Rita the Riveter
Rita the Riveter didn't fool around, there was a war on!
by Charles Walsh firstname.lastname@example.org
Rita The Riveter gets her back up a bit when she's asked if the
stories are true about all the, well, fooling around that went on in
World War II weapons factories like the Vought-Sikorsky Corsair
plant in Bridgeport, where she once worked. Honey, the feisty 86-year-old former Bridgeporter spurts over the
phone from St. Louis, Mo., her home for the past four years, the
guys were glad to have us. We worked as a team. We were proud to be
building a fighter plane that would shorten the war. We even got an
E' from the government for our excellent work. People today aren't
proud of anything.
Come on, Rita: You mean with all those lonely ladies whose husbands
were away in the military, there wasn't a little?
Listen, lovey, says Rita ( lovey and honey are Rita's favorite terms
of endearment), we worked 10-hour days. When it was over we were
very tired. We went home, had supper and went to sleep.
Rita worked at the plant from late 1941 to 1945, and her job
actually did involve riveting. She and another woman attached the
trailing edges on the Corsair's wings.
Not that there weren't a few gender stresses in the plant.
Rita remembers well the Great Sweater Strike, when women in two of
the plant's divisions, 75 women in all, walked out in protest of
management's ban on their wearing sweaters on the job.
While safety was the ostensible reason for the ban, one contemporary
news account quoted management as saying, The girls come here to
work, not to be attractive to men.
The news report continued, The implication was, of course, that
there was much whistling and wheeling when a sweater girl hove into
view; male bench-hands were filing off their own fingers and welding
the own vests to the work.
The women said they wanted to wear sweaters not to show off their
shapes, but for warmth in the chilly plant the uniform jackets they
were supposed to wear were too bulky. The women also pointed out
that management apparently saw no safety problems with male workers
Rita says she thinks, in truth, that the reason the women wanted to
wear sweaters was a girly thing.
The walkout lasted for 10 days. The woman finally went back after
reaching some sort of dress compromise.
Rita was 24 when she went to work at the Corsair plant. She'd
already had three children and had been working the night shift at a
Bridgeport factory she describes as a sweatshop. She was grateful to
get the Vought-Sikorsky job.
Coming out of the Depression, the [Corsair] money was important.
(She can't recall what the rate was).
Working on the Corsair changed my life, Rita says. Her work as a
union steward made her sensitive to the problems of working people
and the poor.
It brought out the latent Girl Scout in me, she says. After that I
just wanted to do things to help people.
During the 1967 riots in New Haven ghettos, Rita worked for the
Hispanic Center there. She saw the turmoil and violence close up. I
learned that poor people need help. Bad things happen when you let
things slide. You've got to pay attention.
As might be expected, Rita is none too thrilled with the current
Bush scares me, she says. We don't have the leaders today we had
In St. Louis, Rita lives with one of her four daughters. She spends
a lot of time keeping up with her 15 grandchildren and 20
In February a legislative committee endorsed a bill by Stratford
Sen. George Doc Gunther to make the Corsair Connecticut's official
state aircraft. Rita, who has a load of memorabilia from her days on
the line, thinks it's a great idea.
Charles Walsh's column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You can
reach him by phone at 330-6217 or bye-mail at