A Lesson In Social Studies Is Offered By a ‘Rosie’
High school teens attending this year’s 82nd annual American Legion Mountaineer Boys State at Jacksons’ Mill on June 12 got a lesson in real life social studies from a very special lady.
Ruby Coberly brought the young men and their families to their feet with a standing ovation after she told them about her life spanning more than 97 years, and her job as one of the hundreds of women who went to work as “Rosie the Riveters.” In great detail, Coberly, a native of Gilmer County, West Virginia, explained her service to her country via the work she did at the Glenn L. Martin Aviation plant in Baltimore, Maryland at the height of World War II.
American Legion Mountaineer Boys State is an honors, leadership and citizenship academy which has existed since 1936 to teach “good government through participation” to the outstanding male high school juniors. During their one-week stay, the teens were exposed to many speakers whose stories all carried lessons learned and to be learned.
According to Coberly’s son Gary, his mother is proud of the work she did during the war and hopes her talk will inspire others to give back to their country. She told the young men of the sacrifices made by all Americans during wartime.
Also speaking during the event was Woody Williams, last surviving Marine Medal of Honor winner from World War II.
As the July Fourth holiday approaches, it is fitting to share her story with our readers.
“I am here representing the Rosie the Riveters. If you haven’t heard of the Rosies, I’ll tell you more about them in a moment, but for now let me say they were a vital part of the WWII effort to defeat fascism and an unquestioned influence on the lives you and I live today – far different from life before that war.
“I was born more than 97 years ago – yes….. more than 97 – in a tiny place known as Sliding Run, Gilmer County. It was just a few houses along a dirt road. I was the youngest of nine children. The older ones took care of the younger ones – but I was the youngest so everyone took care of me. I was spoiled.
“We raised nearly everything we ate on our little farm. We were lucky because we had plenty to eat – more than many of our neighbors, but store-bought bread was a real treat and an orange at Christmastime was a treasure.
“I went to one-room grade schools and then Sand Fork High School. I even had two years of college at Glenville State Teachers College. (It was called a ‘Teachers College’ then.) And that was enough to get me a teaching position – but four of my older sisters and brothers were already teaching, so they would not give me a school. So, I ran off and got married.
“It was 1940 and my husband, another Gilmer countian, was working in Baltimore and we began living there. A big city was scary for a farm girl. I was used to grass and mud, but Baltimore was all concrete and brick. Houses were so close together they actually touched each other. Cars were everywhere and they even had streetcars, and I had never seen a streetcar before.
“My sister Muriel came to visit and told me I needed to get a job. So I did. I worked at Montgomery and Ward and then for an auto-parts store. I even learned to ride the street car – but I hated it.
“Then Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.
“President Roosevelt (my all-time favorite president) called on women to come work in factories in the place of the men who had mostly gone off to the war. He wanted America to be the “arsenal of the Allies” – that meant we had to supply not only our own troops but England’s and others fighting the Nazis. That job fell to the United States because we were lucky – we were not being bombed daily like those other countries. How could they produce arms and such when they were being bombed?
“Women came from farms and less important jobs to fill positions in defense plants all over America – nearly 19 million of them. They learned to rivet and buck and grind and cut and weld and everything else it took to make planes, ships, tanks, guns and ammunition. They were a most important part of what was called the ‘Home Front’ — the people who stayed in the country to actively support the military. General Eisenhower, who later became president, said, ‘Our Home Front have given us overwhelming superiority in munitions and weapons of war.’ He understood the value of the women and men who stayed behind to supply the troops.
“My sister, Muriel, came again and she told me to get one of those jobs. So I did.
“One of the biggest defense plants in Baltimore was Glenn L Martin Aviation — they made planes. Women were not typically hired in these kinds of factories doing these kinds of jobs before WWII. It was not accepted, not in our culture. But now it was a necessity and Glenn L. Martin was one of the first companies to hire women for ‘men’s’ jobs. I worked there from 1942 to 1945 – first in the blueprint department until they learned I could type. Then they set me at a table in the production workshop where all sorts of airplane parts were being manufactured. It was my job to type labels for them so they wouldn’t get lost when they were sent off to build or repair planes.
“I was certainly off the farm now – but so were all those other girls around me. Our lives had changed forever. America had changed forever. I don’t have time to go into all the transformations in American life the war made necessary. But here’s one: before that time girls did not wear slacks. Slacks were for men. But how could women crawl around riveting metal planes and ships in skirts? Impossible. WWII gave birth to many new fashions.
“By the middle of 1945 the war was winding down. The surrender of Japan was just around the corner and most of the women were being laid off so returning men could have their jobs back – didn’t seem fair, but that’s the way it was. Many, but not all of us, were anxious to go back to our homes any way. But I was still working – typing out those labels. One day my boss came by – he thought he was pretty important (you know) and he made some criticism of my work. I said, “ Well, if you don’t like it, why don’t you fire me?” … And he did!
“By the way – my last paystub shows my net pay for the week was $26.98.
“But we had saved our money and my husband and I came back to Gilmer County and bought a house. Soon I had a son to care for and send off to school … And my sister, Muriel, came by and told me to get not just a job but a career. So I did.
“I went to beauty culture school in Morgantown and created a beauty shop in our home. I worked as a beautician for 50 years, finally closing the shop just nine years ago.