• Matilda Butler

What's the Deal with Rosie the Riveter's Less Well-Known Co-Worker: Wendy the Welder?

Updated: Apr 20

INSPIRATIONAL MESSAGE WE FIND IN WENDY THE WELDER’S LIFE

Take Advantage of Opportunities

Whenever and Wherever They Present Themselves.

Then Do the Very Best That You Can.


She finished her cup of coffee, washed it, and put it on the drain to dry. No cream or sugar today, but that was okay. At least, she was getting used to the somewhat bitter taste and was glad she could still get the rationed coffee. She managed this feat by only having one cup a day. That one cup let her start her shift with plenty of energy.


She was tucking her blue bandana into her coat pocket when the front door opened.


“Hey Mabel,” Wendy said, “I’m just off for my shift. Anything I should know?”

“Na, all’s good,” replied Mabel, “but there’s no way I’m catching up with your record number of welds completed.”

“Why, what happened?” said Wendy.

“My welding torch was acting up, slowing me down. So now I’m bushed,” responded Mabel.


Wendy laughed and closed the door behind her.


Who Was This Wendy?

Wendy the Welder was one of hundreds of thousands of women working in defense industry shipyards. Although not as famous as Rosie the Riveter, Wendy the Welder is an iconic figure for many and her inspiration just as important.


Welders, like Rosies, were both African American and Caucasian women. African Americans, in particular, were eager to take wartime jobs because that meant higher wages than in their previous jobs as cooks, cleaners, and laundresses.


Racial discrimination in hiring practices prevented many Blacks from getting war jobs until President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 stating:

“There shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries and in Government, because of race, creed, color, or national origin.”

Eleanor Roosevelt had a Hand in Promoting Jobs for African Americans

The Executive Order (EO) was signed June 1941 when many jobs were opening in anticipation of America's entry into WW2. The EO did not address gender discrimination, but the shortage of men soon took care of a great deal of that.


A. Philip Randolph Eleanor, President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was the major force behind the EO, but he had the support of Eleanor Roosevelt. She urged her husband to sign it, saying it was important to end racial discrimination, the EO would improve the lives of many.


Stories of WW2 Welders

Enjoy the stories of four courageous female WW2 welders—three African Americans and one Caucasian—who helped the US increase production of airplanes and ships for the war effort. Then continue reading more awe-inspiring stories of the three Surgency sisters who all worked in the same shipyard.

  • Gladys Theus, Kaiser Company Permanente Metals Corporation: Once hired, Gladys stayed at her job in Oakland, California until the U.S. declared final victory in World War II. She said, “Every day I welded, I believed we were getting closer to the end of the war. It meant a lot to me that I was called one of the fastest and most efficient welders.”

  • Eugenia Powell Deas, Charleston Navy Shipyard: “You can’t do the work,” he said in a flat don’t-talk-back-to-me voice. Would she fail to get the job? Eugenia would not be denied this work she needed because of her race or her gender. She picked up a rod and torch and began the weaving technique right there in front of him. She proved she had the skills and was hired. She managed war welding work while raising nine children.

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  • Anna Bland, Richmond Shipyard No. 1: Anna was one of more than 1000 African American women who worked at a Kaiser Company shipyard. Her welding skills helped build the SS George Washington Carver in record time—less than one month.

Did you know? The SS Carver was the second Liberty ship to be named for an African American and the first one built at Richmond. On May 7, 1943, African American jazz singer and actor Lena Horne christened the ship with the traditional swing of a champagne bottle. Can’t you just imagine how proud Anna was?

  • Evelyn Spencer, San Pedro Shipyard, wore a leather jacket, boots, googles, and a steel mask while at a San Pedro shipyard, She worked on the decks of aircraft carriers, tying her hair back to keep it from getting burned by welding sparks. She was paid $2 an hour and worked the graveyard shift after spending the day caring for her baby.

"Welding is like sewing with fire."


What Did It Take to be a WW2 Welder: Training for Welding

There weren’t formal training facilities or trade schools for women who wanted to become welders during WW2. So how did they get the skills? Some high schools opened classrooms for evening training courses.


<<Matilda: My husband’s mother responded to an ad in Syracuse, NY for one of these courses offered at the local high school. As a result, she worked throughout World War II soldering armatures for electric windshield wiper motors for jeeps destined for Army use.


Her story and favorite recipe, along with stories of other WW2 women workers plus their favorite recipes---made even though there was war rationing--are included in Rosie’s CAN DO Cookbook.—Matilda>>>


But often employers created their own programs. The stories of the three Surgency sisters will give you a sense of what it was like after you applied, got a job, and then needed to start welding the minute you had any training.


