“They weren’t ready for us women,” said Morrison, who returned disappointed to the small Haight Street apartment she and her husband shared.
But the military continued to gobble up men to fight the war and that attitude soon changed.
“When I went back in January 1943, that sign was gone,” Morrison said.
She was given the job of welder and they agreed to her two requests – that she would work in Kaiser Shipyard No. 2 and that she would work on the graveyard shift to be with her husband, who had been hired as a shipfitter.
“I didn’t know what a welder was and I didn’t care,” said Morrison, who was just pleased to be part of the war effort.
Morrison took to welding like a natural, and with coaching from a senior welder, she passed the government welding testing three months later – with flying colors and on the first time.
“When you became a journeyman welder, you’ve excelled in flat, vertical and overhead welding,” Morrison said.
The next year would be spent getting up in the darkness, taking the trolly to the waterfront and then a ferry to the shipyards in Richmond.
“It was scary. The cities were blacked out and we were worried that the Japanese would attack,” Morrison said.
Her husband was more concerned about fellow workers who habitually drank before going to work and would throw bottles off the boat. He was afraid that one of those bottles may hit his wife.
On May 4, Morrison, now living in Fairfield, will be one of three women who helped build the war-winning fleet of merchant ships and troop ships in Richmond during World War II, who will be at Pena Adobe Park to talk with visitors and share their stories.
The gathering is one of the Pena Adobe’s monthly open houses that will take place at the park from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 4.
All three women – Marian Wynn, 92, Marian Sousa, 93, and Morrison, 95 – are still active as docents at the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond.
The national park tells the story of the Kaiser Shipyards, which produced Liberty ships during World War II with the largest number of people in the history of the country working at war jobs out of a sense of patriotic duty.
During World War II, 6 million women entered the workforce and became known as “Rosie the Riveter.” Her “We Can Do It” motto came to symbolize all female workers.
Morrison was a journeyman welder from 1943-1945. Sousa was a draftsman during 1943-1944 and Wynn was a pipe welder from 1944-1945.
A seventh-generation Californian, Morrison was living in Chico when Pearl Harbor was bombed.
Her husband tried to join the Army Air Force, but was classified 4-F because of his eyesight and a heart murmur.
The couple was still set on helping the war effort somehow and moved to San Francisco to work in the shipyards.
Work for her was welding on the assembly, large sections of steel moved by crane to the ships that were being built in the shipyard ways.
Even preparation was hard, putting on heavy leather protective gear and heavy steel-toed boots, hauling over welding lines and stairs she used to reach the sections that needed to be welded.
“I was tired even before I started welding,” Morrison said.
But she loved the work and was disappointed that when the war ended, so did the job.
“I understood that men returning home from the war had first rights to jobs here,” Morrison said, adding she was sad that she could no longer continue in her profession.
Searching for another job was initially fruitless and when the employment office said there was an opening for a waitress, Morrison said, “but I am a welder” only to get the retort, “we have barely enough jobs for the men.”
In time, Morrison went to work for Bank of America and stayed with that profession for 30 years before retiring in 1984.
“We made a great contribution,” Morrison said of her time working in the Richmond shipyards. “Women did jobs that no one thought that they could do. We just stepped up and did the jobs.”
She has been a docent at the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park for seven years. She loves working with her fellow Rosies to tell their story.
The most common questions she gets from visitors are, what did she do after the war, and, did she ever have any trouble with men in the shipyard.
“I never had any problem, possibly because I was married,” Morrison said. “Overall, I think the men were pretty happy to have us there because they could not do the job alone.”
Larry Serkanic from the Liberty Ship and floating museum SS Jeremiah O’Brien, will join the Rosies to answer questions and talk about the Liberty Ships’ contribution to victory.
The Jeremiah O’Brien is one of two remaining fully functional Liberty ships of the 2,710 built and launched during World War II. It is moored at Pier 45, Fisherman’s Wharf, in San Francisco.
Docents from the Aircraft Carrier Hornet Foundation will also be available. The foundation preserves the legacy of the World War II-era USS Hornet, which is tied up in Alameda.
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