A War Worker Finds New Independence on the Job
When Los Angeles resident Beatrice Morales Clifton went to work at the Lockheed Aircraft plant in Burbank, California, she was a married mother of four children. In this excerpt from a longer interview, Morales Clifton, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, describes how the experience of wartime work gave her a new independence. She returned to Lockheed in 1951 and stayed there until her retirement in 1978.
[on applying for a job at Lockheed] So I took the forms and when I got home and told my husband, oh! He hit the roof. He was one of those men that didn’t believe in the wife ever working; they want to be the supporter. I said, 'Well, I've made up my mind. I'm going to go to work regardless of whether you like it or not.' I was determined.
[on how she was reduced to tears on her first day] To me, everything was new. . . They put me way up in the back, putting little plate nuts and drilling holes. They put me with some guy—he was kind of a stinker, real mean. A lot of them guys at the time resented women coming into jobs, and they let you know about it. . . . I was feeling just horrible. Horrible. Because I never worked with men, to be with men alone other than my husband. . . . So then time went on and I made a mistake. I messed up something, made a ding. He got so irritable with me, he says, 'You're not worth the money Lockheed pays you.'"
I was very scared because, like I say, I had never been away like that and I had never been among a lot of men. Actually, I had never been out on my own. Whenever I had gone anyplace, it was with my husband. It was all building up inside of me, so when that guy told me that I wasn't worth the money Lockheed paid me, it just came out in tears. . . . When I got home, the kids just said, 'Oh, Mom is here.' My husband, he didn't have very much to say, 'cause he didn't approve from the beginning. As time went on, his attitude changed a little, but I don’t think he ever really, really got used to the ideas of me working.
I bought the clothing at Sears. It was just a pair of pants and a blouse. To tell you the truth, I felt kind of funny wearing pants. . . . And those shoes! I wasn't used to low shoes. Even in the house, I always wore high heels. That's how I started.
I went from 65 cents to $1.05 [per hour]. That was top pay. It felt good and, besides, it was my own money. I could do whatever I wanted with it because my husband, whatever he was giving to the house, he kept on paying it. I used to buy clothes for the kids; buy little things that they needed. I had a bank account and I had a little savings at home where I could get ahold of the money right away if I needed it. Julio never asked about it. He knew how much I made; I showed him. . . My money, I did what I wanted.
I got home and my mother told me, she says, 'Gerry is very sick. He's got a lot of fever and it won't go down.' . . . My husband, right away, he jumped: 'You see, the kids are like this because you're not here.' My mother was there, but he blamed everything on me. We got into a little bit of an argument on account of that, and then I said, 'Okay, I'll quit.' I didn't want to, but I said my boy comes first. . . . When I quit, I just took over the same as I was before—taking care of my kids. Well, it was kind of quiet and I wasn't too satisfied. That's why I started looking to go out to work. . . . [after some unsatisfying jobs, she tries Lockheed again] In 1950 I wrote to Lockheed asking them if they had a job for me because I knew that they were still taking people. They wrote and told me that they weren't taking any women, but that they would the following year. The next year, the minute I received that telegram, I headed for Lockheed.
Interviewer | Sherna Berger Gluck
Interviewee | Beatrice Morales Clifton
Item Type | Oral History
Cite This document | “A War Worker Finds New Independence on the Job,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 21, 2023, https://shec.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1006.