The memories of Michael Harrington and Daniel Taylor, recorded and written by Garrin Hertel
Above, Peggy, Patty, and Josephine Taylor left Spokane in three cars following the death of their brother in the Solomon Islands. The Taylor Family was on a mission to contribute to the war effort. Photo courtesy of the Harrington Family Archives.
In 1942, Westinghouse hired J. Howard Miller to create a series of images to increase employee morale in their factories in the midwest. Miller drew up one poster based on an image of 17-year-old Geraldine Hoff, an Ann Arbor factory worker who had been photographed by UPI. Employees at Westinghouse factories were treated to the “We Can Do It!” poster for a few weeks in 1943, and then it was largely forgotten for decades.
That same year, Norman Rockwell’s brawny “Rosie the Riveter” graced the cover the Saturday Evening Post. Drawn eating a sandwich with her massive rivet gun across her lap, Rockwell’s Rosie was fashioned after 19-year-old model Mary Doyle, who wasn’t a riveter. She was a telephone operator in New England.
The nickname began to catch on earlier in 1943 when recordings of Evans and Loeb’s 1942 song “Rosie the Riveter” began to hit the radio airwaves. Their inspiration was Rose Bonavita, an assembly-line worker in San Diego.
Before any of these Rosies entered the minds of the Taylor sisters of Spokane, WA, they were working as real life “Rosie the Riveters” at the Kaiser shipyards in Marin County, California. Tasked with welding the mass-produced Liberty cargo ships that would become the symbol of U.S. wartime industrialism, Peggy, Patty, and Josephine Taylor joined millions of American women in factories across the country.
Peggy, Patty, and Josephine Taylor did not move to California alone, however. The Taylor family lived at the end of 8th Avenue in Spokane’s East Central Neighborhood in the early 1940s, and as Catholic families go, they had more than a handful of children. There were thirteen in all, although, at the beginning of World War II, only three of the Taylor sons were eligible for the draft: Jack, Bobby, and Harold. Instead, they enlisted. Jack and Harold joined the Navy. Bobby volunteered for the Army.
In November 1942, the Taylor family received the sad news that their son Jack had been killed in action aboard the USS Preston in the Solomon Islands. “I still remember the banner in the window,” recalls Michael Harrington, Peggy Taylor’s son, and current resident of Spokane. “We were now a ‘gold star’ household. And I’m not sure if we moved because of Uncle Jack’s death, but I believe that was the impetus for our family’s decison to join the war effort.”
The entire Taylor family packed into three cars – parents, children, their spouses, and grandchildren – and drove across Washington State, and then down Pacific Highway 101 to San Francisco to the Kaiser Shipyards. When they arrived, the entire family lived in one big house near Sausalito. “I was about eight-years-old,” Michael remembers. “It seemed like we were in Spokane one day, and in California the next.”
The industrialist Henry Kaiser, whose aluminum plant in Spokane began an era of increased economic prosperity in the region in 1946, had four shipyards in Marin County during World War II. Commissioned to build Liberty ships following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Kaiser’s shipyards regularly produced significantly more ships at lower costs than any other commissioned shipbuilding operation in the country.
Michael’s grandfather was a supervisor at the shipyard, and his father was the expeditor. His aunts were known to be excellent welders, true to the ethic of the Rosie the Riveter icon. His mother, however, didn’t quite fit the profile. “If you look at the photo of my mom and aunts [see photo on page 24], you’ll notice my aunts had on work boots. My mom is wearing oxfords. You’ll also notice that my aunts’ welding sticks were pretty short. My mom’s looks like she hasn’t even used it.”
Maybe Peggy Taylor took inspiration from Rockwell’s Rosie, who didn’t wear boots either; she wore loafers.
Before the war, while at Lewis and Clark High School, Peggy was a ballet dancer. After the war, she went on to become an interior decorator. “My mom,” Michael remembers, “was really an elegant lady. She opened a drapery shop in Marin County. She was a lady – the lady of the family. She personified it. She had dress-up parties for all the kids. In 1981, she went to Princess Diana’s wedding. She lived in England for 13 years. All of her furnishings, the way she acted – she learned that through her decorator business, but lived it daily.”
Years later, she told her son about the day she was reassigned. “She told me that one day grandpa had a new job for her at the shipyard. ‘You’re sinking more ships than the Japanese,’ he told her. She wasn’t very good at welding.”
Michael’s uncle, Daniel Taylor, remembers that his sister “Jo” was the best of the three at welding. [She has the shortest welding stick in the photo on page 24, which the family assumes is because she did the most work.] In the 1960s, Daniel and a small group of friends and relatives “had a brainstorm” and got together to build a boat. Realizing they needed a trailer to haul it, he asked Jo if she still remembered how to weld. “She told us if we could find the iron, she’d weld it together for us.”
So the boys procured some angle iron from a local shop and sure enough, Jo still remembered how to weld, twenty years after welding Liberty ships in Marin County. “She popped her welding torch on like a pro, lowered her visor, and had that trailer put together for us in no time.”
At the peak of World War II factory production, women outnumbered men in factory jobs by a ratio of nearly two to one. Much has been written about the significance of their work for the cause of gender equality today. But in 1942, following the loss of their beloved son and brother, the Taylor family didn’t have any particular cultural agenda. They weren’t driven by the Rosie the Riveter icons – they could just as easily have been the inspiration for the posters and song, having been among those who joined the war effort early on. Like so many from that generation, the Greatest Generation, they found duty and desire tied together in common work. That’s why they were the Greatest.