Second World War: Real-life Rosie the Riveter

Illinois woman recalls being a real-life "Rosie the Riveter" – and the first woman to work in her plant.

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At one job I had during the Second World War, I was the first female employees in the plant - one of the original "Rosie the Riveter" women. When I walked in the door the first day, all the men in the place had assembled to see "what she looks like." The man who introduced me to the first punch press I ever saw said, "You will do well to do 1,500 parts an hour." 

The first day I did 700 an hour. The second day, I did 900 an hour. Third day, 1,100 an hour. Then I hit it. I was doing 3,000 an hour and loving it, when I glanced up to find myself surrounded by men. One man said, "You go and sit in the washroom for a while. You are making it look bad for us." I went. I was scared.

Not long after that I was transferred to another job operating a crane that picked up stacks of metal landing mats. I dipped them in a vat of acid and then in a vat of rinse solution, and from there set them on skids. It moved across the area on an overhead trolley and was operated by an instrument held in the hand, with push buttons to control the movement. I became so proficient at operating it that my supervisor said, "You set them down on a dime." One day I looked up to see the production manager watching me with a look of awe on his face. Guess they thought only men could operate things like that. Later they hired a number of other women. They had learned that women were capable of contributing to the war effort just as well as men.

Mary Gardener
Forest Park, Illinois


Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.