Never again, she told herself, as she wheeled her bicycle away from the rack where she had parked it for the day and started to pedal for home. She had no business being here. Factories like this, she now saw clearly, were the domain of men, not women. She’d made the decision to get this job because she wanted to do her bit for the war effort. Commendable, but foolish.
Even after her orientation this morning, and several hours on the job, she still could not remember the difference between a crescent wrench and a spanner, and she doubted she would ever learn. And even if she could, her arms were much too small and weak to possibly perform tasks like holding a rivet gun for any length of time, or hoisting a several hundred pound airplane engine into place. At the end of her first day, suffering smashed fingers, muscles worked beyond their capacity, and a few demeaning pats on the bottom, she wanted nothing more to do with any of it. What she did want was to be home, where she belonged. Where she understood who she was.
And just who was she?
Possibly a wife or a mother, a daughter or a sister. With the majority of men gone from the workplace by the summer of 1942, over six million women took up the slack filling factory and farm jobs. Actual experience, women were told, was not necessary. If you can run an electric mixer, you can learn to operate a drill press! Additionally, more than three million women volunteered with the Red Cross and more than 200,000 served in the military.
She did, despite her initial misgivings , return to the factory the next day. (It was surprising what a hot bath and a good night’s sleep could do to improve a girl’s disposition.) She still held fast to the belief that it was her patriotic duty to work, but also, for the first time in her life, she was actually earning money for her work. And that was no small thing. In fact, it was motivation enough to overcome any hardships she faced during the course of her working day. By war’s end, she not only learned to do her job, but she learned to do it well, and she was proud to have something to show for it.
When the war was over, willingly or not, she would leave her job and return to the life she had led before the war. Her wartime service would become just another chapter in her life. It never entered her mind that anyone in future years would admire her, be inspired by her or even remember what she had done.
She was wrong.