SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — Dorothy “Dot” May, 94, says back in the days of World War II, helping with the war effort on the homefront was just something that many people did without talking too much about it. Now, she recognizes the fact that she served as a “Rosie the Riveter” and is proud to have contributed to the cause.
Although “Rosie” has become a national icon and is a term and image with which many people are familiar, May is one of the remaining women whom the image actually represents.
“Well, they took all the men, so the women had to work, and I needed the job because (my husband) was only getting about $80 a month,” said May, who resides in Shepherdstown. “I really enjoyed working over there. I lived on Main Street (or German Street in Shepherdstown), and I used to ride over to Hagerstown with my neighbor, then I would catch a ride out to (one of the plants).”
The year was 1942, and 20-year-old May went to work at what she referred to as “Fairchild’s” or Fairchild Aircraft, now the Hagerstown Regional Airport.
After receiving 200 hours of manual training at Martinsburg High School, May began riveting on aircraft wing tips.
“This was constant, hard work,” May said.
Although May commented on the difficulty of the work she was doing at the airport, she was no stranger to it, as she grew up working on a farm where some of her responsibilities included driving a pickup truck to haul hay, milking cows and feeding chickens. May also survived measles, brain fever and double pneumonia as a young child, so tough tasks have never been a match for her.
Shortly after May stopped working at the airport, she still wanted to find ways to keep herself busy during war days.
“I talked my dad into buying (my brother) George’s truck when he went off to war,” May said. “My father and I rode together, and my brother Leo had his own truck. We would go and pick up farmers’ purchase orders and haul lime out to their farms. Then we spread it for them.”
May recalled the times hauling lime with her dad and brother as some of her fondest memories.
“I really enjoyed that,” May said.
Fast-forward to 1950, and May found herself pregnant with her second child and back at the airport for her second round of working on aircrafts, although this time it was on nose cowlings and did not directly involve any war effort.
Since May began opening up about her service as a “Rosie,” she has been recognized many times, including during a ceremony in Washington, D.C. and by the Military Naval and Air Attache Embassy of Belgium during a ceremony at Shepherd University in 2010. Memorabilia depicting the popular icon adorns her home, and she said it all has special meaning to her.
After working at the airport, May spent 25 years working at the now-defunct Corning Glass Works just south of Inwood. Since retiring, May has spent her time on many interesting and exciting endeavors, including her involvement with a kitchen band comprised of senior citizens called “Young at Heart.” May played the washboard and triangle during her time in the band from the late 80s to about 2009.
May’s parents-Lissie and Lucas Hilliard-had 15 children, and May had seven children of her own, two of which are now deceased. May is the only living child of all her brothers and sisters. Since entering the world on March 15, 1922, May said she has had some unforgettable experiences throughout her life.
“I had a good childhood-my parents were great people-and I’ve had a really interesting life,” May said. “The Lord has been good to me.”
Staff writer Emily Daniels can be reached at 304-263-8931 ext. 132 or www.twitter.com/emilykdaniels.