Photo by Rick Watson
Revive the Rosies
Fran Carter, pictured with her husband John, founded the American Rosie the Riveter Assocation.
Francis “Fran” Carter was a riveter in the days when Rosie rose to be a cultural icon. Now that many years have passed, she has worked to preserve the memory of those who held traditionally men’s jobs during World War II.
“We were not women’s libbers, and we weren’t fighting for any rights. We were simply trying to get the war over and get the boys home,” said the resident of Brookdale Place off Lakeshore Drive.
The Mississippi native had been studying to become a teacher at a junior college, but like many women during World War II, she longed to do something that helped the war effort.
Her first choice was to join one of the women’s auxiliary services such as the WACS, WAFS or WAVES, but she was the youngest of her family and her mother was in poor health. “Mother didn’t want me to be that far from home. She was afraid I’d be killed,” Fran said.
When Fran got an opportunity for a military job at an aircraft plant in Birmingham, her mother relented. Fran moved in with her brother, who lived in the area, and went to work at Betchel, McCome and Parsons Aircraft Modification Center. This enterprise later became Hayes Aircraft.
She worked as a riveter affixing sheet metal parts on B-29 airplanes, a job held by men before the war had started. With that, Fran became a Rosie the Riveter, a cultural icon representing American women who went to work in jobs previously held by men during World War II.
Fran, like most Rosies, wore coveralls while she worked. She couldn’t wear jewelry, and women with long hair had to wear nets or scarves so their hair wouldn’t get caught in machinery.
“We loved our coveralls, and we changed fashion in those days,” she said. Before Rosie the Riveter came along, all the women wore dresses, but afterward, it became acceptable for women to wear slacks.
Fran was courting a number of men during this period of her life, but all of them were in the military, and coincidentally, all their names were John.
One John was in the Navy in the South Pacific, a second John was in the Air Force, and the third, John Carter, was in the Army. Carter eventually won her heart, but he had to wait until she could break up with the others in person.
Carter was still overseas when he learned of the breakup via V-mail (a precursor of Airmail). He sent a local jeweler some money and asked him to pick out a selection of rings from which Fran could pick.
“It wasn’t very romantic, but I picked out a ring,” Fran said with a laugh. When Carter returned home after the war, he and Fran married in 1946.
After their marriage, both went back to college, one to Mississippi State and the other to Southern Mississippi, and both went on to earn doctorates. Now great grandparents, this year they both celebrated 90th birthdays and their 66th wedding anniversary.
In 1997, the couple visited the Little White House in Warm Springs, Ga., where Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to rest when he was president. There they saw a skit performed by a woman who was the daughter of a Rosie the Riveter.
The skit got Fran to thinking that someone should start an organization that recognized the legacy of these women who helped win the war. With a little encouragement from her husband, she founded The American Rosie the Riveter Association with the purpose of preserving the history and legacy of those women.
“Our mission is patriotic, historical and educational,” she said.
Fran wrote the bylaws to get the ball rolling. The group includes Rosie the Riveters; Rosebuds, the daughters and granddaughters of Rosies; and Riveters, husbands of Rosies.
Last year, 28 of the more than 4,000 international members in the organization met in Phoenix, Ariz., to preserve the impact they had on the outcome of World War II.
To learn more about the American Rosie the Riveter Association, visit rosietheriveter.net or contact Fran Carter at 822-4106.