WWII-era BIW women workers among those honored with Congressional Gold Medal Act

An anonymous crew, featuring two women, welds the hull of the USS Cogswell, a Fletcher-class destroyer launched at Bath Iron Works on June 5, 1943. Photo courtesy of the Maine Maritime Museum

BATH — When World War II began, millions of women answered the call to fill jobs traditionally held by men, many of whom had been drafted into the military or volunteered. Those women learned new skills and overcame adversity to contribute to the war effort. Seventy-five years later, the Senate passed on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, an act to honor those women — incarnations of “Rosie the Riveter,” the namesake of a campaign to recruit women workers.

The Rosie the Riveter Congressional Gold Medal Act, co-authored by Maine Sen. Susan Collins, awards a Congressional Gold Medal to the women who took on jobs to make supplies and defense materials during World War II.

The honor applies to the nearly 2,000 women who worked at Bath Iron Works producing warships at breakneck speed during World War II.

In 1943, Jean Croteau of Bath learned to be a welder at Bath Iron Works when she was 18 years old, according to her daughter, Carol Croteau.

“It was her very first job,” said Carol Croteau. “When they came out saying they needed women for the war efforts, she had no second thoughts. She was scared and nervous, but she always told us how excited she was.”

Carol Croteau said her mother had no prior welding experience and her training was all hands-on with very few safety precautions in place. She trained alongside workers on incomplete ship decks with holes in them, afraid she’d fall through with one wrong step.

“The men were not too excited about seeing women working there,” said Carol Croteau. “Most of them were nice, but some would make comments about welding not being women’s work.”

According to Carol Croteau, her mother’s male supervisor would tease her for jumping back when welding sparks flew at her, scared they would burn her, but she quickly learned the trade and came to enjoy the job. She even learned to aim the sparks at her male supervisor when he walked by, “and he would jump back, just like the girls did.”

Carol Croteau said her mother was asked to be on a shakedown crew, which tests a ship in the water once it’s finished, but she declined “because she was afraid it was going to sink.”

“She said she had no idea how big a destroyer was until she got to stand next to one,” she said. “She always said she felt like an ant next to one.”

Carol Croteau said her mother remembered being paid 60 cents per hour, equal to what men made, as they were guaranteed equal pay for equal work.

An unnamed “Rosie the Riveter” learns to rivet on an unknown ship at Bath Iron Works during World War II. Photo courtesy of the Maine Maritime Museum

While women weren’t obsolete at the shipyard before the war,

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