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State women recognized for serving as ‘Rosie the Riveters’


The Journal

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. — America’s “Rosie the Riveter” got a belated 70 year-old thank you on Monday.

Towns large and small across America yesterday offered up a formal commemoration for all the country’s “Rosie the Riveters,” the women who rolled up their collective sleeves during WWII and got to work.

From left: real life Rosies ….. Dorothy Davenport, Ada M. England, Gladys M. Rockenbaugh and Agatha “Pete” Murphy, ring bells acknowledging their service for the US when they worked as welders, riveters, Navy Nurse and supply support staff back during WWII. The 90+ year old ladies were onored as Rosie the Riveters during a ceremony in Harpers Ferry Monday. (Journal Photo by Ron Agnir)


Officially designated by U.S. Senate resolution as “National Rosie the Riveter Day,” Monday served as a collective national effort to raise awareness of the 16,000,000 women who helped the war effort during World War II.

In Harpers Ferry, an estimated 100 people gathered at the town’s public gazebo on Washington Street to honor four West Virginia women who assisted the war effort back home during WWII.

“We are here to celebrate the very special workers of America’s Greatest Generation — the women who stepped up to keep America going during World War II,” said Harpers Ferry Councilwoman Barbara Humes, who served as master of ceremonies for the event. “The American women who worked in factories and other jobs during WWII are represented by ‘Rosie the Riveter’ — a cultural icon of the United States.”

A bevy of state and local officials were also in attendance on Monday, including State Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley; State Delegate Paul Espinoza, R-Jefferson; Jane Tabb, commissioner, Jefferson County; Pete Dowry, sheriff and treasurer, Jefferson County; Matt Harvey, prosecutor, Jefferson County.

Also participating were: an honor guard made up of members from the Harpers Ferry/Bolivar District Veteran’s Association; Shirley Caniford and Julie Gregg, co-presidents of the Harpers Ferry Woman’s Club; Rev. James T. Munuhe, deacon of St. James Roman Catholic Church; and Kevin Carden, town recorder of Harpers Ferry, who led the singing of the National Anthem.

During WWII, the number of working women in the U.S. grew from 12 to 20 million by 1944.

On hand at the ceremony were four women from different parts of the state who had worked during WWII, be it as a factory worker, a nurse, a bandage maker or a member of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“What unified the experiences of these women, was that they proved to themselves and to the country that they could do a man’s job, and they could do it well, Humes said.

Among the four women honored was Dorothy Davenport, 93, who was born in Princeton, Illinois and now lives in Charles Town. She served by rolling first-aid bandages at the county courthouse in her hometown.

“The day she (Dorothy) graduated from high school in 1942, was when she walked the street and started rolling bandages and volunteered immediately for the Red Cross,” according to her daughter Alice Davenport-McCarthy of Martinsburg, who spoke on her mother’s behalf.

Ada M. England, 99, of Kelsey, Virginia –who now lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania — served as a welder at a Navy shipyard in Portland, Oregon, who joined the Navy after finishing her second year of high school.

“She learned her trade, studied, and became a high skilled welder –one of the few ladies who could hang off the sides of the ship,” according to her daughter Laura England, who spoke for her mother. “She worked on aircraft carriers, battleships and the Linley ship which took food and other supplies to countries that were being blockaded during the war.”

Agatha “Pete” Murphy, 96, who was born outside of Boston, Massachusetts, and now is a Harpers Ferry resident, served as a Navy nurse based in Norfolk, Virginia.

“She took care of the wounded soldier boys when they were sent back to the states for further medical treatment,” Humes said. “She said nurses came from all over the United States.”

Gladys M. Rockenbaugh, born in a small rural farm town in southestern West Virginia, joined the FBI in Washington, D.C. in May,1945 right after graduating high school.

“She was at the top of her class and recruited in Washington, D.C. by the federal government,” said her daughter Stephanie Rockenbaugh of Harpers Ferry, who spoke on her behalf. “Gladys first worked in the fingerprint department, and she was successful in getting the gangster ‘Lucky’ Lucciano deported back to Italy.”

In addition, serveral townspeople spoke to the audience of a female family member who had also served here at home during WWII.

Concluding the ceremony, a collective peal of bells filled the air for 15 seconds, exactly at 1 p.m. as part of the national ceremony. A combination of hand held bells mingled with the church tower bells of Camp Hill-Wesley United Methodist Church and St. James Catholic Church in Harpers Ferry.

According to Humes, a ringing of bells represents “a simple, but powerful way for people to see that it is possible for people to pull together and get the work done.”

“Their work has gone relatively unrecognized as peace time came,” Humes said. “This ceremony today is to try to rectify and honor this lost piece of history.”

Staff writer Jim McConville can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 215, or Twitter@jmcconvilleJN.

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