WASHINGTON - On the iconic poster of Rosie the Riveter, the woman working in a factory on the home front during World War II rolls up her sleeve to proudly reveal her muscular arm.
But Crena Anderson, a real-life riveter from Hagerstown, Maryland, never showed off when she went to work to make airplanes during the war. Her husband was fighting; her brother had been killed in the Army Air Forces; she had taken only a short leave of absence from her seven-day-a-week job as a riveter to have a baby. She was worried about finding a trustworthy babysitter, about earning money to support her family, about doing her job well to ensure the safety of the men on the front - and about her arms.
"It made me big muscles," she said. "I was ashamed to wear a shortsleeved dress. I always wore three-quarter-length sleeves. I looked like a man."
Anderson, now 89, and four other female former factory workers reminisced Sunday about the challenges and opportunities of women who worked during the war. They now refer to themselves as Rosies. Dorothy McMann, 89, talked about the novelty of coming from rural Augusta County, Virginia, to work as a riveter in an aircraft factory in Baltimore.
"It was something I never dreamed of doing, but after I learned how, I loved it," she said. She recalled switching her dresses for coveralls and putting her hair up in a cap. "I liked kind of rough stuff anyway."
Ruth Kline Staples, of Brunswick, Maryland, had a copy of a 1943 magazine.
Her photograph was on the cover, showing her shoveling dirt at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad yard where she worked during the war. Vienna Magliano Hurt, 89, and Evie Martindale, 91, joined them in sharing memories. The five, who traveled from as far as Akron, Ohio, to attend two events in the Washington area Sunday, were marking the launch of a nationwide program for the country's remaining living Rosies. The new program, run by the organization Thanks! Plain and Simple, encourages cities to pick a project that Rosies can do with younger generations.
The goal is twofold: to educate young people about women's roles in World War II, and to involve the Rosies, many of whom have become isolated as they have aged, in community projects. Thanks! was founded five years ago by Anne Montague, who has been conducting test runs of the intergenerational activities in numerous communities, especially in her home state of West Virginia, in preparation for the national push. Montague, 75, is a generation younger than the Rosies. She remembers the honking cars and her grandparents' elation on VJ Day, when she was very young, but she does not remember much about what her own mother did during the war. As a child, she just knew that her mother went off each day to a place she called "the war factory." After her mother died in 1983, Montague wished she had discussed those wartime experiences with her. So she started interviewing other Rosies. "To go in and just interview the women with a tape recorder was really inadequate," she said. "Their communities should really know them, and should know them firsthand."
The American Rosie the Riveter Association estimates that more than 6 million women worked in war industries, helping produce nearly 300,000 airplanes, more than 100,000 tanks, more than 44 billion rounds of ammunition and other materiel.
Montague said she believes that the women's movement a generation later owes its roots to the Rosies. Most left their factory jobs when the men returned from the front.
But Montague says they taught their daughters the importance of being selfsufficient, and those daughters took up the cause of women's rights.
Like the other Rosies, Anderson said that even when the work was hazardous - she lost some of her hearing because of the noise and once was sent back to work with just a Band-Aid after a co-worker accidentally drilled her ankle - she thought she was simply doing what she needed to do.
"Today there is a growing awareness and a pride in our deep commitment and the quality and enormous quantity of our work," she said.