“All the day long,
Whether rain or shine,
She’s a part of the assembly line.
She’s making history,
Working for victory,
Rosie the Riveter…”
-from the 1943 song, “Rosie the Riveter” by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb
Rosie the Riveter - Roseville Big Band
During World War II, Anna (“Ann”) Hayden, who’s now 92 and lives in Springfield, became one of 6 million American women who got a job outside of the home for the first time. She was a “Rosie the Riveter,” a woman who worked in war-related manufacturing jobs.
At that time the work world was a man’s domain; women mostly stayed at home. But so many men were drafted to fight in Japan and Europe, companies had to buck societal norms and convince women it was appropriate to work for them for the country’s sake. They needed a lot of employees.
“Boeing was taking everybody,” says Hayden.
When her husband was drafted at the beginning of the war, the couple decided to move to Seattle so he could work for Boeing, which made bomber planes. “We had two daughters and we sure didn’t want him to have to go to service,” she says. (Some men were exempted from the draft if they worked in a job that was critical for the country’s needs.)
The couple contacted Boeing, “and (the company) said ‘Don’t come without your home, bring your home,’” Hayden says. “There was no place to live out there.” So the Haydens rented out their house, bought a trailer home and drove it from their home in Galva, near Galesburg, to Seattle.
“We got into Seattle at night. I think it was about two o’clock in the morning, and we didn’t know where we were,” she says. “So we parked along the side of the road and went to bed. In the morning we got up and we were two miles from one of the best trailer parks in Seattle…. There were some pretty cruddy (parks) out there, but we got in one of the nicest ones, they had the best washrooms.”
Their daughters went to school, Hayden’s mother-in-law cooked, “and there I was. I had been used to keeping house with my two kids and I just went up the walls,” she says. “So after everybody went to work and school that day, I just took off.”
She went downtown and applied for a job at Boeing, helping to build B17 bombers.
“I got a rivet bucker job and I didn’t have a clue what a rivet bucker was, but I found out in a hurry. It wasn’t hard work, but it was loud!” says Hayden.
And it took muscle. Riveters worked in tandem with rivet buckers, who had the hefty part of the job. Riveters shot a rivet through the outside of the plane (called the “skin,” Hayden says) while the rivet bucker held a “bucking bar” on the inside that flattened the rivet.
As soon as she was hired, Hayden went shopping for “coveralls and headbands (or scarves),” the typical Rosie the Riveter work uniform. Head coverings were for safety — they kept women’s hair out of the machines.
According to a May 2002 Boeing newsletter called “Boeing Frontiers,” companies put a lot of thought into providing women employees with appropriate uniforms. “Safety and appearance were top issues, and many companies introduced stylish uniforms that were functionally designed for work in the factories,” it said. “Boeing, for example, worked with a major department store in Seattle to develop working fashions.”
The somewhat masculine overalls didn’t detract soldier boys when they saw photos of Rosie the Riveters in magazines and newspapers. After a photo of Hayden working appeared in Seattle’s newspaper in 1944, she got several “love” letters from servicemen.
One from a man on the USC&GS (U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey) ship, the Explorer (which was the closest U.S. ship to Honolulu when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor), included an “Application for a date with a Navy Man.”
Another letter writer also tried to woo her and offered “a deed to my part of a darn good ranch in Mexico and Texas.”
A third, another Navy man, asked for a pinup picture of her, but also said: “I ran across your picture in the paper and appreciate what you are doing to help end the war.”
That’s why so many women worked, Hayden said. “When you’d see things about people getting killed here and there it made you want to work more and more,” and she did. Boeing’s plants were open 24 hours and “they needed people to work so bad, weekends, anytime.” She won an award for all the hours she put in.
“It was the best atmosphere because we were there for a good cause and we really tried every way to get something done.”
Contact Tara McAndrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.