Beyond Steel

Rosie Remembers: Women World War II Workers at Bethlehem Steel

0:00

Music/song playing, "Rosie the Riveter"

I-N: Catherine Koch, inspector , tool grinder [ground the top and/or bottom of carbon or alloy steel plate or bars],tool chaser [made sure that all the tools necessary for an operation are available and in good working condition]. Bethlehem Steel.

CK: [?] shift Rosie I was in morning and I don't know was it 8:00 to 4:00 then 4:00 til 12:00 and 12:00 to 8:00 and towards the last couple of years it was 12:00 to 8:00 steady. Graveyard shift they call that.

1:00

I-N: Margaret SantHaverlow, chip girl [responsible for removing the scrap from the steel], milling [tool] machine operator, Bethlehem Steel.

MS: Well I think it took a certain kind of a woman to want to work in the plant, I don't think women that were too fussy or too prim wouldn't have applied in the plant part to work at machinery.

I-N: Alberta George Urdley, buggy operator [carts used for transporting materials], Bethlehem Steel.

AGU: I was a buggy operator and they trained several of us for to drive the buggy and that was it. I never thought I'd drive the buggy, I said I'd never do this. I can't do it, but, but I did it.

I-N: Anna McLaughlin Cassium, chain girl [chainman/woman measured distances with a steel tape or a surveyor's chain], Bethlehem Steel.

AMC: My brothers had gone to war and I wanted to get a job out of town, I lived in a small town, so I wanted to get out of town and just 2:00get a job and I came down to Bethlehem and went in and got a job.

I-N: Angela Eager, crane operator, Bethlehem Steel.

AE: Where I had to ride I had to take the trolley car over there, you know, going to Allentown. Change trolleys in Allentown and go over to Bethlehem then you had to change there again to go to the South Side and that was a long ride, I'd have to leave about, it was about an hour and a half to get there really.

I-N: Chickie Highdecker, mail carrier, furnace checker [monitored the operation to ensure it is operating in accordance with prescribed specifications], Bethlehem Steel.

CH: When I used to carry the mail down the Minsi Trail steps they would beep their, blow their whistle at me and call me, "Rosie the Riveter," but I just laughed I never answered them.

I-N: Erma Sing, scarfer [a machine removed surface defects],Bethlehem Steel.

ES: I mean, they never thought, I don't think women ever thought they'd get in the Bethlehem Steel back in that time you know before the 3:00war broke out I don't think a woman would've ever went out for a man's job.

RECORDED HISTORICAL AUDIO FROM FDR SPEECH: "Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. With confidence 4:00in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people we will gain the inevitable triumph so help us God."

I-N: World War II generated an unprecedented demand for new workers and in response to the National call urging women to enter the workforce as their patriotic duty, the female labor force increased by fifty percent. The name Rosie the Riveter became a symbol of women workers engaged in war production. The Four Sergeants released a popular song entitled, "Rosie the Riveter" and the Nation became familiar with Norman Rockwell's 1943 Saturday Evening Post magazine cover of Rosie the Riveter which depicted a modest, confident heroically-muscled woman riveter against the background of the American flag and here in the Lehigh Valley over 2,200 women took jobs at the Bethlehem Steel 5:00plant. Pearl Franz, assistant head of the Women in Industry Wartime Program at the Bethlehem Steel said that women were placed in every process of steel production and in her words, "the women did a terrific job." What was it like for these women? Seven Bethlehem Steel Rosies remember.

[NARRATORS NOT IDENTIFIED] Because it was something different I'd been sewing all my life so I thought I'd try something different and I enjoyed it.

It was a chance, it was a chance of doing my part I thought for the country. My husband was in the service and I felt I was taking his place plus it was better earnings and it was an education it was learning something new.

Well, I think I was the first girl they put on it. They were gonna try to see if we could do it and we did it, but it was hard, yes it 6:00was.

I was a person that if I saw something that I liked or saw somebody do something that fascinated me, I was always ready to try.

