“Rosie Riveters” of Old Arlington

In conversations with Mary Metcalf Olson Jaques, I learned that she worked as a welder at Jacksonville Shipyard on Bay Street during WW II. Mary became a widow after the death of her first husband B. D. Olson Jr. who died of Leukemia in 1944. Her daughter Betty was just a baby and she was advised to apply at the shipyard for work because “That was where the money was” at that time. She expected to get an office job but they told her that all they were hiring was welders to work on the Liberty ships and that they would train her. So she started on the night shift and went to school four hours and worked four hours until she was trained.

Due to her family situation they switched her to the day shift and she rode to work with Bruce Johnson and another worker. She said working conditions were o.k. There were a lot of women welders but all the leaders were men. Her two immediate leaders were in her words “Christian” men and very good to work for but some weren’t. She said that different celebrities often came to the yard at lunchtime and encourage the purchase of war bonds.

Mary worked at the Jacksonville Yards until they closed the Liberty ship program after peace was declared. She later married Richard Jaques, a well known Tug Boat captain from Arlington. She is proud that she taught him to weld after they got married. Her daughter Julie now works for Union Hall 199, the same union she belonged to when she worked as a welder.

In recent conversation with John Highsmith about Arlington, he told me that his mother, Mrs. James Highsmith, was also a shipyard welder during WW II. Mrs. Highsmith worked for Gibbs on the south bank. She started to work there ca. 1941.