My Grandma Was Rosie The Riveter

by Jenny on 7 March 2017

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day.

Tomorrow morning, my employer will give us coffee and refreshments to kick off a discussion group on women’s issues.

This afternoon I learned from the internet about things that I “should” do tomorrow:

I “should” actually call off from work tomorrow.

I “should” wear read.

I “should” refrain from shopping tomorrow, except at locally-owned or women-owned stores.

So, I ran home and threw my red dress in the wash. I browsed the Amazon website, since I won’t be able to order from them tomorrow.

I’m a cog in the wheel. I’ve been a cog since I started school. My society has trained me, my entire life, to be a cog in the wheel. Tomorrow, I won’t change all this just by wearing red and not buying shampoo.

So, instead I’m going to blog about an exceptional woman in my life.

Now, I have many exceptional women in my life. I mentioned Sunday that I write with several of my folks in mind, several exceptional women and men. I dearly love and respect them all.

The women who I write about tonight is my Grandma Hilde. My paternal grandmother.

Hilde’s first name is actually Hildegarde. Her father fought for Germany in World War I. (Side note: My OTHER great-grandfather through my dad’s family lost his arm fighting for the United States in this same war.)

Hilde’s parents fled the postwar Germany and Hitler’s rise and settled in the Pittsburgh area. Hilde was born. She spoke German until she was six. She went to school, where her teachers and then her parents made her speak in English. She forgot the German language.

Hilda’s mother got very sick, and Hilde raised her younger siblings.

World War II started, and Hilde dropped out of school to work in a factory. So, yes, my grandma was one of the millions of women who found new lives as Rosie the Riveter.

I wish that I had written down more details from Grandma’s story about the time that she almost got buried under a pile of slag.

“And then your dad would not have been born.”

Wold War II ended. Hilde married my grandpa. Grandpa was an American soldier who was set to ship out to Japan in 1945. Harry Truman’s decision to drop the bombs saved my grandpa’s life.

Hilde’s father went back to Germany to check on his family.  When he returned to Western Pennsylvania, he couldn’t speak to his son-in-law.

Hilde was widowed at a fairly young age, with a fairly young family to support. She studied hard and earned her G.E.D. She passed a Civil Service test, and got a job with the Children’s Bureau of Westmoreland County. She took a great deal of pride in her work with the Children’s Bureau. I know that she loved many of the children that she served there.

Grandma Hilde loved to read, and she had a knack for picking books before they became “big.”

One Christmas, she gave my sister Liz a book.

“This book is so, so good,” Gram said. “I just know that this book will be famous someday.”

None of us – not me, nor my sisters, nor my parents – had ever heard of the title nor of the author.

That book was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling.

So, now in our family folklore, Gram “discovered” Harry Potter before Harry Potter was cool.

Grandma Hilde (and also my mom) is the reason that my dad graduated from college and then taught high school for four decades.

Grandma Hilde grew up poor as a woman in a man’s world.  In a country at war with the country from whence her family came. Her life was shaped by the actions of power-hungry, narcissistic, nationalistic world leaders.

International Women’s Day isn’t about having the privilege tomorrow – with little personal cost – of going to work or staying home, of shopping or holding off on it for another day, of wearing red or some other color. It’s about women all over the world who face a set of limited or shitty options, and struggle to make the very best out of those options.

I’m still going to wear my red dress tomorrow. I’m also going to remember why I’m wearing the red dress. I will wear it proudly because my grandma was Rosie the Riveter.




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