I-N: During World War II, women already working experienced their first opportunity for occupational mobility and training in skilled jobs. Working at the Steel meant adjusting to rotating shift work so women with children had to make personal arrangements for child care. None of the women I spoke with were told about the Bethlehem child care center, one of 83 child care centers that the State of Pennsylvania established in 1943 to provide daycare for children of women engaged in war work. The Bethlehem center was closed on July 31, 1945. The wartime need for women workers challenged old ideas about what jobs were or were not possible for women and for these women 7:00workers at the Bethlehem Steel plant they were stepping into what was considered a male domain. First impressions were vivid, exciting and often frightening.

[NARRATOR NOT IDENTIFIED] Well, it was all strange, I mean I've seen the plant from the outside, but I was never in.

It was very scary.

Oh, when you saw all the hot steel, sparks flying everywhere.

Well, there was big rats there. They're as big as cats sometimes.

I remember coming home, at that time I still traveled back and forth to Mauch Chunk and as soon as I'd get home I'd have to get in a hot tub of water because I think you used every muscle that you didn't know you had.

The day I started there I had long hair and when it started to burn, the next day I went in I had short hair. I went and got them cut 8:00quick.

Well, you carried a torch and you burned the air lines out of billets or long steel things before it went into the rolling mills.

They put me outside and I was on a car and I was checking these the pieces of steel checking the numbers on them and I wasn't dressed to be outside, when I came in the boss asked me how I liked it, I said alright, but I was cold. So the next day, I dressed real warm I put my husbands long underwear on and I put a sweatshirt on with a hood on and he put me around the furnaces 3500 degrees and I was so warm all day then that night he asked me how I liked it and I didn't dare to complain because he thought I didn't want to work.

Well, it was big, you know, much larger than anything I had ever been in.

Like I said, I was naïve. I'm coming, this is like a big city coming from a small town. So you saw things and you heard things and you 9:00heard talk that you weren't accustomed to.

Well, my mother didn't mind, but I had a stepfather he didn't like it he said it was only a place for men to work and he kept picking on me.

A lot of them said that it wasn't no place for women.

He almost had a fit the first letter I got from him when he found out I was working at the Steel. He wanted me out because he was afraid I'd get killed cause I was a little skinny connective[?] thing. I didn't weigh more than about 90 lbs. at the time, you know, and I was short and I wasn't as high as some of the tables and I was surprised I was hired because if you were real short they wouldn't take you, but I got in.

10:00

But I'm gonna tell you, we all used to bring food and we all shared it. We even had a tablecloth that we'd put on the one table and we'd all put our food out and everybody shared till the men seen what we were doing so then they decided they'd have their wives make something, that's when the men and women become, started to become friendly because we'd all cook and stuff and bring stuff in and they'd eat and these men never ate so good.

I worked with all men.

Well, I don't think they liked us coming in. Cause it wasn't really a hard job, it really wasn't at the furnaces.

And the men afterwards they would help you an awful lot too, I mean once they finally realized we were there just for the war.

They were afraid we were going to stay, you know that we wouldn't get out and give the men their jobs back.

11:00

They were sorta jealous I guess, but they had no choice we wouldn't go out we wouldn't move some said why don't you go back to the sweatshop where you belong. I said we're here to make money just like you, that's what I told them.

In the beginning, I noticed that they never bothered, you know what I mean, they'd never bid you the time of day or anything like that, but as time went on then they started talking.

Well, they got used to us I guess. Cause they knew we were gonna be there until the end of the war and I guess they got [?]

Nobody was ever nasty to me. Only one fella said to me one day, he said you ought to be ashamed to take your pay. I said I'm not ashamed, I said I'm taking a man's job.

But there was one man I remember he was a little on the crude side and he was a gentleman though, but he'd cuss every other word was a cuss 12:00word and he'd look at me and he'd say excuse me ma'am. And I think they welcomed the change women in there they enjoyed it too.

Well, I as I worked eight hours a day as a chip girl, I applied down at the Quinn Technical High School and taught was taught how to work on the various machines like cold saws, lathes, grinders, things like this and after I had my 300 hours in then I got my certificate and with that then I went back down to the Steel into the office with the certificate then I was transferred up to the second floor in HDM and I was put on a machine and I was put on a milling machine as they referred to it.

