DELBARTON – While many can recognize the iconic image of ‘Rosie the Riveter’ as the symbol of women working in factories during World War II, many would fail to recognize the real life ‘Rosies’ still alive and well today. Ida Varney is one such example.
At 90 years old, Ida is a tiny woman with a sweet smile and a tidy bun. It was more than 60 years ago when Ida left home and entered the workforce at a time when women working toward the war effort were making an important contribution for women in the workplace. Ida shares her personal story as a riveter.
At the age of 18, Ida left home with her sister and moved to Aurora, Illinois in the early 1940’s. With a brother and future husband stationed in Germany, Ida riveted airplane wings at Lyon Metals in Montgomery, Illinois.
According to the Montgomery Patch, Lyon Metal filled a large number of government war contracts during World War II with women replacing the 650 men that had been recruited from the factory. The Montgomery Patch explains, “Each new contract required special tooling, new dies and jigs and new processes to be learned by the workforce. Special training was required to teach the new skills as the women learned to rivet and weld.”
After the death of her father, Ida and her sister had to find employment. This led her to moving in with her sister, far away from her home town. “We had to leave home. My mother had no way of living. She didn’t have an income,” Ida explained.
“We had to go get a job. I moved in with my sister Jane in Chicago. Then, we moved from there to Aurora. It was there that I started riveting,” Ida continued.
“The company made airplanes. We worked on these B-25’s. They went in on D-Day with those planes we had made. I was a riveter. I riveted the wings,” Ida said.
Ida recalled the process used to rivet airplane wings saying, “We had these big high things that had rollers. You pulled them up. Then, you stood up and you riveted the wings. It was hard to do,” she explained.
During World War II, images of Rosie the Riveter were widespread and mass produced. Rosie was an effective effort to encourage women to enter the factories left empty by men, who had enlisted to serve with the Armed Forces in Europe or the South Pacific.
According to history.com, the aviation industry saw a large increase in women workers during World War II. The website explains “While women worked in a variety of positions previously closed to them, the aviation industry saw the greatest increase in female workers. More than 301,000 women worked in the U.S. aircraft industry in 1943, representing 65 percent of the industry’s total workforce, compared to just one percent in the pre-war years.”
Ida explained that at the time, she did not consider the significance of women doing what was previously thought to be ‘men’s work.’ “I didn’t think anything about it. I just did my work and that was it,” Ida said.
When the war was over and the men returned, women returned to their domestic life. “During the war, I would get a letter from my brother in one part of Germany and a letter from John L. from a different part of Germany. When the war was over, John L. came home and we got married. There was no more work for women,” Ida recalled.
Ida explained that John L. used to joke about her experience as a riveter. “We built these planes and John L. was always telling me ‘no wonder we liked to have almost lost the war’,” Ida said with a smile and a chuckle as she recalls the memory.
The company Ida worked for is still in operation today under the name Lyon Workspace Products.
More information on women working during World War II can be found on www.history.com.
(Courtney Pigman is a news reporter for the Williamson Daily News. She can be contacted at [email protected], or at 304-235-4242, ext. 2279.)