Sunday, January 11, 2009

Women did more than just rivet in WWII — they changed the workplace

MY TURN:Like Rosie, they did more than just rivet in WWII — they changed the workplace
By Angie Erceg
Posted: 01/06/2009 10:58:20 PM PST

Mama started as a carpenter's helper and one of the carpenters, Anthony Erceg, later became my father-in-law...

Mama said when she first wore pants, she would walk backward so that male
workers would not see her derriere in the pants.

When World War II broke out, men were either drafted or enlisted, and there was soon a shortage of manpower at the defense plants and other vital companies working for the war effort on the home front.

The railroad had to keep running 24/7. There was a critical shortage of men, and very soon women were hired to continue in their positions.

Mama Kate Bosnich worked both in fruit and fish canneries before the war. When the war started, Mama and many other women were hired by the Southern Pacific Railroad in their San Francisco train yard to do manual, heavy-duty labor.

Mama started as a carpenter's helper and one of the carpenters, Anthony Erceg, later became my father-in-law.

They worked around dangerous machinery in the mill shop and were told they couldn't continue to work in their cute, flimsy Mode O' Day (a popular low-budget chain of stores) cotton house dresses.

They were ordered to wear heavy-duty bib overalls or slacks with tucked-in blouses or sweaters.

Well, this didn't go over big at all with the women, who had never worn slacks before, or their spouses.

How did the women resolve the problem and still abide by the dress code? The ladies had friends in the car shop, where they made and repaired window shades and seat covers for the passenger cars. The fabric was made of a heavy leather-type material that would not be hazardous around machinery. The ladies sweet-talked the men into making bib-type,
wraparound aprons from the material they were using for windows and seats that would cover most of the body -- and it worked.

Mama said when she first wore pants, she would walk backward so that male workers would not see her derriere in the pants.

The apron became part of their work uniforms, and no one was injured from flimsy clothing being caught in the machinery. They also had to wear a bandana covering or "snood" to keep their hair from falling into their eyes or getting tangled in the machinery.

Mama was later promoted to the toolshed. When she was told she would be working there, she told her boss, "But me don't know how to read or write!"

The boss said, "Kate, you know your numbers and your tools, and that is all you need."

He sat her down at a huge mahogany desk in a very small storage shed converted into a toolshed and handed her a gold pen. Mama said she sat and looked at the pen in awe for the longest time.
Tools were very scarce during the war, and they were disappearing daily. Mama's job was to hand the tools to employees when they arrived to work, with a chit and the number of tools given to them. They could not leave work until they returned tools and chits to Mama. Mama was proud that the tools stopped disappearing under her watchful eye.

Did Mama wear the slacks and wraparound apron in the toolshed? Of course. As long as she was working for the railroad during war, she abided by the safety rules of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

All the ladies in the train yard worked very hard for the war effort. Like Rosie the Riveter, they were loyal and proud of their accomplishments. They were doing a man's job until the war ended and the men returned to the jobs they left to fight for their beloved America during World War II.

Angie Erceg is a 48-year San Pedro resident and a retired ombudsman from San Pedro Peninsula Hospital.

http://www.contracostatimes.com/california/
Like Rosie, they did more than just rivet in WWII — they changed ...

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