When most people think of American women during World War II, the iconic ‘Rosie the Riveter’ comes to mind.
The war industry gave women the opportunity to earn their own living and contribute to the war effort. Rosie represented that modern factory girl.
Two such women live at Pendleton Manor in Franklin, West Virginia.
Betty Bennett worked at the factory at Curtis Bay near Baltimore, Maryland. She operated the machine that cut metal pieces for the sides of ships.
Factory work was a change of pace for Betty, who had been a stay-at-home mother before the war. She says she felt led to work at the factory to aid her country, especially because her brother served as a soldier and was wounded overseas.
It was my right to serve my country like my brother had, and since I couldn’t do it like he did, I helped from home.” – Betty Bennett, Pendleton Manor resident
Lillian Tierney worked at the U.S. Naval Torpedo Station in Alexandria, Virginia. She ran a bench drill most of the time and detailed pieces for ammunition.
Lillian’s father would not let her work at the factory without being there as well, so when she went for a job, he did too.
“If I’d known my daddy was going to work there, I would’ve joined long before,” Lillian says.
Before the factory, Lillian was a cashier at her local grocery store in Alexandria. She remembers that every Friday, a woman would buy a cake. Finally, on the last Friday that Lillian worked in the store, the customer asked Lillian, “Your country needs you, how can you do this?” Lillian says she started at the factory on the following Monday.
Your country needs you, how can you do this?” – Grocery store customer
The days were long, with staff often arriving at 7 a.m. and not leaving until 5 p.m.
Betty and Lillian remember that some women were often mocked by men outside the factory.
Inside, they say, the environment was pleasant and the work was mostly enjoyable. Following the rules of the factory though, especially for women, was vital.
One of Lillian’s co-workers was injured when her hair was caught in a machine. She had ignored the rule requiring workers to wear their hair up.
Not all staff members were female. Lillian worked with her father and Betty worked with her husband.
Because women of all backgrounds worked for the war effort, many developed a camaraderie around their shared service. This camaraderie spanned generations and connected women in all walks of life.
When the war ended in 1945, the women continued with their lives and returned to take care of their families. Today, Lillian is 95 and Betty is 101. They met at Pendleton Manor. Their friendship is a prime example of the relationships built by Rosie the Riveter.
At Pendleton Manor, they enjoy being in each other’s company and sharing stories and memories from their times as Rosie the Riveter.
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