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Home » News » Rosie The Riveter from Lee's Summit

Rosie The Riveter from Lee's Summit

Rosie The Riveter from Lee's Summit

June 21, 2014

Photo by Bill Morrow

By Carlee Edwards

At the height of WWII, to fill in the gaps left by the thousands of men who were drafted, jobs that were previously closed to women began to open up.

Among these positions, the aviation industry had the greatest increase of female workers as more than 310,000 women joined the aviation work force.

Kansas City quickly became an epicenter for producing planes during the war. In the midst of this war 18-year-old Emma Jean Shannon, now Emma Jean Newland a current resident of Lee’s Summit, moved to the city from her family’s farm 50 miles from Kansas City after graduating high school, looking for work.

In the time of great depression jobs were scarce but Emma found work at the aviation plant in KCK’s Fairfax District riveting on B-25 planes, much like the iconic campaign figure ‘Rosie the Riveter.’

“I hadn’t been to Kansas City even three times,” Newland said. “Someone just told me about the job once I’d gotten there so I decided to check it out.”

This past weekend, just two days before her 90th birthday, Emma Jean Newland was given the opportunity to fly in one of the B-25 bombers she helped build, on an ‘honor flight’ over downtown Kansas City.

Immediately following the Flag Day ceremony on Saturday, June 14 at the National Airline History Museum, Newland and veteran Ray Hawks were met by the Axis Nightmare, a vintage World War Two bomber.

The B-25 bomber with its 160,000 moving parts and 150,000 rivets was used primarily in the island campaigns against the Japanese forces.

“I was definitely Rosie The Riveter,” Newland said at the event. “I worked on that flap right there on the tail assembly. I put the rivets in.”

More than 6,600 B-25 were produced at the Fairfax plant.

“I started to work at the plant August 8, 1942 and worked there until the war was over in 1945,” Newland said. “I haven’t seen one of these planes since then. I never got to fly in one until now.”

Recalling the time when she first began to work at the plant Emma explained that she had first attended Lathrop Trade School to train for six weeks before going on to work on the North American Aviation assembly line. She was paid $1.10 an hour when she first started out, but was later promoted to ‘Lead Man,’ and was paid an extra 15 cents.

“Everything was about defense,” Newland explained. “They stopped making car batteries, washing machines, and things like that... everything was focused on the war.”

Newland reminisced on the days of the war and living in the city during the depression while being a woman in the work force.

“Back then you could walk anywhere, go wherever you wanted and nobody bothered you,” Newland said about living in the city.

“It was 10 cents for bus transfers to get around. All the girls would ride the bus.”

She explained how they’d work long and odd hours so the buses could manage to transport everyone.

 “You didn’t go to work from 8:00 to 5:00; you’d work from 7:42 to 4:42 or something odd like that because there were so many people.”

The plant required all the girls to wear their hair up in a bandana and to wear pants as opposed to housedresses, which were the common attire of women before the war.

“I started wearing pants during the war, and I’ve been wearing them ever since,” Newland said.
Along with working on the assembly line, Newland and the other girls would give in other ways to help with the war effort.

“We gave blood and gave bonds from our pay checks to support the war,” she explained.
Newland spoke quite fondly of her time working in the Fairfax plant, and was thrilled to get the chance to fly in one of the B-25’s that she’d worked on.

It was during a museum tour put on by Lee’s Summit Bank back in March at the National Airline History Museum that Newland mentioned she had worked as a riveter on the planes to the tour guide.

“He pointed at me and said ‘I want to talk to you’, but I had no idea what about,” Newland said.

From there things fell into place for Newland to attend the Flag Day ceremony on the 14th and go up in the Axis Nightmare.

“I was really surprised,” Newland said. “And it was a great honor to finally fly in one of those planes."

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