My mother was Rosie the Riveter. During World War II she worked in a defense plant in Oklahoma city. She had only one child at the time and I am her daughter. I did not ask mother a lot of questions about her job. What I learned was that she was a young wife and worked to help her country and provide some extra money for her little family. She told me she worked on a computer the size of a room. Of course that was before we had our personal computers that we could carry from place to place.
Mother's sacrifice was to leave me behind by taking me to a daycare center. Daycare centers were somewhat new then. I remember mother saying that when her mother was a flapper of the 1920's, she left mother with a neighbor who took care of several other children in addition to her own. It was in a home and not an institutionalized business. Nonetheless, mother always resented her mother who left her sometimes for days while she worked in a department store, selling silk hose during the day and taught sewing in the evenings. Sometimes she partied as flappers in the cities often did. My grandmother was a young divorced woman whose ex-husband traveled with an oil company and was gone so much of the time they grew apart, hence their separation that led to a divorce, which was not very common in the 1920's. Mother always resented her mother, who she felt abandoned her. So she felt guilty having to leave me and didn't want me to feel unwanted.
Mother worked all day and waited for my father to pick her up from work and then they drove to the daycare center to get me. I was around four years old and remember that I enjoyed the structure of the day care center with the toys and other children to play with. I liked the coloring in books and enjoyed smelling the different colors. I also was captured by the story book time. The stories we heard took us to magic places. The kitchen smells are what I remember most. It compares with a pot of soup cooking all day on my stove in recent times. The cooks who prepared our meals were two heavy black women with big white aprons tied around their necks and waist and I remember they were jovial and kind to me. I was horrified when some other children pointed to my black friends in the kitchen and laughed about the color of their skin. One day I ran into the kitchen and told these two women cooks that kids were making fun of them. I don't know what they thought about it. Needless to say they didn't like it because they came out of the kitchen and scolded the children and told them to act nice. I didn't have negative feelings about the day care center as my mother was afraid I would have. Looking back to that time, she apparently was the one who felt guilty because she had to leave me.
When my mother and I got home, she prepared meals for us and tended to household duties. Many evenings were busy for her and she was late getting to bed. But the next morning she would be up early and help me dress for day care. My father would dress, eat the breakfast mother cooked for him which was usually sausage and eggs from my grandfather's farm and then he retired to his company truck, our only vehicle and waited for us to join him so he could take us to our destinations of the defense plant, my day care center and then he would go to work at the Oklahoma Natural Gas Company.
My father did not have to enlist in the service during World War II because he was considered a homeland security person. His job was to keep the home fires going, in a literal sense, while other men went off to war. I felt lucky to have a father at home while many other dads were gone overseas.
After working for over a year, my mother informed my father that she was going to rent out one of our two bedrooms. At first my father did not like that idea. She convinced him that I could sleep on a smaller bed in their bedroom and my bedroom would be rented to a young man who was still in high school and needed a room because his parents were moving and he chose not to leave his senior year. Mother finally persuaded my father because she said that it would provide an extra income when she was no longer employed at the defense plant. At the time, the War was winding down. She told him she didn't know how much longer she would be able to keep a job and having a roomer would almost make up for her loss of income. Now when my mother worked all day at the defense plant, she came home and not only had her regular duties, but she had an extra person to cook for, clean for, and do his laundry. She kept up this pace for numerous months until the young man graduated and moved on. Simultaneous, to all of this I discovered mom was pregnant with my sister Karen. My days at the day care center ended in May of 1944 and my sister was born on July 22, 1944.
My mother's defense plant job ended soon before Karen was born. Men were slowly beginning to come home, depending upon where they had been stationed during the War. Many factory jobs that Rosie the Riveters held were turned over automatically to the returning soldiers and many women lost their jobs and returned home. My German father with his old fashion ideas that believed a woman's place was in the home was delighted to have my mother back at home to tend to her household duties.
My mother, on the other hand, gained experience and self-confidence to chip in and add to the family income by later doing such things as baby-sitting for neighbors, giving bridge lessons and baking pies for neighbors on special occasions.
Mother was a young wife and mother, but when times became stressful because of my father's philandering ways, she had the fortitude to sell most of her house hold belongings and move a state away to begin a new career and provide a new home for her daughters. I think she was able to do this because of the experience in her Rosie the Riveter work. Her job and other jobs like hers gave women an opportunity in the work place when it was not a common occurrence. It was a historical opportunity for middle-class women to draw from their experiences, giving them confidence to make different choices than the previous generation might not have made. After she left my father she attended a floral school and learned to work with flowers and then worked in a flower shop for her mother. It eventually became a week-end job because she needed more income. She added another job and worked as a teller at a bank during the week to provide for her two daughters. She continued to do this until she met and married my step father two years later. Mother made sacrifices for us and I will always respect and love her for it. She knew she could make a better life for her girls and she did.