Welcome to my World: Anita, the Riveter

Submitted photo Anita in 1940.
Carole Christman Koch

Reprint (2012 Berks County TV web site)

I had a story in my own backyard and didn’t even know it until recently.

My husband and I moved to Allentown a few years ago. Driving around one day, I noticed Queen City Airport. I hadn’t even known it existed. Knowing two of my older sisters had worked in Allentown in their teens, next time I saw them, I asked, “Did any of you ever hear of Queen City Airport?”

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Anita, my then 86 year old sister, stunned me, “Why of course. I worked there when it was called Vultee. Other women and myself helped build airplanes during World War II!”

I realized I could easily dig up information on Queens City Airport, plus I had a star witness, my very own sister, “Anita, the Riveter!”

This is her story:

I know women worked in the 1940s, but mostly it was the working class. Middle-class women usually were expected to stay home, taking care of home and family, while men were the bread-winners. How old were you when you started working?

Anita: “Sixteen! I was one of the older siblings. I had to quit school and go to work and help the family financially. My first job was cooking, cleaning, and tending children for a well-to-do family in Allentown. Later, I worked as a nurse’s aide at Phoebe Home, also in Allentown. A bunch of us girls slept in a house on Chew Street.”

Had you seen posters of “Rosie the Riveter” around before starting at the new aircraft and production plant---Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation? And did you feel it was your patriotic duty?

Anita: “Yes, I saw posters of Rosie around. By word of mouth, I heard about the Vultee plant. I have to be honest. I went there for both patriotic reasons and for the money. I started soon after the plant opened in mid-December 1942. I continued working there, even into a few months after my marriage. I married Eddie Bastian, a World War II veteran, from Trexlertown, on August 26, 1944.”

How was the pay?

Anita: “It was good pay. I didn’t tell Mom and Pop exactly how much I earned because I had to give them some of my earnings. By the time I married Eddie, I was able to give him $500 I had saved over the years at Vultee.”

How did you get to work?

Anita: “I was living at the farm, near Monterey, (Berks County) with Mom and Pop. Three men, who also worked at Vultee, picked me up at the end of the lane. I had to pay the driver 50 cents a week for the ride.”

Did you do work like Rosie?

Anita: “No, I was not a riveter. We did whatever we were told. It was mostly with metal. I worked on a drill press, drilling holes for awhile. There were more women than men. Men worked in the same area as I was in.”

What kind of outfit did you wear?

Anita: “Slacks! I hadn’t worn slacks until I worked at Vultee. Mom never liked slacks, but she condoned them. She was proud I was contributing to the war effort. We wore a cap and our hair was in netting, so it wouldn’t get caught in the machinery. We wore our own shoes, because we weren’t doing dangerous jobs. As a matter of fact, after Vultee, I went back to wearing dresses until I was about 35.

What was the atmosphere like in the plant?

Anita: “The one thing that amazed me was how girls my age cursed. I wanted to be like them at first. I cursed once in awhile, but felt so bad, so I stopped doing it. I was good friends with a Flossie Leh, from Emmaus. She was one of my bridesmaids, but I’ve lost touch with her.”

Although Anita was adamant at not having worked as a riveter, I have a tendency to dream. I can just see posters of her all over Kutztown, Allentown, and Reading and telling everyone I know, “That’s my sister, Anita, the riveter!

Queen City Airport

Today, Queen City Airport is owned and operated by the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority, in Allentown, Lehigh County. It is a public use airport located at the I-78 Interchange, 1730 Vultee Street, off Emmaus Avenue.

Queen City Airport’s history goes back to mid-December 1942, when it was disclosed that Allentown would be the new location of a new aircraft production plant. Vultee Aircraft and Consolidated Aircraft stated Consolidated Vultee (later know as Convair Field at its dedication October 10, 1943) would lease Mack Trucks 5C plant.

The plant, during the war, employed thousands of people---over half were women.

The facility produced TBY-2 Sea Wolves, in addition to components for the BT-13 Valiant Trainer and B-24 Liberator Bomber.

At the end of the war, the plant shut down and plant 5C was given back to Mack Trucks. General Electric bought the property and manufactured small appliances. By 1962, the property closed again and the city of Allentown bought it.

Rosie, the Riveter

Between 1942 and 1944, the U.S. government set up a campaign to motivate women to work in factories, while men went to war. The government encouraged industries to create posters and magazines were asked for cover promotions to get women in manufacturing plants and help with the war effort.

It was through the efforts of the government campaign, and others, that women who worked in plants, during World War II, became known as “Rosie.”

The earliest use of the term Rosie was the song, “Rosie the Riveter” written by John Jacob Loeb and Redd Evans, in 1942, and released early in 1943. Rosalind Walter, a real life riveter inspired the song.

Soon after this song appeared, on May 29, 1943, Norman Rockwell’s painting of a “Rosie” ---a riveter---appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. Perhaps he had already heard the “Rosie the Riveter” song as he had Rosie printed on the lunch pail in the painting.

Also produced in 1942, and released in 1943, was the painting “We Can Do It!” by artist J. Howard Miller, for the Westinghouse Company. This poster, in later years, was called Rosie the Riveter, but it was actually based on a United Press photo of a factory worker from Michigan, named Geraldine.

Apparently “Rosie the Riveter” movement worked ---the icon represented the six million American women who worked in the factories during World War II.

Carole Christman Koch grew up in Berks County and has been published in numerous publications. She has a passion for writing and has many stories from growing up on a farm to raising children to humorous stories about her and her husband to everyday stories to season stories and more.