From the Lennox Herald 15 May 2015
I heard this week of the death of Mary Doyle aged 91 years, the woman who posed as Rosie the Riveter for Norman Rockwell’s iconic painting (not to be confused with WE CAN DO IT). The painting was on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in May 1943, and quickly became a symbol of the millions of women doing war work while men were at the front. Last Sunday marked the 70th anniversary of VE Day and Mary’s death was a reminder that we are gradually losing members of an extraordinary generation of women who came of age during that second terrible world war.
The recent loss of the last of the women elders of my own and friends’ family has been hard. Born in the 1920s, the decade when all women in Britain finally got the vote, these young lassies were not all riveters exactly. Leaving school at fourteen many did go to work in factories in the west of Scotland. It cannot have been much fun walking to work and back during the blackout. In these factories where they endured tough and unsafe working conditions, they still managed to play skipping ropes at lunchtime and sing all day long. They maybe grew up with rationing and having to count your pennies before calling the doctor but they still got to go dancing four nights a week.
During the war my mother, my aunties and their pals, learned a great deal about being independent and by 1945 hopes were high for a better world. They now knew about the power of collective action, they got political. They joined trade unions and campaigned for equal pay, to improve working conditions, for better housing, for peace, for family planning; joined political parties, they had their own sport and hiking groups and choirs; they got active, they got singing. Many married and their children got used to Mammy being out on a Tuesday night at her night class or the Guild or away on at a weekend school – they got educated. They also had social lives separate from their menfolk. They were independent; they had style.
Women’s activism did not stop after getting the vote and the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s didn’t start something that new. No ma’am. The 1920s generation of working class women knew what to do with their vote, knew what poverty and inequality felt like and kept up the struggle – they also carried on dreaming. We remember VE day but let’s not forget the future the 1920s generation of women gave us, the future we now hold in our hands.
For Mary Donaldson, Annie MacKay, Pat Scott and Agnes Owens