15 October 2004

six degrees of separation - rosie the riveter from rockwood, roane co, tn


library of congress, us war office photograph by andreas feininger: a rosie at work.

fred brown wrote a delightful short article about a local rosie the riveter that appeared in the knox news online this past august. since rosie has long been a favorite icon of women's strength and flexibility for me, i was really thrilled to discover a rosie not only with roane county roots but with a work history at the harriman hosiery mill where women in my own family worked, too.

lucille litton, now 82, was a graduate of rockwood high school where she played basketball for four years. during high school she began darning socks for 36 cents an hour at the harriman hosiery mill to help out her mother. litton's father had died when she was twelve, and supporting eight children was a constant struggle for her mother.

when litton was recruited by the anderson aircraft school in nashville, she left the mill for greener pastures. during her training at the school litton earned a whopping $90 a month. after graduating from their program in december 1943, she headed out to san bernadino, california and a job as a sheet metal mechanic earning up to $12 an hour, both building and maintaining c-47 transport planes.

when brown interviewed her, he did a good job of getting her to reminisce about the lifestyle of the rosies, as they were called, at air service command's "victory village." in brown's article, she briefly but succinctly touches on the the physicality of her job, of her idealism, of her ideas of fun, and more.

in 1946, litton returned to roane county and the hosiery mill where she worked for seventeen years and where my grandmother, a griege goods sizer, was also working, and where my own mother had worked, i only recently learned, for a short time in the middle of the depression.

eventually litton moved on, becoming nursing assistant.

but her association with my family - even if it's a little nebulous - doesn't end there. when i saw that she began working in rockwood at chamberlain memorial hospital and was there until her retirement in 1983, i was again tramping around in my own women's history.

that hospital took up the block where rathburn and chamberlain streets meet. it - and preumably lucille litton - were smack dab across the street from where my grandmother and grandfather purchased and retired to their tiny two bedroom frame house after they moved from south harriman.

that little house at 314 w rathburn was torn down a few years ago. it was so small that its vacant lot is easily overlooked. these days it looks more like a side yard to the house next door than any city lot a house ever stood on. and these days, too, chamberlain memorial has become its own memorial of sorts. it closed in 1996. it has been converted to a retirement/nursing home.

though my grandmother, who died in 1977, was about twenty-two years older than lucille litton, it's entirely possible that she knew her. if she didn't, i don't think i want to know.

the harriman hosiery mill closed down in july of last year. in september 2003, darleen trent at the roane county heritage commission gave me a few strands from one of the mill's last spools along with a certificate of authenticity all typed up on commission letterhead paper. then in august of this year, on another visit to tennessee, i was lucky enough to find some of the mill's spools for sale at rocky top general store in harriman. i snatched them up from david webb, the store's proprietor and chairman of the hooray for harriman committee. they're in a wooden bowl on my living room coffee table. and now, in october, i have the story of lucille litton - her story and its proof that my own grandmother really is fewer than six degrees of separation from rosie the riveter.

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