Born in a Kentucky farmhouse, Mallie Osborne Mellon, along with her husband and their young son, boarded a bus to Detroit in 1943, responding to a radio ad for civilian war jobs. By then more than 300,000 American women were involved in aircraft production, many by shooting rivets into warplanes in Motor City’s factories. Mellon worked at Briggs Manufacturing, burnishing parts for bombers rolling off the assembly line at Henry Ford’s mammoth Willow Run plant nearby.
Mellon, now a hundred, hadn’t heard of Rosie the Riveter—the term used to describe women who worked in defense plants—until five years ago, when she learned that she was one. Now she attends monthly American Rosie the Riveter Association gatherings. She still has her southern drawl, but Michigan is home, and the Rosies are family.