Left to right: Elinor Otto and son, B-24 Liberators in construction at the Ford Factory at Willow Run, Judy Hubbartt
March is Women’s History Month in the United States and the United Kingdom. At the American Air Museum in Britain, we celebrate the women of both nations who served in and alongside the armed forces this month and all year long.
During World War II, legions of American women went to work in heavy industry and were employed in aircraft factories and shipyards. Their work enabled the US to build more aircraft (over 300,000) than any other nation.
Popularly (and collectively) known as “Rosie the Riveter,” two of the thousands of women who made this boom in production possible, Judy Hubbartt and Elinor Otto, are being highlighted here, in honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day.
Judy Hubbartt was 17 when she went to work at Ford’s Willow Run bomber plant in Michigan. Judy became so efficient that she could complete eight aircraft skins in a day, instead of the standard five. After a hard day’s work, she would sometimes climb into the cockpit of a bomber and fall asleep.
Judy recalled the stark contrast between her life before the war, and her work at the factory:
“Before the war, we roller skated. Seven days a week, it seemed like! I lived on roller skates back then. But not after I went to Willow Run.”
Judy helped Ford to build over 8,500 B-24 Liberators at Willow Run. The B-24 Liberator was one of the two main types of bomber aircraft used by the USAAF against Nazi Germany, and more were built than any other American aircraft during World War II.
The American Air Museum’s B-24M Liberator was one of 1,677 built at Willow Run where Judy worked.
Elinor Otto built aircraft for over 70 years. She was in her early 20s when she swapped waitressing for a job in an aircraft factory in California, “Suddenly, we were needed and appreciated as never before,” she said. As a single mother, Elinor did not see her son during the working week.
“It was a challenge to do men’s work for the first time. We worked hard and proved ourselves as we knew we could. Working and raising children was difficult, but as women, we learned we could do it, and did!”
At the end of the war, women were encouraged to leave their jobs for the returning servicemen. But when the opportunity came to go back to aircraft building, Elinor took it, and remained a riveter until 2014, at age 95!
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