LOL: Ladies of Lockheed
by Susie Hodgson
Before World War II, there were five (only 5!) female employees at Lockheed. You read that right.
Men were the breadwinners; women ran the household. Both jobs were equally hard. But back in 1917, women could also be found working in factories. They stopped in 1918 and over time, the manufacturing jobs slowed to a stop and were pretty much forgotten. Why? Because the men who were in World War I came home and the working women were let go when the Great War ended. The men were back, ready to assume their “real” jobs. So guess what happened when World War II struck.
After Pearl Harbor Day, men voluntarily enlisted and the draft followed. Men who were too old, or ailing or had barely survived polio stayed in the United States, working. But not enough of them. At first, the big aviation companies didn’t want women workers. But it wasn’t long before the corporate big wigs realized they had to hire women – they desperately needed the help! So women went to work. They even justified it to the doubting public. Courtlandt Gross (brother of Lockheed President Robert and leading executive) declared: “Big airplanes are made up of small parts and women build small parts to perfection.” It wasn’t long before there were thousands of women workers at Lockheed.
Many of the women who came to Lockheed had never worked a factory job in their lives. Suddenly they found themselves wearing pants, carrying metal lunchboxes and tying scarves on their heads to keep metal parts from infecting their head and hair. The women felt very patriotic and the culture of a workplace started to change… dramatically.
By the fall of 1942, the entire aircraft industry had added 63,000 women employees. By 1943, that number soared to 2.1 million female workers. And then a famous (for the time) song came out: “Rosie the Riveter.” Riveting was considered the best “starting out” training job for women who’d never had a factory job before. That’s why so many ladies riveted! But who was Rosie?
There was no one Rosie. The 1942 (or 1943, depending whose word you take) Memorial Day issue of the Saturday Evening Post painted by Norman Rockwell is often thought to have created the famous Rosie the Riveter picture. You know the one. Rosie has a fist up and below it, the caption reads “We Can Do It!” But surprisingly, that’s not the one that motivated the wartime U.S. An artist named J. Howard Miller actually created the “famous” one – which became extremely popular – no, not during the war, but in the feminist movement of the 1970s/1980s!
Overall, women liked being part of the war effort. They had freedom, money and the feeling of immense patriotism. But being a “working woman” during the war wasn’t all fun and games. There was open hostility from the male workers toward the females. The women were paid half of what men doing the same job were. Day care resources were scarce. And after the war, the government itself pressured the women to quit to make room for the returning men. Actually the government didn’t have to apply too much pressure as aircraft plants were already laying off women by the thousands to achieve the same goal. And now let’s hear from a real Lockheed lady.
It was a “gal” named Beatrice Morales Clifton. She applied for a job at Lockheed and later said, “So I took the forms and when I got home and told my husband, oh! He hit the roof. He was one of those men that didn’t believe in the wife ever working; they wanted to be the supporter. I said, ‘Well, I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to work regardless of whether you like it or not.’ I was determined. A lot of them guys at the time resented women coming into jobs and they let you know about it. I was feeling just horrible. Because I never worked with men, to be with men.”
On Beatrice’s first day of work at Lockheed, “They put me way up in the back, putting little plate nuts and drilling holes,” she stated. “They put me with some guy – he was kind of a stinker, real mean. A lot of them guys at the time resented women coming into jobs and they let you know about it. I was feeling just horrible because I never worked with men, to be with men alone other than my husband.
“So then time went on and I made a mistake. I messed up something, made a ding. He got so irritable with me, he says, ‘You’re not worth the money Lockheed pays you.’ I was very scared. I had never been out on my own. Whenever I had gone any place, it was with my husband. It was all building up inside of me. My husband didn’t have much to say ‘cuz (sic) he didn’t approve from the beginning. He never really got used to the idea.
“I bought the clothing from Sears. It was just a pair of pants and a blouse. To tell you the truth, I felt kind of funny wearing pants – and those shoes! I wasn’t used to low shoes! Even in the house, I always wore high heels!
“I went from 65 cents to $1.05 per hour – that was top pay. It felt good and, besides, it was my own money. I could do whatever I wanted with it because my husband, whatever he was giving to the house, he kept on paying it.”
Then her son got a fever. Her husband told her he got it because she’s never home. So she quit. Her son DID come first. But she was bored. So she wrote to Lockheed in 1950 – she had heard they were hiring. They said no women until next year – so she headed back to Lockheed then and stayed a good long time.
The “Ladies of Lockheed” were heroes. They helped win the war. Was your mother one of them? Or grandmother, aunt – or how about you? To all the “Ladies of Lockheed” and all the other aviation factories across our land, we say loud and proud, thank you!
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