A Patriotic Duty
Dr. Frances Carter, (“Fran” to her family and friends), will celebrate her 95th birthday later this month.
Seventy-five years ago, during World War II, Fran worked in a Birmingham, Alabama, defense plant, helping to build B-29 bombers—some of the largest aircraft in service during the war.
“I realized that if I had been a boy, I would’ve been drafted,” Fran says.
“I wanted to do the next best thing for our country.”
Very soon, Fran would become “Rosie the Riveter.”
“I’m so glad I got to be a riveter,” she says, “but any woman who did something to help us win the war is a Rosie.”
“Rosie represents all of us.”
From Nothing about Nothing to Part of the Team
Before she became “Rosie the Riveter,” Fran was a first-grade teacher.
She says the transition from working in a classroom to a defense plant wasn’t easy.
“I was frightened that first day,” she says. “At that point, I knew nothing about nothing.”
Fran says the men who worked in the plant were skeptical, too.
“At first, they laughed at us in our coveralls.”
Over time, Fran says, attitudes changed.
“We got real good at crawling all over those planes putting them together,” she says, “and the boys decided we were part of the team.”
In this audio clip, Fran tells the story of how she and the other “Rosies” of WWII changed fashion and broke the glass ceiling for women.
“We got real good at crawling all over those planes putting them together,”
she says, “and the boys decided we were part of the team.”
V-Mail, Not E-Mail
Fran’s future husband, John, was among the 10 million American men drafted during the war. He served as an army paratrooper in southern France.
“While he was stationed abroad, we courted via v-mail,” Fran says.
(V-mail, short for “Victory Mail,” allowed for faster, less expensive correspondence than traditional Air Mail.)
Towards the end of the war, Fran received a particularly special letter from John.
“I was in Hattiesburg, Mississippi at the time,” she says, “and he asked me to tell him the name of a jewelry shop there.”
A few weeks later, Fran got a call from The Diamond Shop asking her to come in.
“John had written them a letter and sent them a check,” Fran says.
“I never did know how much it was for … but the clerk had 3 or 4 engagement rings laid out, and I picked mine.”
“Rosie the Riveter” married John the paratrooper after he returned home from the war in 1946.
They were married for nearly sixty-eight years before John passed away in 2014.
In this audio clip, Fran tells the story of how her future husband, John, surprised her with a proposal—and an engagement ring, too—while he was stationed in southern France during WWII.
Preserving a Legacy
Fran’s daughter, Nell, says that in the mid-1990s, around the time of the 50th anniversary of the war’s end, there was a revival of patriotism and respect for those who served both abroad and at home.
“People started openly talking about the war, and how to honor veterans and their families.”
In December 1998, with help from her husband, Fran founded the American Rosie the Riveter Association (ARRA).
In December 1998, with help from her husband,
Fran founded the American Rosie the Riveter Association.
“I decided that the Rosies had a legacy to leave, and the best way to protect it was to form an organization,” Fran says.
A lifetime membership costs just $10, and is open to all “Rosies” who were employed or volunteered in an industry or agency directly related to the war effort.
Membership is also available to direct descendants of “Rosies”—called “Rosebuds,” and to women who work or have retired from jobs that were primarily held by men prior to the war—called “21st Century Rosies.”
Auxiliary memberships are available to men who are direct descendants or spouses of “Rosies” or “Rosebuds.”
“We lovingly call our male members ‘Rivets,'” Fran says.
Today, the ARRA has nearly 6,000 members across the country.
Every year, Fran says, members get together for an annual meeting.
“It’s our chance to honor our Rosies who are living, remember those who have left us, and celebrate the legacy of all of these incredible women.”
“You’ll never find a more patriotic group,” says Nell.
“Their spirit is so resilient.”
Broader National Support
After John’s death, Fran’s daughter Nell eventually took on the responsibility of traveling to share the stories of the “Rosies” and promote ARRA with her mother, something her late father had been doing for many years.
Last spring, the mother-daughter team participated in the first annual “Power Up: It’s a Mother Daughter Thing!” event in Birmingham.
Hosted by several workforce development and female empowerment organizations, “Power Up” was designed to recruit women into careers in construction.
Recruiters from construction firms attended the event. There were hands-on stations as well, where guests could try their hands at brick laying, welding, and more.
Fran attended the event dressed in her traditional “Rosie” uniform.
“I took lots and lots of pictures with young women,” she says.
“When we were invited to attend, we didn’t know what to expect,” Nell says. “But the event was so impressive.”
“Hundreds of mothers and daughters were there.”
95 Years Young
Looking back on a very long life, Fran says she is proud of her legacy.
“I’m so glad I got to be a riveter.”
“I felt like my work was patriotic work … that I was helping our country.”
“All of us, the Rosies, were just trying to get the war over and the boys home.”
Today, Fran says, she understands from conversations with her daughter and young women she meets through her work for the ARRA, that the significance of the Rosies’ work was more than she knew then.
“We broke the glass ceiling in a big way.”