‘Rosie the Riveter’ tells story of women during WWII

Published 5:59 pm Friday, December 7, 2018

VALLEY — Friday’s meeting of the Chambers County Education Retirees Association (CCERA) took place on the 77th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, an event that resulted in the U.S. entry into World War II.

Storyteller Carol Cain was the guest speaker and had an appropriate program for the large crowd gathered at Fairfax Kindergarten. She portrayed Rosie the Riveter, and talked about some American women of the day who took on necessary roles for the allies to win the war.

Rosie the Riveter is a cultural icon of World War II, representing the women who worked in factories and shipyards, many of whom produced munitions and war supplies. These women sometimes took entirely new jobs replacing male workers who had joined the military.

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Cain began her presentation by singing the 1942 song “Rosie the Riveter,” written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb and popularized by Kay Kyser. The song portrays “Rosie” as a tireless assembly line worker, who earned an E Award for doing her part to help the U.S. war effort. The name is thought to be the nickname for Rosie Bonavita, who worked for Convair in San Diego, California.

“They were passionate about their work,” Cain said. “Most of them had husbands, boyfriends or brothers in the service.”

Researchers have credited the work of these Rosies for producing 100,000 tanks, 100,000 ships, 15 million guns and 40 billion rounds of ammunition.

In taking on non-traditional roles in the workplace, these WWII Rosies were pioneers for all women.

“They paved the way for women to have jobs that had always been thought to be for men only,” Cain said. “Cowboys became cowgirls and lumberjacks became lumber jills.”

An estimated 19 million American women had jobs in WWII. Some women could better themselves and their families by doing this. Cain pointed to the example of school teachers making $0.75 an hour going to work in war production plants for $1.50 an hour, which was great money back then.

The Valley had its share of Rosie the Riveters. There are still stories being told of local women working in the West Point Foundry shell plant. The West Point Manufacturing Company was awarded a coveted E Award with lots of women in the work place.

Cain portrayed seven real-life women who had been Rosie the Riveters. Winona Espinosa, for example, relocated from her home in Grand Junction, Colorado to San Diego to be a riveter in a war production plant. It was her job to rivet the doors of P-38 planes. She went on to take another man’s job — driving a bus.

“She was doing that the day the war ended,” Cain said. “She let everyone ride for free that day.”

“Delly Hahn did everything but rivet,” Cain said. “She worked in a dry cleaning shop, drove a taxi, and worked at a gas station pumping gas and lubing the cars. Her biggest problem was with other women. They would always ask if there was a man around to do the work.”

Barbara de Nike lived with her sister during the war.

“Their husbands were in service, and they were raising three kids,” Cain said. “They alternated days in a nearby war production plant. One day one of them would come home with aching shoulders and blisters on their hands. The next day the other sister would come home that way.”

Frankie Cooper was a crane operator who constantly thought about our boys overseas and what they were going through.

Adele Ehrenburg went from working in the cosmetics department in a department store to being a machinist in a war production plant. Years later she would tell her friends she thought she could do more to help the country than to sell lipstick.

Before the war, Inez Sawyer’s life revolved around her husband and their three young children. When the war started, her husband joined the service and she moved back to Seattle to be near her parents and went to work in the tool room of a war plant.

She learned fast what was needed to produce the B-17 bomber in the Boeing plant.

At 31, she was promoted to chief clerk of the department and was entrusted to seeing plans that were classified.

“There were millions of such stories,” Cain said. “I’m sure there are stories here in the Valley that need to be talked about and passed on to future generations.”

Cain said that she once asked her grandmother what she’d done during the war. “She told me she rolled bandages for the Red Cross and that my grandfather had worked for Bell Craft in Marietta. That’s now Lockheed,” she said.

She now proudly wears a Bell Bomber patch on the Rosie the Riveter work clothes she wears during presentations.

Portraying Rosie is not a new role for Cain. For the past 24 years she has taken on that role for performances at the Little White House in Warm Springs and many other locations. She dons overalls, work boots and the iconic head scarf to tell the story of women workers on the home front in WW II.

For her work at the Little White House, Cain received the Carolyn Carter Award for the most outstanding volunteer of the year in 2013-14. Additionally, the Little White House earned a Georgia State Parks award for the most innovative special program at a historic site in 1996 and in 2010 for her performance.

Cain is a “Rosebud” affiliate member of the American Rosie the Riveter Association, joining in hon0r of her grandmother and grandfather. She has performed Rosie for national conventions, at the Atlanta History Center, the Atlanta World War II Roundtable and at Fort Benning.

Cain was especially pleased to be speaking to an audience of retired educators.

She’s one of their peers, having retired from the Troup County School System in 2015 after 30 years experience.