BELLOWS FALLS — The only registered Rosie the Riveter Memorial Garden in the state now has a more prominent location at Hetty Green Park, where it honors the memory of Margaret Clapper Tidd, a Rosie who lived in Bellows Falls from the time she graduated from high school until her death in 2019.
A brief history and dedication of the Rosie the Riveter Memorial, in its new location at the park on School Street, was given by historian David Deacon on Oct. 14.
The memorial was moved from its original location at Riverfront Park, where it was installed in Tidd's memory in 2019.
Rosie the Riveter was an allegorical icon symbolizing the women who took over factory and shipyard jobs, construction work, and other positions during World War II, filling the abrupt shortage in the labor market left when the men entered military service.
World War II was truly a total war, where entire national populations were asked to respond, doing everything from recycling metals and other materials; growing "victory gardens" to aid with food supplies; rationing food, fuels, and other materials needed for the war effort; and turning manufacturing and factories into supplying materials for the war effort.
Deacon said that, in addition to the war's battle front and home front, there was also the vital factory front. While 15 million men and 350,000 women went to war as part of the military, one-third of the factory-front workforce were women.
In the military, Deacon said, the women served mainly as nurses, telegraph and telephone operators, and in other non-combatant positions. Many were also trained as pilots, delivering planes to the battle fronts as they rolled off the factory assembly lines.
Of the millions of women working on the factory front in traditionally male jobs, 65% were women over age 35, and many had children. While the sacrifice these women and their families made was great - childcare centers were virtually unheard of at the time - these women took great pride in the work they did making munitions, building airplanes, Jeeps, and hundreds of other items essential for the war effort.
The Rosie the Riveter character came from a 1943 song written by John Jacob Loeb and Redd Evans.
One enduring rendition of Rosie the Riveter, with the motto "We Can Do It," was painted by poster artist J. Howard Miller to boost morale and productivity of the female employees of Westinghouse. The symbol, in her overalls and bandana, became so iconic and such a source of pride that it is still used consistently in advertising and is still a popular Halloween costume, some 80 years later.
In recent years, as a result of a grassroots effort to encourage the creation of memorial Rosie the Riveter rose gardens across the nation, 107 such gardens have emerged, including the one in Bellows Falls honoring Tidd, who came to Bellows Falls to work in a clothing factory after she graduated from high school in 1944.
Son Michael Tidd and daughter Ellen Jones wanted to honor their mother with a Rosie the Riveter engraved stone and rose garden, part of an effort to remember the efforts of women of her generation and their contribution to the war effort.
The memorial and garden in the state was rededicated a week prior to what would have been Tidd's 97th birthday. Born on Oct. 23, 1926, she died at age 92 on April 17, 2019.
Margaret Tidd, one of Vermont's Rosies
The former Margaret Clapper grew up in a large family in Bristol, Vermont, and was a member of Bristol High School's girls' basketball team, which won the state championship in 1944.
Moving to Bellows Falls following her graduation, Tidd found work with the Lecuyer Brothers, who owned what became known as The Model Press building on Rockingham Street, directly across the street from the Miss Bellows Falls Diner.
The building, which housed H.A. Manning's business directory printing company and a dress factory on an upper floor, burned down completely in 1977.
During the war, the Lecuyer brothers secured a government contract to supply thousands of sleeping hammocks with mosquito netting for soldiers fighting in the Pacific. Filling this contract necessitated adding dozens of employees, and Tidd was one of them.
Jones is unsure about her mother's actual position at the plant, doubting that it would have been working as a seamstress, as she never knew her mother to sew in her entire life.
Tidd seldom talked about her life during the war years, Jones observed. When she found out that her mother had been a Rosie during the war, she asked her why she'd never talked about it.
"It's not anyone's damn business," her mother told her.
Despite that, Tidd took great pride in being recognized for that war effort work at the end of her life. She had been in the American Legion Auxiliary for over 50 years and was well known every year for her efforts selling poppies on Veterans Day to honor those who served in the military.
In addition to her factory work, Tidd was also a volunteer aircraft spotter during the war. Springfield's machine shops produced a massive amount of materiel for the war effort, to such an extent that it was known to have been listed as a main target if enemy planes ever got close enough to do bombing raids on the U.S. mainland.
So plane spotting in the area was an important work.
Cooperating with the Army Air Force, there were four observation posts arranged at 6-mile intervals in the region, including one at Kurt Hattin Homes in Westminster, one in Athens, and one near Grafton. Tidd volunteered at another on Ski Bowl Road between Bellows Falls and Saxtons River.
The last was moved during the war to Pine Hill behind the St. Charles Church in the center of Bellows Falls. Volunteers worked in three-hour shifts 24 hours a day, reporting any sightings to a central command post in Albany, New York. The Bellows Falls location made it far more convenient for volunteers like Tidd to perform their service.
After the war
Following World War II, Tidd married Jim Tidd in 1946 and started a family in 1947. Around this time they purchased a home on Front Street, where she lived for over 70 years until her death.
A fender-bender incident while she was learning to drive discouraged Tidd, and she never learned to drive or got a license. She lived within walking distance of various clothing stores in the village where she worked, ending her working career at the former Sam's Army and Navy Store in Bellows Falls.
Family members said Tidd enjoyed her family and friends during her long life. Her daughter said that she remained in excellent health up until a short illness that led to her death.
Her niece, Suzanne Barrow, who helped create a Facebook page about Tidd's being recognized for her work as a Rosie, said, "We're very proud of what my aunt did and what the other Rosies did."
The organizers of the ceremony, in a statement about the event, said that it was in memory of all the women who have served their country.
"Placing the stone next to the Lady Liberty statue in Hetty Green Park is a tribute to all of those women," they wrote. "The four rose bushes are planted in honor of all the 'Rosie the Riveters' and commemorate the important role women continue to play in this country."
Anyone with family members from Vermont who served as Rosies during World War II and would like to have them added officially to that group can contact the Rosie the Riveter organization at bit.ly/739-rosie.
This News item by Robert F. Smith was written for The Commons.