You had to go straight up on a ladder and climb and the old dinky cranes they had they didn't have the automatics there they had with the 13:00[?] and they were magnets. We unloaded the boxcars as the trains came in.

We were real friendly we made like a club once a month we'd go to Miller Heights [neighborhood] some kind of Democratic club to have a night out all the women we put money in the table or kitty we had good time.

Lilly was a singer, she used to sing some of the crazy war songs and stuff, especially if I was in the air raid office because we had a microphone in there and if we were on midnight shift she'd entertain them all, she was really good. She was, she was flashy, she really had pizzazz. She could make anybody laugh. If you were sad, you weren't sad very long if you were around Lilly.

14:00

In the summertime, we'd just sit out in the, we were all dirty anyway, so you'd sit out on the curb or a wall or whatever was there we'd just sit there and eat there with the guys and it was friendly, it was really friendly.

I-N: Changes in the workplace had to be made to accommodate women workers. Restrooms, showers and changing rooms had to be provided. The Women in Industry program at Bethlehem Steel, hired matrons whose function was to council the women on fitting themselves into the workforce. Pearl Franz said safety measures were a most important element of this program at Bethlehem Steel because it's new for women to be in this type of heavy industry so consequently the women were not as alert to the potential danger involved. Indeed, the battlefields of America were its factories and plants. According to a January 21, 1944 New York Times article, the industrial deaths between the time 15:00of Pearl Harbor and January 1, 1944 exceeded by 7,500 the number killed in the war. Women joined the United Steelworkers of America, though at that time it was not mandatory. Equal pay for equal work was policy, however, grievances were registered by the union on behalf of the women in cases were management had defined women's work in such a way that it precluded equal pay for equal work.

[NARRATOR NOT SPECIFIED] And I tell you one thing, we did get less than the men. We did the same job, but we got between ten and twelve cents less than a man for doing the same job, but when the war was over we were refunded the union for [?] that..

We had a matron [a woman who served as a resource for female employees and who oversaw the behavior of female employees] and she was strict we weren't suppose to associate with the men, she watched us every move we made, the minute we talked to somebody she was right there on 16:00the ball.

And she was like a mother hen to all of us, she was really good, really, really good.

We wore wooden shoes. We were covered from head to foot with asbestos, gloves and a big, like what a welder would, a big hood over, which all you had was a black glass to look through, it was awful heavy and hot.

Safety glasses, safety shoes with steel tips, and hats that had like a net with a visor in front, coveralls, gloves, no jewelry, [?] jewels was no jewelry, I didn't even like the safety shoes they were heavy, they were men's safety shoes.

It was a new experience to be wearing slacks or jeans and then we had to wear a hat that had a visor and a snood, if you know what a snood 17:00is, it was like a net in the back, Word War II you wore long hair, you know, you had long hair, I had the long hair, the curls up here, you know the way they wore them, so we had to catch our hair in the snood, it was like a net attached to the cap.

The hammer ran wild one time and I didn't know nothing what was happening I just stood in my buggy and the guys all started running out the building and the forge gang and all of a sudden two of them came and lifted me out of the buggy and ran with me outside and they said when you see the hammer going wild you get out.

I was in my early 20s and I was afraid because we had to walk in a place where there was a crane and my father was killed by a crane so I was very scared, shaky, didn't get you know, I was afraid of I would be doing something wrong

You could get burned, the torch, the one, that's what scared me when the girl in front of me her torch did blow up and she was burnt bad 18:00and, like I said, you had, when your hood was down if you didn't have your torch lit, you saw nothing it was completely black. Well, you had a girl overhead with a crane carrying coming with these loads and if she didn't take it up high enough, she'd kill you so you were constantly watching, well more so you were watching the one in front of you or the girl beside you or the man beside you, everybody was taking care of each other because it could be dangerous.

I had a daughter she was five years old, my neighbor she also had a husband in the CBs[?] and she had a child ,she didn't work, so she took care of her and we worked three different shifts so she kept her there overnight you know when I was working night shift and we were very 19:00close.

