What My Mother Said about Working in a World War II Munitions Factory

From the Memoir of Laura Mae Dunscombe Baker,
Born December 6, 1926

Recorded by Jacki Kellum, Born 1950

If you have read other of this series of posts, you will remember that my mother actually said what I will share–[that is not in square brackets]:

“Then after I graduated from high school that year, I went back to St. Louis. The girls [with whom she had roomed before]…had never left….They stayed up there and worked. They were working in defense plants. That’s where the “big” money was, so that’s where I applied. I lied that I was 18, but in fact, I wouldn’t be 18 until December, and that was June. Indeed! I may not have had to lie at that point in time. They needed help so badly that they hired me and forgot about the birth certificate.


“This job was something else and was my growing up. We all worked swing shifts (3 of them); and it was nothing to come in off those streetcars at midnight or leave on them at midnight. I was scared to death at first–not so much that someone would attack me but that I wouldn’t be able to find my way here or there. And the job was horrid.

“We had to load shells (about 5 inches long and as fat as a cigar) into a hopper that fed them through to an assembly line. If they were not perfect enough to go through a gun barrel or some other ammunition barrel, they would be rejected. The shells were heavy when we got them. They had been filled at that time so the first two days my hands were torn to shreds. They outfitted me with bandages and gloves but it was torture for weeks.

“Finally, about quitting time for me, months later, they were healed and toughened up to where I could stand it. Rosie the Riveter I was not. I was by that about like I was about playing baseball. I think I was born a weenie.”


Copyright Jacki Kellum October 18, 2015

As I have also said before, I have begun a 3-Way Memoir, where I’ll record some of my mother’s responses to some questions that I asked about her life. I hope to have the memoir published for my mother’s 90th birthday on December 6, 2016. It will be my grandmother’s story, my mother’s story, and mine–all told about our lives in the now very dusty and boarded-shut Bootheel of Southeast Missouri.

You can find excerpts from that memoir in various places on my blog, by searching:

What My Mother Said, Calico Cotton, Cotton Child, and When Cotton Was King

Read More about the upcoming book: https://jackikellum.wordpress.com/2015/10/17/it-is-time-for-the-world-to-hear-from-3-strong-women-from-the-missouri-bootheel/

All Rights Reserved


10 thoughts on “What My Mother Said about Working in a World War II Munitions Factory

  1. this is a excellent series. I was a youg girl at this time during the war. I think you said your mom is 88, she is seven years older than me. it is lovely that you have these memories direct in her words. I am leaving my words about my life on my blog, but I am also a great believer in paper records, which I think are more likely to endure a worst-case scenarioof electronics.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually, it is an absolute MIRACLE that I have these emails. My house burned to the ground, and my life has been in uproar since. These were in a storage building in which I MIRACULOUSLY had a few things stored–at the time of the fire. This may be a time that God is giving me a break. Thank you for reading and for the nice words.


  2. Thank goodness, this is being set down. You mother remembers details well, and you record them clearly. The work was terrible, but she got tough in so many ways. And now this time–and women’s experiences in it–are a legacy living for us.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you, Christopher. My mother is getting cold feet about getting this published. She is not as bold as I am. Eventually, it will be out there, in print. I can feel it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Then I’ll feel it, too. Your mother’s cold feet is (are) understandable, since she is putting parts of her life out there, so to speak–but out there for real. But it’s such a powerful and needful narrative. If she warms her feet and all his shared, so much the better for others to appreciate and to learn.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. She is almost 90 and she is proud. It is difficult for her to allow people in. People and life itself is different now.


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