To walk the Rosie the Riveter Museum in Richmond, California, part of the National Park Service's Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front housed on the grounds of the old Kaiser Shipyards, is to walk, at least a little, in the work boots of women who changed history. Even if they didn’t mean to.
As women have often done throughout history, the Rosies were simply rolling up their sleeves to do what needed to be done. World War II raged, men were sent to Europe, and ships, munitions and goods needed to be produced in mass quantity. So, women tied their hair back, learned how to use rivet guns, drills, lathes and more—and got to work.
Today, many decades since the women of the 1940s shed their hostess aprons and donned coveralls to pick up the slack in shipyards and factories across America, men still far out-number women in skilled trades. But, as trade unions like the Boilermakers look for ways to recruit and open the door to more aspiring tradeswomen, the numbers are slowly growing. Women who join the ranks as Boilermakers can find rewarding careers on the tools and paths to leadership. In honor of the original Rosies, here are just a few of the amazing Boilermaker women at work.
“I feel like working at the shipyard is helping America. I go to work; I build something good and I know the Navy is going to need it. I feel like I’m helping everyone, and that’s what I get out of it. I’m helping America.
“Never let people tell you what you can’t do and can’t achieve as a woman. If you put your mind to it, you can do it. Just do it. My little brother wants to be a welder like me, and I say ‘Do it! It’s going to pay the bills and make you stronger, feed your family and give you great benefits!”
Tra’Shunda McNair, helper, L-693, Ingalls Shipyard, Pascagoula, Mississippi
“I went to work for the shipyard and I joined the union because I wanted more for my family. I have two cousins who are Boilermakers at the shipyard. I applied for the structural welding apprenticeship program, and after I graduated, I was encouraged to get more involved with the union. I’ve been a steward and lead crew assistant, chief steward, recording secretary and organizer.”
Martina Taite, mechanic and president, L-693, Ingalls Shipyard, Pascagoula, Mississippi
“The Rosie the Riveters paved the way into the trades. Now it's our turn to carry on the tradition. Women belong in the trades, and we need more of them. We bring a unique perspective to the work and are leaders in innovation and growth.
“Being a Boilermaker means standing in solidarity with my brothers and sisters, being a role model for young women who want to get into the trades or who are just entering the trades; being a leader by conquering challenges while staying true to my morals and positive outlook on life.”
Rachel Montoy, mechanic and trustee, L-290, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington
“I started working for the shipyard in 1994 as an insulator. I had wanted to get in since I was 18 years old, but they wouldn’t hire me! In 2011, I changed to a metal trades job there and joined the Boilermakers union. And now, I’ve got two daughters who work with me at the shipyard.
“I’ve been speaking up and advocating for women at the shipyard since I first started working there, starting with gloves—they were too big. I was small and they were for men. I spoke up to get PPE that fits, and I continued (and still continue) to help women address issues like sexual harassment. Early in my career it was something I faced and didn’t do anything about, because I didn’t know where to turn, who to turn to, how to file a complaint or what my rights were. I don’t want other women to be in the dark. I’ve had women come in and talk. I help them through the process of EEO and filing formal complaints—the big thing is getting people to come forward.”
Deanna Cain, mechanic and business manager/secretary-treasurer, L-290 Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington
“I’ve been a Boilermaker for a little over two years. I knew a few Boilermakers personally but I just really didn’t think it was for me. But when I came out and tried it, I was right at home. These guys are my brothers. I like what I do, and I like that I have (free) time. A lot of times you either have time and no money or money and no time. With being a Boilermaker, it affords me money and time. I can actually have family time, so I like it a lot.
“I like being a part of Local 549 and the Boilermakers because they’re very welcoming, very pro women and pro people of color… I’m a Boilermaker. I’m not just ‘the girl.’”
Marissa Collins, apprentice, L-549, Pittsburg, California
“I am a first generation Boilermaker. I signed up as an apprentice. They wanted me to be a helper, but I said no to that. I wanted to come in gung-ho, balls to the wall. So that’s what I did. And mind you, I didn’t know anything about the pay at all. I thought I was going to take a pay cut. But I indentured and I fell in love with it.
“I wanted to learn how to weld. I didn’t know much about Boilermaking, but I wanted to weld. I loved the idea of working in refineries. I wanted to be in an industry with a retirement.”
Angel Greer, apprentice, L-549, Pittsburg, California
“Shortly after college I was introduced to welding. I struck my first arc and realized this was the industry for me…
“A speaker at a women in trades event I attended a couple years ago said that men feel they only need to be 60% confident before they decide to take on a new role. But for women, we feel the need to be 95% confident before we go for a challenge. Hearing that has changed my perspective on challenges… It’s important to get out of your comfort zone… I’ve learned that with time and perseverance you’re almost always capable of doing the job.”
Kayla Vander Molen, mechanic, welder examiner in training and pre-apprenticeship instructor, L-146, Calgary, Alberta
The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers is a sponsor of the Rosie the Riveter Trust, which supports the Rosie the Riveter Museum.
North America’s Building Trades Union is recognizing outstanding tradeswomen through their Tradeswoman Hero program. Know a woman Boilermaker who deserves to be recognized as a NABTU Tradewoman Hero? Nominate her here: https://nabtu.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Tradeswomen-Heroes-One-Pager.pdf