokes, he'd quit refolding his goggles (men like their hands occupied) and was discussing which Yankees were likely to enlist in which Armed Force. Those service teams could whomp the Majors these days, he said.
Women tend to get acquainted in terms of what we like, the soaps, for example. Men, by what they think. It's good to have something in common besides ironwork.
Chester hailed from Oklahoma, went to the Baptist Church, was in tractor sales before the War, ruefully conceding that welding was harder, "but sure beats commissions."
I circumspectly sleuthed two crucial items: he wasn't a fag and admitted to no spouse. Most gals just check the latter, but I'd known a boy in school who wore his sister's clothes. Secondary positives included that he smoked, enjoyed dancing (not competitively, he wanted to be clear) and had good manners. A potential negative seemed to be the seriousness with which he took baseball. On the other hand, he could have liked the bottle too much, a sure-fire Monday-morning problem for the rest of us.
Then Dennis got a transfer to Kaiser Vancouver and crew chief goes by seniority.
Welding Crew #138: Alice Jean Crowder, chief, Warner Marti, Chester Estes and another new hire -- Kaiser Shipbuilding's best burners, I wondered.
I was glad I'd worked my way up, Heliarc in glove, so to speak. Chiefs need to earn their respect, especially woman ones.
NEW HIRE #2
And our new welder was another woman! Another Rosie the Riveter to the public, still a broad to most guys in Richmond. But to hell with that! Because I was now a "Chief Broad" whose beads stayed tight. It just takes that little bit of extra heat and not pulling the rod away too fast. (I'm talking welding technology.)
But another gal? I was as doubtful about this new one, Diane Stapleton, her name, as were Warner and Chester. Could she carry her weight? She seemed to have the biceps, I agreed. Be trusted not to burn the guy on her right? Hell, would she do her part cleaning up?
I could tell from her union book that she'd apprenticed in Kansas City and she probably knew her theory. Rosies usually do. And for $1.05 an hour, 40 hours plus, two-week paid vacation, sick leave, Rosies move to yards where there's more water than ever flowed in the Missouri. Did the same, myself.
Welding Crew #138: Alice Jean Crowder, chief, Warner Marti, Chester Estes and Diane Stapleton -- Kaiser Shipyard's first half-and-half burners.
I was pleased to have an unattached gal on board (thank you, LeeAnne in Personnel) for Chester's sake. I didn't foresee romance right off (this Diane seemed too pretty), but something to think about. Plus, single Sallies make better friends -- no raised-eyebrow, "Oh, my husband wouldn't want me to, but it's your business." Plus, as the three of us noted first day, this one could submerge arc as fast as anybody could feed her electrodes.
Crew chiefs need to watch things.
Diane and Chester exchanged greetings at the gate, I observed, and chatted over lunch when a bench was free. Maybe there was hope for Cupid, but after a month I'd suggest a little faster. There's a War going on, you know?
I'd been a virgin when I arrived, too. I could tell that about Diane just from her giggle. Shoot! If I'd taken the bus to Hollywood and traded mine off smarter, I'd not be in these coveralls. But I'd not be making big ships.
I was, I'll admit, a little glad that Warner wasn't the one making eyes at Diane (if that's what Chester thought he was doing. It takes a little action, too.). I liked Warner to pal around with.
Knowing that Chester danced gave me the inspiration. "Third Friday every month, 7:30, they open up Store Shed 19 for a country hoedown, just like what we got drug to when we were kids on the farm." Casually (I hoped), I added as an afterthought, "I'll ask around and see who else is going."
When Diane laughed, "Barn dance?" I guessed it was at the idea of stepping out with string-bean Chester, not alternate left and righting. No, really. She'd love to go, though she admitted to only a city girl's idea of barn dancing. Chester knew how, I assured. When I promised there'd be no cows or hogs, I had to add that it was a joke.
A barn dance is about as safe as a social can be. You're in the arms of a different fella every 30 seconds. Even still, I pulled Diane aside, "You get everything pretty in your room, honey, the other girls ready to slip away for a soda, just in case." It doesn't hurt to be prepared, even if you're not that kind of girl. She didn't see it my way, but knew I was trying to be helpful.
On Monday, "Kept those knees together, honey?" Rosies can ask.
"Alice Jean, you're just awful!" cuffing me like I was a single girl myself. "And even if I loved him, while do-si-doing?"
Several weeks passed and Chester needed a shove "There's another barn dance and Diane's been rehearsing her Whoo Hoos," I prodded. Hardly Hollywood script, but this wasn't Bogart and Bergman.
Diane followed my pointers a little better, making Chester wrap her breast in the swings. He didn't pull her into him as a smoothie might, she reported, so she turned sideways to help. Smart chick, I told her. Walking out to the street, she'd taken his arm.
She shared his cigarette like I told her ("Pop it out of his mouth, take a deep drag and tease him with it when you put it back in."), but didn't ditch her girdle, my other suggestion. At least she was getting a little more modern. (Shoot. If I'd have worn my girdle to see the Bay lights, I'd probably not be married.)
But still no follow-up from Chester, just a "Had us a really nice time."
Why was Chester so chicken? Being a Baptist? Full church nursery, so those folks know how. Okie babies have Okie daddies, so it wasn't where he was from. Warner said lots of Okie babies are due to Route 66, but still thought Chester's problem was just shyness.
.... There is more of this story ...