Second World War: Rosie the Riveter

Oklahoman recalls rationing and working at as a 'Rosie the Riveter'.

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When rationing started, I was in high school. With two other students, I helped sign people up for their ration books. One lady refused to tell her age, so she got no book. 

The book was like a book of stamps. Each can of food, pound of sugar, shortening, coffee or meat cost so many stamps. The meat stamps were red; the canned food stamps blue. You could manage, though you had few choices.        :

Laundry soap was not available where I was. Washing clothes with hand soap using a scrub brush on the shower floor was no fun. Toilet paper was seldom available. I saved stamps for two months for a can of pineapple I craved. There was no black pepper. Enough gasoline was rationed to go to work.

For some reason there were no sheets, elastic panties, hose or men's shorts. We wore khaki-colored rayon panties that buttoned.

You got one pair of leather shoes a year. The rest of the time you wore cloth shoes. If you had a defense job, you could get steel-toed leather shoes - no stamps. They gave me corns.

When you shopped, you took your stamps, the tokens they gave you in change and your money. With sorghum or honey, we made mayonnaise cakes - no stamps. We had no bacon those years, and meat was scarce. We had meat stamps left over.

I had my first job - Rosie the Riveter - at Douglas, building airplanes. I started at 60 cents an hour, soon raised to 65 cents. I got time-and-a-half Saturday pay and double time on the occasional Sunday I worked.

The Douglas bus cost more than $4 a week, and I had rent, groceries and clothes to buy, plus my bus ticket home when I didn't work on Sunday.

I got so homesick. I was the oldest kid, and we were very poor. I saved enough money to roof our leaky house, and buy a divan and a few clothes for my family. I wish I could have done more.

I grew up in a town of 1,000 people and got lost often in the big town of Tulsa.

Hamburgers and malts were 20 cents. Pop was a nickel, as was the crowded Tulsa bus. Milk cost 10 cents if you had your nickel bottle. We didn't buy ice in the winter so we kept milk in a shady window to cool. Sometimes it froze, and the paper cap rose high. I was young, helping the war effort. It took little to make me happy.

Ellen Kelsey
Henryetta, Oklahoma


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.