Stories of 3 Surgency sisters:

Carobeth: “I went to [welding] school for a week. Soon as I learned to tack they put me to tacking, and in a month I was doing flat welding, vertical welding, overhead welding. I weighed 110 pounds…was 20 years old, loved life, wasn’t afraid of anything. I would go to the bottom of the ship and weld, or I’d go to the top of the mast pole and weld.”


Lauree added, “It was a challenge—to think about hanging on with one hand on a scaffold and your torch in the other hand and welding that way. I’m sure we took some risks, but I never did get injured, except once in a while I’d get an eye burn from the welding.”


Nanelle, their sister, said: “It was an awesome responsibility. You think about soldiers carried across and brought back in those ships…and cargo, of course, supplies and all of that. It was like you were in a cake bake off… looking for the first prize.”


Where did the Name Wendy the Welder Originate?

  • Is it Wendy the Welder?

  • Winnie the Welder? or

  • Minnie the Welder?

Most people recognize Wendy the Welder as a WW2 iconic figure. Occasionally, you will find an article about Winnie the Welder, but the daughters and granddaughters of World War II welders will quickly contradict the Winnie name. They insist it was Wendy.


Both Wendy and Winnie make for nice alliteration with the word “welder.” So either will do. However, the most frequently used name for this iconic figure was Wendy. And, independent of their actual name, mothers and then grandmothers usually told of their wartime experience by starting their stories with a “When I was a Wendy the Welder….”


And what about Minnie the Welder?

There’s a bit of a story here. In 1943, Twentieth Century Fox released a musical entitledThe Gang’s All Here. The movie was one of the 10 highest-grossing films of the year, probably helped by its WW2 theme. It included a song called Minnie’s in the Money with music and lyrics by Harry Warren and Leon Robin. Benny Goodman played it on his clarinet in the movie as soldiers and their girlfriends danced.

The words:

Have you heard that

Minnie’s in the money?

Take my word that

Minnie’s in the money.

She hasn’t got a guy who’s

got a diamond mine.

But she’s a welder on the

old assembly line.


J. Howard Miller and Charles Alston - Artists of Inspiration

Like J. Howard Miller (creator of the “We Can Do It!” Poster), Charles Alston was employed by the Office of War Information to create posters and cartoons that carried inspirational images and messages of helping in the war effort. Here is one of Alston’s mockups of a cartoon. The selected finished art was sent to Black American newspapers for publication.





WRITE YOUR WAY TO INSPIRATION. Today's 5 Minute Writing Prompt

Take just 5 minutes to write using 1 of the following prompts. Don't worry about perfecting your words. Write freely. Open yourself to a feeling of inspiration. This works best when you think a particular instance and write as much detail as you can.

  • Use dialogue. (You may not remember the exact words of a conversation that improved your confidence -- or that robbed you of your confidence, but you can capture the essence of it.)

  • Use one or more of the five senses -- taste, touch, sight, sounds, smell -- to add to your description. That will help you recall opportunities in your life.

  • Consider focus on the emotions you felt when opportunities came you way -- such as fear, joy, happiness, love, optimism, fright, etc.

  1. I remember the first big opportunity I was offered...

  2. I remember an opportunity I did not pursue and regret it now...What I would do differently next time.

  3. I remember an opportunity I did not pursue but am glad I waited for the next one. How did that happen?

  4. I took a risk when an opportunity was offered me...what I learned about myself.

  5. I'm looking for an opportunity right now. How am I focused on this? What steps am I taking to find the right opportunity?

HINT: You might want to start a journal or composition book with your responses to our prompts--a new set in each of our RosieCentral blogs. It just might become your book of personal inspiration.



WENDY’S INSPIRATIONAL MESSAGE

Take Advantage of Opportunities

Whenever and Wherever They Present Themselves.

Then Do the Very Best That You Can.

Think of Wendy the Welder when you seem stuck. Look for opportunities to reach your next goal. You may need more training, or you may need to network more, or you may need to move horizontally to get yourself on a different ladder. Whatever it takes, just be sure to be open to new opportunities in your life and do not be afraid to take advantage of them.



Missed Our Previous Blogs? Check these out!

Women's History Month Is Almost Here!

Countdown to Women's History Month

Hold On to Your Hat -- Women's History Month Starts Tomorrow

Rosie the Riveter's Riveting Story -- Find out the connection to Jackie Kennedy's fashion designer and Rosalind Palmer Walter (major funder of public television).

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Part 1



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