“What did you do in the war — Mommy?”
That’s not the question you usually hear, but you’ll get some fascinating answers to it at this year’s Northwest Folklife Festival, which starts Friday and runs through Memorial Day. As part of Folklife’s 2013 cultural focus, “Washington Works” — a survey of jobs Washingtonians have done over the years, from logging to flying planes — Folklife has teamed up with Washington Women in Trades (WWIT) for a “Rosie the Riveters” program.
Rosies, as they were sometimes called, did factory and shipyard work back home while men were fighting overseas during World War II. The name is thought to have originated with a 1943 pop song sung by the Four Vagabonds.
Six years ago, WWIT started interviewing and photographing Washington “Rosies,” several of whom will speak on a panel at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Lopez Room at Seattle Center, which also showcases labor history exhibits, including the widely-known linoleum cuts and wood block prints of Richard V. Correll.
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One of the Rosies, Peggy Cook, 88, worked at a plant on Indian Island, across from Port Townsend, making underwater nets meant to prevent Japanese submarines from entering western waterways. Cook, who recently celebrated Mother’s Day with her first great-great-granddaughter, said it was very hard work.
“Have you ever watched a woman crotchet?” she asks in a telephone interview from her Seattle home. “Picture the thread being almost a half-inch in diameter and 20 feet long. You had to take big wrenches — there were 20 or 30 women in a row, rolling this up as we made it — it was like weaving with a crochet hook.”
“One of my friends lost her eye,” says Cook. “A wrench flipped and flipped her eye out.”
Cook’s husband, a submarine tender, barely got to see their first baby before he shipped out for 18 months.
“It was a stressful time,” remembers Cook. “You’d see a headline in a paper and everybody’d just be quiet. You didn’t want to be called off the line because you knew something was wrong.”
Cook was no stranger to tough physical work even before the war. Growing up in Longview, Cowlitz County, she was “raking” log booms on the river when she was 15.
Did the men ever give Rosies a hard time?
“Until we could do the job, they played tricks on us and said derogatory things,” she recalls. “But pretty soon they got the idea that you had a fella overseas, and you really belonged. And you were there saving someone in their family’s lives, too. It was a gentler time.”
The Rosie the Riveter panel is just one facet of Washington Works, which also includes an I.W. W. Little Red Songbook program (5 p.m. Monday, SIFF Cinema); a labor song showcase (7 p.m. Saturday, Bagley Wright Theatre); a “Labor at the Movies” program (noon-5:15 p.m. daily, Orcas Room); a bed-making contest (2 p.m. Saturday, Olympic Room); a Pete Seeger singalong (6 p.m. Saturday, Intiman Courtyard); an exhibit about geoduck farmers from South Puget Sound (11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, Lopez Room); talks at SIFF Cinema about radical history and organizing in the Pacific Northwest (11 a.m. Saturday) and New Deal labor art (5 p.m. Saturday); and a Woody Guthrie singalong for kids (noon Saturday and Sunday, Intiman Courtyard).
This year’s Folklife isn’t all work and no play. The festival offers the usual round of contradancing, bluegrass, fiddlers, Americana, world music and an expanded “Indie Roots” program that explores the place where folk music meets modern sounds.
Some highlights include a Fin Records Showcase (6 p.m. Friday, Fountain Lawn); “Life and Music of Jimi Hendrix,” featuring The Onlies, Jefferson Rose, Baby Gramps and others (1 p.m. Saturday, Sky Church, EMP Museum); Mexican music by fiddler Paul Anastasio and guitarist Juan Barco (1:40 p.m. Saturday, Fisher Green); Croatian music and dance by Vela Luka (7 p.m. Saturday, Exhibition Hall); the Anzanga Marimba Ensemble (5 p.m. Saturday, Mural Amphitheatre); a Gaelic “crankie” (felt scroll) show (3 p.m. Sunday, Center Theatre); and Hawaiian slack key guitar from Kermit Apio (5:05 p.m. Monday, Alki Court Stage).
Have fun out there!
Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or firstname.lastname@example.org