Rosie the Riveter: Heroine of Willow Run – Save Her Factory!
Celebrated in song, posters, art and newsreels throughout World War II, “Rosie the Riveter” represented the many women who went to work in America’s factories to take the place of the men who were called to war.
These patriotic women of all ages, many of whom had never so much as wielded a hammer before, learned to rivet, weld, and fold parachutes… and built airplanes, tanks and more… as they powered the “Arsenal of Democracy,” many of them right here at the Willow Run Bomber Plant!
It was doubted at first that women could do heavy industrial work, but with the war escalating, manufacturers and the government were desperate for workers. These pioneering “Rosies” proved that women could do a man’s job, and do it well, and paved the way for the workplace diversity we enjoy today.
In typical “Greatest Generation” fashion, these women weren’t in it to prove anything, but to do their patriotic duty, and help win a war.
At Willow Run, women were paid 75 cents per hour, same as the men, and that was darned good pay back then! Many female wartime workers left the factories after the war to focus on raising families or more traditional women’s jobs, but many enjoyed the work, and the money in their pockets, and stayed on to change the composition of the industrial workforce forever.
But let’s hear from the Rosies themselves!
Recently (June 2013), a group of real, live Rosie the Riveters from the American Rosie the Riveter Association visited the Yankee Air Museum and the slated-for-demolition Willow Run Bomber Plant. Among the group were three Rosies who had worked right here at Willow Run, building B-24 Liberator bombers!
What were working conditions like at the Willow Run Bomber Plant?
“Hot!” says Ruth M. (Pierson) Webb, 92, who came to Michigan as a 19 year old girl from Sullivan, Indiana to work at the Willow Run Bomber Plant in 1943. “They didn’t have fans or air conditioning in those days.”
Ruth caught the bus from Inkster every day to work at the plant, and didn’t dare miss it, or she’d have to walk. “We had to go to work!” she says. There was a war on, and the Allies needed planes. Ruth liked her job so much, she stayed on after the war to build the “Henry J,” a car made by Kaiser-Frazer to whom Henry Ford sold the plant after the War.
She held several jobs at the plant, including inspecting the rivet work on the B-24 bombers. For the Rosies, it never escaped their minds that these planes would be flown by their friends, sweethearts and brothers into battle, and they constantly asked themselves, “Will it fly?”
What was it like working with the men, doing a man’s work?
(Rachel) Mae Perry, 88, of Taylor, Michigan, says, “Well, there weren’t many men unless they were 4-F or… old!”
Of the ones that remained, and had to accept working alongside women for the first time, former Willow Run “Rosie” Blanche Mericle says, “Well, if you work and kid along with them, you can always get along.”
Blanche is a lively 95-year-old charmer, dressed to the nines and sporting stylish black stiletto pumps. She worked at Willow Run wielding a Cleco rivet gun, and, when asked if the ladies proved they could do the job as well as men, stated emphatically, “Women are always better!”
An experience they’ll never forget…
Mae Perry, when asked where she was stationed in the Willow Run Plant, can tell you without hesitation, “Aisle B-24, center wing, second floor.” There were 3 aisles in the plant, A, B and C. The wartime markings remain on the plant’s pillars to this day. Mae’s job was repairing rivets that had not passed inspection on the center wing section of the planes.
When asked about her riveting duties, Mae is quick to point out, “You can’t rivet without a bucker!”
Louise Unkrich, another former “Rosie,” commandeered the Yankee Air Museum’s “Rosie the Riveter” display, picking up the rivet gun and airplane panel, and showed us exactly how it was done… with the riveter on one side of the panel and the bucker making sure the rivet was properly seated on the other side.
And all of this was done with, “No gloves, and no earplugs!” as Louise points out. It was a different time back then.
But they were young, they were having fun as the young inevitably do, and they knew that what they were doing was important to their country and the war effort.
And after the War, they simply got on with their lives and never thought of themselves as the groundbreaking pioneers, heroines, and great patriots that they are.
When asked what how it feels to have made history, a flash of genuine surprise flickers in Mae Perry’s clear, blue eyes, as if she has really never considered herself this way before. “Oh, I don’t know about that,” she smiles demurely. “I suppose.”
Help Save Rosie’s Plant!
These amazing ladies who made history may not be with us much longer, and we must treasure them while we can.
Meanwhile, their plant at Willow Run where they turned out B-24 Liberator bombers at the incredible rate of one airplane every hour, to help put and end to the deadliest conflict in history, will soon be gone forever, unless we can raise the funds to save a portion of it as a NEW home for the Yankee Air Museum, and as a place to tell the story of ALL the Rosies, nationwide, and the war production effort… and Willow Run would be the perfect setting!
Don’t let their legacy be destroyed by the wrecking ball!
We owe these ladies everything!
Including… saving a portion of their Willow Run Bomber Plant as the NEW home of the Yankee Air Museum, with expanded exhibit space to properly document and honor their contribution.
Just as the Rosie the Riveters helped win World War II…
together, we can do it!
Do your part. Click on the big, red “Donate” button, and give generously…. and please tweet, post and share to spread the word!
The Michigan Aerospace Foundation
The Yankee Air Museum
Campaign Co-chairmen Astronaut Jack Lousma and former GM Executive Bob Lutz