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Jeannette Stump:
'I was the real thing'
by Maricia Mlynek
     

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(This is another in a series of stories on local Rosie the Riveters, women who worked to support the war effort.)

“There have been many stories written about women who left their homes and went to work in the defense plants to help with the war effort. There were a lot of jobs to do in the factories, but one of the most famous became ‘Rosie the Riveter.’ I was the real thing.


Jeannette Marshall Stump

Let me start from the beginning. My name is Jeannette Marshall Stump, and I was born in Grantsville on Jan. 23, 1923. My parents were Lenna (Wigner) and Harold ‘Budge’ Marshall. I was one of four children, two girls and two boys. The eldest was Harold John, my sister was May, and my other brother was Frank. I was the baby of the family. My dad worked for the State Road Commission, and my mother was a seamstress. She sewed for everybody. People called her ‘Granny.’

We lived across the river from Grantsville in what was referred to as ‘North Side.’ There were two ways to get to town. One was by crossing the Little Kanawha by the bridge at the end of town and walking down to ‘North End.’ The other was by boat. Neither was an easy trip. Our childhood home can still be seen. (It is) the big two story white house across the river [from the Laundromat], often referred to as the ‘Jack Stump’ house.


The home where Jeannette grew up is located
across the river from Grantsville on Northside.

All of the kids attended grade school in Grantsville by crossing in the family John Boat, and later by walking the unpaved often muddy road to Calhoun County High School. They didn’t have busing on my route until the year after I graduated in 1941. I had a variety of jobs in town after graduation. I worked for Kingsburys at the Ben Franklin and also had a job at the Post Office.”

Jeannette would see more than a change of jobs over the course of the next several years. She recalled the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the beginning of World War II. The war had quite an impact on the Marshall family. Both of her brothers, two female cousins and two male cousins went to war, as well as Jeannette’s husband.

“We were coming home from church when we heard about the bombing. I remember just being scared. On Dec. 12, 1943, I married Fred Pell Stump from Stumptown. It was a whirlwind courtship of three months, with World War II erupting around us. Pell was drafted in January of 1944.

As many wives did, I followed him to Camp Walters in Texas, where he had 17 weeks of training. His pay was $21 a day. Wives received $100 per month. From Texas, we went to Maryland. Life during those days needs to be told in another story. In 1944, Pell was sent to Italy and then on to Germany. I headed back to Grantsville.

Life at home in Grantsville had changed. Every week there was a bus headed out with husbands, brothers and sons, who were going off to war. Everyone was trying hard to do their part. Each week, I would head to the Skating Rink or the Legion Hall, where the busses would depart from, to hand out a “Testament” and to share a friendly kiss to send them on their way. I wonder if they ever thought about that young girl at the bus saying goodbye.

I also remember the pile of scrap metal that was collected in the bin out at the intersection heading into town. People would donate what they could to be melted down to be used for the war effort. I still remember seeing a metal tea kettle sitting right on the top of that pile.

One of the much sought after foods was Jell-O. When the delivery truck would come to the grocery, that would be the first thing sold out. We even would travel all the way over to the store at Russett, if there was word that they had some on their shelves.

Silk was not available and neither were silk stockings. Instead, the stockings were made of nylon. I remember they were heavy and not that attractive. When it got really cold they would tend to get hard and stand out from your legs. Sometimes, it was best just to go bare legged.

We wrote a lot of letters to friends and family members who were gone. I once wrote my brother a letter on toilet paper, rolled it back up and sent it to him. We were always trying to find ways to bring a smile to the boys.

Everyone was going somewhere and things were busy. There were hardly any young men left in Grantsville. There was a song that went like this. ‘What’s good are in the Army and what’s here will never harm me. They are either too young or too old.’

My sister, Maize, was married with twin daughters and living in Mississippi. The single or young married girls left in town were restless and wanting to do more for the country and for the boys fighting in the war.

I am not sure why we decided it would be a good time to leave and work in a defense plant. Just one day, Mary Jean Propst and I headed to Akron, Ohio, to see what we might find to do. We really had no real plans, but what an adventure!

I think we arrived late after driving all night at the home of a relative of Mary Jean’s. I had known Mary Jean all my life, and we were the best of friends. I believe that someone there was working at Firestone and offered to take us there to see what work we might do.

Firestone, Goodyear and Goodrich had all converted from making tires to making things for the war. We got a job right away, and I became an official ‘Rosie the Riveter.’ We would later be introduced to that term through a movie. We just signed on to be riveters. We had two weeks training and then set off to rivet the D-Icier T’s on the C47 cargo planes. I have since met a man who flew those planes. He said that he never heard of one losing a wing.

We worked from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. and had settled into a rented (one) room with one bed. We took turns sleeping, as we each had a different shift. The house was owned by Sine Sonel. She had three kids of her own: Emma Jean, Ester and Bobby.