We had we had good time, bad times. When you'd hear maybe somebody would say well gee they heard so and so was killed in the war, well you knew he wasn't coming back, I didn't know him but maybe some of the men did and some of them they'd be talking recalling some of the things that happened you know.

RECORDED HISTORICAL AUDIO/NEWS BROADCAST: 7 p.m. Eastern War Time, Bob Troff[?] reporting. The Japanese have accepted our terms fully. That's the word we've just received from the White House in Washington. This ladies and gentlemen is the end of the Second World War.

20:00

[NARRATOR NOT IDENTIFIED] I remember the day that it was over. We had all came out and we got in cars we were riding all around and that the bosses were wild because they had to shut the machines down so then the steel company decided well ok, you know, they'd closed the plant for the rest of the day or different areas not everything was closed down but different area where they really didn't need it and I remember one man saying, I can't think of what his name is, but if I'd see him I'd know him, he said now we can kick the women out. That was first and only time now we can kick the women out and get rid of the women. That's the only time I ever heard that and he wasn't even from our shop.

I remember being on 7th and Hamilton [in Allentown, Pa] it was a madhouse, you weren't moving, nobody was moving, well it was just one mass 21:00you didn't know who was grabbing who and kissing who and I mean it was just hectic.

Oh yeah, everybody was it was about 3 o'clock in the morning we were we didn't have much work to do we were cleaning off the office mopping up the offices they said the war is over and all the girls go out that's it pack your clothing and go home.

I-N: And so the Nation's courtship of Rosie the Riveter ended. The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 guaranteed the reinstatement of soldiers in the positions they had left to join military service. The women knew this, nevertheless . . .

[NARRATOR NOT IDENTIFIED] I would've gone back if they'd have called me.

I hated to leave there truthfully.

There was no place for me to use those skills if I knew they were hiring after the war I would've went back would've kept more money.

Oh I don't think anybody ever said thank you to the women. The Government, the men, or anybody else I don't, when they came back we were 22:00pushed right back down again, right back yeah. It was alright you can't, you could do it then, but now you can't handle it and I always thought that was a little bit wrong, nobody ever said thank you.

It was a vast experience for me, something that I don't believe I'll ever see again or do again.

You met a lot of people.

Well, I'll tell you I grew up there it was no more running home and crying I want this and I want that, you done your job but you grew up.

Feel if I could work at the Steel I could do anything.

23:00

I-N: Rosie Remembers, Women World War II Workers at Bethlehem Steel, a presentation of the Lehigh Valley Community Broadcasters Association, New and Public Affairs Department, written and produced by Carol Baylor with help from Cheryl A. Hawkney, coproduced and engineered by Scott Legath. "Rosie the Riveter" performed by the Four Sergeants. "Flying Home" written by Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Sid Robin. Performed by Glenn Miller and Army Airforce Band. A special thanks to all the people who shared their knowledge and experiences with me. Comments are welcomed and transcripts of this program are available. Write to: Rosie in care of Carol Baylor, 24:00Lehigh Valley Community Broadcasters Association, P.O. Box 1456, Allentown, PA 18105.

0:00 - Introduction of Interviewees

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Partial Transcript: “Rosie the Riveter” song, followed by:Catherine Koch, inspector , tool grinder [ground the top and/or bottom of carbon or alloy steel plate or bars],tool chaser [made sure that all the tools necessary for an operation are available and in good working condition]. Bethlehem Steel...

Segment Synopsis: Originally a radio performance, this set of curated interviews opens with the "Rosie the Riveter" theme song. As the song fades to the background, the interviewer briefly introduces each of the seven interviewees by name and occupation. Each woman offers a short description of her work and experience at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. Catherine Koch worked as an inspector and tool grinder. Margaret SantHaverlow was a "chip girl." Alberta George Urdley was a buggy operator. Anna McLaughlin Cassium worked as a chainwoman. Angela Eager was a crane operator. Chickie Highdecker was a mail carrier and furnace checker, and Erma Sing worked as a scarfer.

Keywords: Allentown (Pa.); Bethlehem Steel Corporation; buggies; buggy operators; chainmen; crane operators; gender; gender roles; grinders; inspectors; laborers; night shift; scarfing; shifts; transportation; trolleys; World War II

3:14 - Impact of World War II on Workforce

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Partial Transcript: Excerpt from FDR's Speech: Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan...

