Rosie the Riveter Still Riveting at 93

    September 27, 2013
    Lacy Langley

Elinor Otto, 93, was one of the original “Rosie the Riveter” girls, celebrated in the popular song and poster of the same name. She first joined the workforce as a single mom in 1942, piecing together planes at Rohr Aircraft Corporation in Chula Vista to support the war effort. “Rosies” were women, left behind, who supported the war effort by filling tens of thousands of jobs because able-bodied men had joined the fighting overseas. They did what they had to do to support the boys fighting overseas, and they still had families to feed, after all.

NBC reports that Elinor gets up at 4 a.m. each morning and drives to the Boeing plant in Long Beach, California, and after her coffee and newspaper, begins at 6. She spends her days inserting rivets into the wing sections of C-17 cargo planes. It’s a job she’s been doing at various aircraft assembly plants.

Jobs were hard to find in wartime, and didn’t pay very well. Otto’s first job paid 65 cents an hour, about $38 less than she makes now. On top of that, she had to pay $20 a month for her son’s childcare. She soon discovered that she enjoyed the work and she was earning enough to support herself and her son. She says she loved the routine, the camaraderie, and going to the dance hall on the weekends to meet her friends from work.

“It was ballroom dancing,” she remembered, her blue eyes shining at the memory. “I liked that.”

“We were part of this big thing,” Otto said. “We hoped we’d win the war. We worked hard as women, and were proud to have that job.”

But, when the war ended, the “Rosies” disappeared also, and when the boys came back, it left some women, like Otto, with no job and bills to pay. She got out there and tried new things, but office jobs didn’t appeal to her, and she spent a short time as a carhop, until she was informed that she would have to wear roller skates.

Then, luckily, Southern California came out of the war with a booming aircraft industry and Otto’s skill with a rivet gun brought her back into the game, and she’s been there ever since.

“I’m a working person, I guess. I like to work. I like to be around people that work. I like to get up, get out of the house, get something accomplished during the day,” she said.

She is there because she is still good at what she does said her boss, Don Pitcher. “When I think to myself, ‘Why am I slowing up? Why am I home?’ I think that ‘Elinor is at work. And Elinor is 93!'”

Otto was recently honored when Rosie the Riveter Park, next to the site of the former Douglas Aircraft Co. plant, was opened. The plant is where many women worked during World War II, according to LA Times.

It celebrates not only the Rosie the Riveter era, but the later women’s empowerment movement propelled by the slogan attached to the iconic Rosie wartime poster, ‘We Can Do It!’.

“She says, ‘We can do it!’ and I’m doing it!” Otto said, flexing her thin arm and laughing, mimicking the iconic poster.

If she were younger, she jokes, she would look at herself now and wonder, “What’s that old bag still doing here?”. She says she will be working as long as she can, but it will probably only be until sometime next year when Boeing finishes off its last contract for those C-17 cargo planes.

“I’ll be the one that closes the door,” Otto said. “I’ll be the last one there.”

Image via youtube