There were no uniforms for the factory work so we wore slacks, a shirt and sometimes a sweater vest. We did not have the coveralls like you see in the pictures. We lived in Cuyahoga Falls and would go into Akron each day, or night, to work. I would get to work by bus, but a girl named Kay Starr would give us a ride to the bus stop.

She had purchased an old Black and White Taxi, but had failed to have it repainted, so on our trips, people would try to flag us down for a ride thinking it was a real taxi. They would wave and we would just wave back as we drove by. She called us all ‘Stinkys’ and would call, ‘Hey, Stinkys, need a ride?’

 The bus ride cost 10 cents. I worked for 60 or 68 cents an hour for almost seven days a week. If you got off on Saturday night, you would have to work Sunday night. Once I got to work, I went to the cage to check out my rivet gun and my bucking bar. It took some practice, with one person holding the bucking bar behind the metal, with the riveter putting in the rivets.

You had to get those rivets in just right. I had a little ruler to measure to make sure they were just so. If you made a mistake and put them in too far, you had to drill them out, call for a patch, and do them again. After a while, you just knew when you had them right. The wing was long and you worked on your feet all of the time.

Sometimes, you would change places with the bucker for a little variety. Most of us were women, but there were two men on our shift. My supervisor was a woman, and had some type of disability with one of her hands, and always wore a glove on it.

Once the wing was done, it was taken off the gig and another was put in its place. We had one girl that could sleep all night on the end of that gig. Nothing was automated, so a team of people were needed to keep things going. But I was the riveter, and it was my work that was going to hold this plane together.

There were few safety rules, no goggles, no protective clothing, just women doing what they could to help our country. I have no idea how many rivets I put in, but it was in the hundreds of thousands. I don’t know why, but I never went outside the hanger to take a look at the finished planes. When we got off work, we would go to the local diner, play the juke box, and dance the polka. There were men in uniform everywhere you looked. The favorite saying for us girls was ‘Oh, Lieutenant.’

When we got back to our rented room, Sine, our landlord, would have a skillet of fried apples waiting for us for breakfast--some for those getting up and some for those going to bed. I still love fried apples to this day.

Since I was getting my $100 a month, I saved my pay and made up the amount spent, so when Pell got home [from the Army], I had all of my allotment saved.

I cannot remember just how long I was a ‘Rosie,’ but it must have been for about a year. Mary Jean had left and gone back to Grantsville, and I followed her home not long after that. We received gas coupons from time to time, and I used mine to buy a ride back home to Grantsville.

When I got home, I went to work for Holly Bell at the dry cleaners. It was nothing like my days as a ‘Rosie,’ but it was good to be back home. It was not long after I got home in the fall that I was at a Calhoun County football game and got word that Pell had been wounded. It was just a minor wound, but you will always remember where you were when you get that kind of news.

It was around that same time that we also learned that Emmett Bell had become a prisoner of war and that Wilbur Hall had been killed in action.

People celebrated the end of the war. I was happy, because Pell was to be sent to Japan next. Now I knew he would come home.”

After the war, Pell and Jeannette returned to Stumptown, and they lived there for two years before moving to Huntington. They were married for 59 years. Their children are Teena and Mitch, with grandchildren, Kate, Rachel, Amanda and Jessica, and great-grandchildren, Nick, Sophie, Hattie and Maggie.

“I still have a farm in Stumptown, but my home is now at Springmoor, a retirement community in Raleigh, N.C. I moved there to be closer to my daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughters.

At dinner one evening, I overheard a man talking about being a pilot and flying C47s, transporting cargo from Alaska to Russia, during the war. He was a young pilot, only 18, when he was flying this mission during the war.

I told him that I was a ‘Rosie’ and put the wings on those planes he flew. We became fast friends. He laughed and told me that they were real work horses and that is when he told me that he never heard of any of the wings falling off.

He also shared with me a picture of a wonderful memorial in Alaska honoring the women of World War II who worked back home on the war effort and the ‘Rosies’ that kept the factories going. Every time he sees me, he always asks ‘How is Rosie doing?’

Jeannette has not slowed down over the years. She is still a member of Rush Run Baptist Church, and faithfully attends her Women’s Circle at White Memorial Presbyterian in Raleigh, and continues to quilt and sew.

“I work on anything. If it has a needle, I’ll try it,” she said.

Her love for sewing began in her home in Grantsville at her mother’s side, and it has been a lifelong passion.

Over the years, her existence has seemed to mirror one of her sewing projects, as there have been many stitches of change and threads of adventures.

Like all handmade quilts and home woven projects, Jeannette Marshall Stump is a cherished piece of our history. She was a “Real Rosie.”

This Week's Editorial:

By Helen Morris:

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