In Weld County 70 years ago, it was scandalous if your sister or daughter wished to be a mechanic, veterinarian, corporate officer, bus driver, police officer, join the military or run for a governing office. A 1940 article in The Greeley Tribune jokingly exclaimed, “Woman driver teaches men and gets paid for the job!” When war was declared by the U. S. on the Axis nations (initially Japan, Germany and Italy) on Dec. 8, 1941, many of those scandalous notions eroded as men had to abandon their jobs to enter the military.
Weld County’s support of World War II (1941-45) found local women with the strength and courage to take on mechanical factory jobs, plow, plant and harvest the fields, drive trucks and join the military as nurses, stenographers and clerks — all jobs previously perceived as “male required.”
Greeley’s own Defense School surprised everyone when their leaders announced in April 1942 they would train both sexes for jobs in welding, machining and radio maintenance. To further encourage enrollment, women’s work clothing for these jobs were “designed to meet the government standards of simplification and economy of materials and at the same time they have been able to retain a certain style.”
By fall 1942, women and girls were major contributors in bringing in beet harvests throughout Weld County. Local advertisements repeatedly requested women to work as telegraphers for the Union Pacific Railroad and to join the Women’s Army Corps.
In 1943, local females were mechanics in Greeley gas stations, drivers at Greeley’s POW Camp 202, riveters and welders of B-17 bombers and even makers of jelly bombs (now called wide dispersal bombs). A sign in one of these machine shops stated, “Women take notice! If your trousers are too loose beware of machinery. If they are too tight beware of the machinists.”
Outside of salaried jobs, Weld County women were steadily busy raising money for war bonds, conducting blood drives, rolling bandages, recycling resources, rationing foods, clothing and materials, in addition to raising children and mourning their war dead.
Though local women during WWII held dozens of jobs previously deemed appropriate only for men, most of those were thought of as temporary, “for the war effort.” Little did most expect that those temporary jobs during wartime would open up possibilities still being achieved by Weld County’s strong and courageous women today.
Nancy Lynch is the city of Greeley Museums’ exhibits curator.