Segment Synopsis: This segment opens with an excerpt from a speech by FDR announcing the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The interviewer then comments on the rise of the female workforce during World War II. According to the interviewer, "World War II generated an unprecedented demand for new workers and in response to the National call urging women to enter the workforce as their patriotic duty, the female labor force increased by fifty percent. The name Rosie the Riveter became a symbol of women workers engaged in war production." Several of the "Rosies" then share some of their experiences and reasons for wanting to join the workforce,including the chance to do something different,wanting to do their part to help the war effort, earning better wages, and the desire to learn new skills. Please note: throughout the radio performance, the women are not identified by name before speaking.

Keywords: education; family; gender; gender roles; laborers; wages; World War II

6:18 - Womens' First Impressions of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation

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Partial Transcript: During World War II, women already working experienced their first opportunity for occupational mobility and training in skilled jobs. Working at the Steel meant adjusting to rotating shift work, so women with children had to make personal arrangements for child care.

Segment Synopsis: This segment covers the women's first impressions of their new work lives at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. As the women explain, the were often simultaneously scared and exhilarated. Some of the women confronted sexism at home and at work by men who insisted, "that it wasn’t no place for women." Despite the challenges they faced, the women learned how to adapt and claim their right to work.

Keywords: Bethlehem Steel Corporation; billets; child care; family; gender roles; rolling mills; shifts; training; working conditions; World War II

9:54 - Relationships in the Workplace

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Partial Transcript: Following a segment from the "Rosie the Riveter" song: But I’m gonna tell you, we all used to bring food and we all shared it. We even had a tablecloth that we’d put on the one table and we’d all put our food out and everybody shared till the men seen what we were doing so then they decided they’d have their wives make something, that’s when the men and women become, started to become friendly...

Segment Synopsis: The women describe memories of professional relationships and friendships with their male and female co-workers. One interviewee recalls that her male co-workers, "[They] were afraid we were going to stay, you know that we wouldn’t get out and give the men their jobs back [after World War II]." However, another interviewee states that the men eventually got used to the women and were helpful. The women and men also eventually shared meals together. Another interviewee fondly remembers that she and her female co-workers "were real friendly, we made like a club once a month we’d go to Miller Heights [neighborhood] some kind of Democratic club to have a night out all the women we put money in the table or kitty we had good time."

Keywords: chippers; cranes; food and drink; friends; gender; gender roles; grinders; lathes; Miller Heights; millers; music; professional relationships; Quinn School; social life; training; transportation; wages; World War II

14:16 - Accommodations for Women Workers

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Partial Transcript: Changes in the workplace had to be made to accommodate women workers. Restrooms, showers and changing rooms had to be provided. The Women in Industry program at Bethlehem Steel hired matrons whose function was to council the women on fitting themselves into the workforce...Equal pay for equal work was policy, however, grievances were registered by the union on behalf of the women in cases where management had defined women’s work in such a way that it precluded equal pay for equal work.

Segment Synopsis: In this segment, the women discuss working conditions and how work impacted their daily lives. Several interviewees discuss the role of matrons and the importance of safety measures. One woman comments that despite equal pay for equal work policies, "And I tell you one thing, we did get less than the men. We did the same job, but we got between ten and twelve cents less than a man for doing the same job, but when the war was over we were refunded the union for that." Toward the end of this segment, one of the interviewees discusses the child care arrangements that she made with her neighbor, who stayed at home with her children.

Keywords: buggies; buggy operators; child care; children; communities; cranes; day shift; death; family; grievances; matrons; night shift; safety; shifts; swing shift; uniforms; unions; United Steelworkers of America; wages; washrooms; working conditions; World War II

19:24 - End of World War II and Women's Expulsion from Work

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Partial Transcript: 7 p.m. Eastern War Time, Bob Troff reporting. The Japanese have accepted our terms fully. That’s the word we’ve just received from the White House in Washington. This ladies and gentlemen is the end of the Second World War.

Segment Synopsis:

Keywords: gender; gender roles; laborers; World War II

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