War Reporting: Meet the Girls Who Keep ’Em Flying

Following Pearl Harbor, American women signed up on defense-plant jobs in unexpected numbers.

Woman painting the U.S. Army Air Force insignia on an airplane wing.

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—From “Meet the Girls Who Keep ’Em Flying,” first published in the May 30, 1942, issue of The Saturday Evening Post

When they first appeared on the assembly benches, the women were “the lipsticks” to the men. Workers and bosses alike said, as did hard-boiled Bert Bowler, plant manager for Consolidated, “The factory’s no place for women.”

Now Bowler says, “They’re better than men for jobs calling for finger work. They will stick on a tedious assembly line long after the men quit. Women can do from 22 to 25 percent of the work in this plant as efficiently as men.”

At the Inglewood plant of North American Aviation, Inc., with 1,100 women on the payroll, I talked with several female workers above the din of the riveting and stamping machines. It was an eye opener, not only in wartime industrial readjustment but in devotion to purpose.

In every plant, foremen who once dreaded the influx of “the lipsticks” told with enthusiasm how mixing women workers in the teams had stepped up both morale and the output of planes.

“The main problem with women,” one foreman told me, “is to get them to take it easy for a while and not rush and worry about the work.

“Women workers handle the repetitive jobs without losing interest or a letdown in efficiency,” he continued.

“Women are in the airplane plants to stay,” predicted Mrs. Kipple at Consolidated Aircraft. “Our idea at first was they would step into the men’s shoes as the men were called for military service. They would build the planes and they would be the earners, until the men came back. But there will be a lot of jobs in the factory that the men will never get back. The women have demonstrated they can handle them better.”

First page of the article "Meet the Girls Who Keep 'em Fliyng"
Read “Meet Girls Who Keep ‘Em Flying” by Frank J. Taylor from the May 30, 1942, issue of the Post.

This article is featured in the September/October 2021 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Seeing stars: Grace Weaver, a former school teacher, paints the insignia on Navy plane wings at a Texas Air Base. (Howard R. Hollem/ Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection)

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