Former Rosie the Riveter speaks to Hamilton Middle School students
Marietta resident Neva Rees visited the school and talked about the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter and the years she spent in the wartime workforce.
Rosie the Riveter, clad in overalls, a red bandanna and showing strong arms, became the symbol of working women during World War II.
The war effort drew young men away from home and jobs, and industry struggled to fill the void of workers while meeting the needs of the U.S. military.
“We knew we were needed. We were proud and honored to do it,” she said, but added the Rosies themselves didn’t think their actions were anything special.
“We didn’t think anything about it,” Rees said. “We thought that was just what we were supposed to do.”
Women went to work in record numbers and many were responsible for building the vehicles and equipment soldiers used during the war. Rees said for three years, while her then-boyfriend was stationed in New Guinea, she worked eight-hour days, seven days a week, for low pay and no overtime at the Goodyear factory in Akron.
“When I started I made 50 cents an hour, and by the time I finished I was making 93 cents an hour,” she said. “Part of our money (each pay) was taken out for war bonds.”
Rees helped build engines which powered blimps used for surveillance. Because the blimps ran almost silently, they were perfect reconnaissance vehicles.
Rees said she didn’t see her boyfriend for three years and was terribly homesick. She wrote letters every week. When the war ended and soldiers returned to the states, Rees and many other Rosies hung up their bandannas and overalls. She and her boyfriend married and she left her job.
“We all married our men and moved to the country and raised our families,” she said.
About 15 years ago, federal legislators led by politicians from West Virginia began honoring Rosies and trying to preserve their stories. Rees said six books have been written about the Rosies,, including one with Rees’ story, and are being distributed to schools. March 21 was declared national “Rosie the Riveter Day.”
Jennifer Furner, a sixth-grade social studies teacher at Hamilton, said Rees’ presentation and a social studies fair Thursday evening were arranged and organized by the school’s social studies department. Furner said as the U.S. loses more and more of those who lived through World War II, exposing students to living history such as Rees becomes even more important.
“She inspires us all,” Furner said.
For Rees, who turns 96 in November, it is another way to stay active and to share her story with a younger generation.
“I love doing this for the kids,” she said. “Kids need to know these stories. So many people don’t even know about Rosie.”
Rees said due to health issues she has turned down other speaking invitations, but makes an extra effort for schools. She also bakes cookies for various youth organizations.
“I have to keep busy. It’s the way I was raised,” she said. “I’ve had a wonderful life. I’m a survivor. I just keep going.”