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Thankful for Those Before Us

Updated: Apr 18, 2022

Recognizing historic women who blazed the path for women in construction.

Due to the nature of this week, I feel like we should all take a few minutes to learn about and thank some of the amazing women who fought diversity in order to blaze a path for all of us women to walk in.

After doing research on women welders, I found that the road for women to weld in every country was a new battle. All of the information below was taken from the listed articles if you feel like digging deeper into these ladies lives.

To put some of this information into perspective the most known iconic movement was during WWII in the US - often known for “Rosie the Riveter” but women actually started welding 24 years earlier in 1918.

Sarah A. Erwin was actually the very first female to be engaged in shipyard construction. She was first tested with electrical welding and did so well, the shipyard opened up 30 additional welding positions specifically for females. This was the start of women fixing bad welds in the shop on-site. Now, to even qualify to be tested the women had to fit certain criteria. Here's some of the criteria: must be between the ages of 24 and 35, they had to be “healthy and robust”.... You can interpret that how you will… I see myself as healthy and robust. The ads for women in industrial positions also included the following, “Women of poise and character only wanted”. This movement encouraged women and provided the validation that they were meant to more and were far more capable than which they had been given credit for in the past.

Here's some of the criteria: must be between the ages of 24 and 35, they had to be “healthy and robust”....

I’m 1942 Florence Joyce took up welding in the Fore River Shipyard. In a time of war, many jobs typically held by men were vacated and left empty. Strong independent women often found themselves filling these roles. From professional sports to building ships. Flo along with around approximately 2000 other women were the first “Winnie Welders”. Hiring women as welders led the shipyard to hire women for burners, painters, and everything else. But being the first always comes with it’s disadvantages and despite the work being hard and dangerous she loved it.

Fun fact: If you look into her you’ll find that her nickname was “Woo Woo” because of the continuous cat calls she received from the men around her.

During WWII, some women battled more than just the diversity of being a women. Eugenia P. Deas was the first African American Woman welder at the Charleston Naval Shipyard where she was responsible for welding plates to prevent leaks for two years. In this closed interview she describes the many things she was judged for and called nicknames solely because she was doing things a “man” typically did. Believe it or not one of these was as simple as driving a car.

Out in California Amanda Smith and Gladys Theus both fought to break the molds of stereotypes for what a welder should be. Both being African American Women they weren’t in a typical role/position at all for that time period. Amanda Smith worked for the Douglas Aircraft Company out of Long Beach California. Gladys Theus was known for her efficiency and talent as a welder. Being one of the few who did not have to join the movement during WWII but choose to anyway.

Take Solveig Erikstad in Ulstein. She started welding in 1974 because of an ad in the housewives section of the local newspaper was offering free kindergarten. At the time she was one of 12 women to complete her apprenticeship and helped to pave the way for women being allowed to work in every department. The company that she began welding for was seeing a shortage of manpower - and while it was the norm to attract manpower from other areas they decided to take a different approach. Rather than import manpower they saw the opportunity to use the assets they already had. In the article she was featured in, she made it clear that the women felt supported by their fellow men colleagues. Many of whom offered help when and where they could despite being skeptical.

Women felt supported by their fellow men colleagues. Many of whom offered help when and where they could despite being skeptical.

Women making headway in the industrial field is still a new topic despite the years women have been welding. In 2008 Sun Binbin earned her international “master welder” certificate in Germany. This qualified her to actually teach others to weld, given that she took up a job with a foreign company to train future welders. In this position she has trained hundreds to weld and produce on some of China's fastest trains. To date she is one of only two Chinese women to have earned the Welding Master certificate that is issued by DVS. She began her career at a technical school in 1997 following in her grandfather's footsteps. Given the nature of welding, the heat, the uncomfortableness, the harsh light, the poor working conditions, she found herself wanting to quit. But with the encouragement of her dad, she persevered. Take a look at her article here, there are life lessons & quotes that really apply to all of us in this industry every day.

These women made amazing strides toward showcasing that talent and skill set can lie within more than just males during a time where women were expected to focus toward responsibilities within the home. They are the women who took the chance and overcame through the stigma to pave the path for future generations of strong women. Our generations have seen acceptance of lifestyle changes from men and women alike but there are still adverse situations that we overcome daily. To be a female welder still means working in a male dominated industry; many of these women still have to overcome the challenges that come from "old school" viewpoints about women in the industry but they push through and show just how bad ass a woman can be!

It has been an enlightening experience researching the history behind women in crafts such as welding! I am proud to be a part of B3H that is geared toward supporting these ladies as well as others who are immersed in male dominated industries!!




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