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Rosie the RiveterPosted Sunday, January 1, 2012, at 8:06 AM
Billie Voyles was never a big woman. At age 86, she's barely four and a half feet tall--but her size didn't keep her from working in a munitions factory during World War II.
I met this feisty little lady at her home in Ocala, Florida yesterday and was shocked to hear her tell of the job she held when she was 24 years old.
It was 1941, and every able-bodied man in America had either volunteered or been drafted to go off and fight the "Huns" in Europe or the "Japs" in the Pacific. The call went out for women to leave their kitchens and living rooms to make bombs for the war effort.
"Aunt Billie," as my friend calls her, went to work shortly after the invasion of Pearl Harbor in an Evansville, Indiana machine shop, where she did riveting.
"I worked on one side of the metal piece, and my partner worked on the other side," Billie said. "We made bombs for B-17's and B-24's. We did everything. When the plant closed in 1945 at the end of the war, there were only two people left--me and the shipper!"
The term "Rosie the Riveter" was first used in 1942 in a song of the same name written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb. The song was recorded by numerous artists, including the popular big band leader Kay Kyser, and became a national hit. The song portrays "Rosie" as a tireless assembly line worker, doing her part to help the American war effort:
"All the day long,
Whether rain or shine
She's part of the assembly line.
She's making history,
Working for victory
Rosie the Riveter."
One government advertisement asked women "Can you use an electric mixer? If so, you can learn to operate a drill."
Conditions were sometimes harsh and pay was not always equal--the average man working in a wartime plant was paid $54.65 per week, while women were paid about $31.50. Nonetheless, women quickly responded to Rosie the Riveter, who convinced them that they had a patriotic duty to enter the workforce.
According to the Encyclopedia of American Economic History, "Rosie the Riveter" inspired a social movement that increased the number of working American women to 20 million by 1944, a 57% increase from 1940.
Life for women in America would never be the same!
For me, it was a real pleasure to meet one of the women who were a part of this unique chapter in our nation's history.
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 573-722-5322.