CAMP VERDE – Rosie the Riveter was a feminist symbol 20 years before the women’s liberation movement.
As men went off to war, women also fought for their nation’s freedom. Not allowed in the trenches, these women took their talents and their ingenuity to the nation’s shipyards and factories.
For 11 months, Thelma Lindsley was a Rosie – and she was barely a week out of high school.
Today the Camp Verde resident is 93 and a bit of a firecracker, no holds barred as they say. But it wasn’t always that way, she said.
Out of school and in need of a job, Lindsley followed her father’s advice and sought work in the “war factory” in San Diego.
“They’d been wanting people,” said Lindsley, who at the time lived about 30 miles from San Diego in a little town called Escondido. “I was a very bashful girl. They ran me through the whole rigmarole. By the late afternoon, I had a work order.”
The work order means that Lindsley had been hired that day. She was told to start work the following week, she said.
She showed up that first day dressed in heavy-toed shoes – and overalls.
“During the war, you had to have a requisition for that,” she said. “You couldn’t come onto the job in sandals. I went prepared.”
About 30 miles from home to the factory, Lindsley said that she and some of the other Rosies were picked up at a designated location and taken to work on a bus.
“On the first day, we all gathered outside the door, and someone took us through. We walked in,” she said. “A guy walked us through an alley. The noise about knocked me over. If I went home, my dad would not be happy. So I endured it. By the end of the day, it wasn’t so bad.”
Her work was riveting. Lindsley worked on her fair share of Navy PB4Y-2 airplanes, worked on different parts of the plane, such as the bulk head and the wing flats.
“We squeezed rivets,” she said. The riveter “looked like an oblong vacuum cleaner and it had a nose on it, a c-shaped nose.”
About a foot long with a two-inch barrel, Lindsley recalled the riveter was shaped like a gun.
“You had to hold the guns upright,” she said. “If they went off, you didn’t want to hit someone.”
Lindsley worked with a partner. One person would shoot the riveter, the other person would flatten the rivets.
“Kilroy was all over the place,” she recalled. “The toilets, the walls, the back of cars.”
Lindsley worked second shift, from 2:30 p.m. until 11 p.m. six days a week, with Sundays off.
It was 48 hours a week, eight hours a day” she said. “Cleared $40 a week.”
It was a time when men were paid about double than their female counterparts. But to Lindsley, it was “big money.”
“I saved it,” she said. “I was a skinflint.”
By May 1945, Lindsley said that the war “was pretty much over, and all the women were terminated.”
That’s when her working career ended.
Lindsley said she didn’t think much about being patriotic until she was older. But today, she considers herself a veteran.
“The 4th of July is my favorite holiday, too,” she said.
Lindsley married in 1946. “He owned property in San Marcos,” she said of the San Diego suburb. Lindsley became a stay-at-home mother. Then the kids got older – and she got older.
“Lived in San Marcos from 1946 until 1989,” she said. “Told my husband when he retired, it’s me and my horses. I’m going to Arizona.”
So they moved to Camp Verde in 1989. Since 1995 when her husband died, Lindsley has lived on her own and has “dabbled in a lot of stuff.”
Lindsley began playing banjo at age 65, began oil painting at age 55.
“I felt a picture in my fingertips,” she remembered. “I remember thinking I’m going to try to learn how to paint. I was terrible at first.”
Can’t read music, she plays banjo by sound. But her hearing is shot, Lindsley said. Thanks to the riveting nature of her youth.
Today Lindsley has the memories of her time as Rosie the Riveter. But no photographs.
“Because,” as she said, “loose lips sink ships.”
-- Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @BillHelm42