Tuesday, December 23, 2014

(LUKE) Zenda the Riveter

Zenda Lang, circa 1942
Zenda Lang reached adulthood shortly after the United States entered World War II.

Zenda “went to work at Lockheed for a while. They taught me how to rivet”—but then, learning that Zenda had epilepsy—“they put me in an office. They taught me how, and then they wouldn't let me do it. They found out about my medical history. They figured that something might happen and I might put in a claim."

After working for Lockheed for about a year and a half, Zenda moved on. She was wiser this time: “So the next place I went as long as I knew how to rivet I just didn't bother to tell them about the rest of it and got along just fine.” For the rest of the war, Zenda was a riveter.

Zenda helped make the P-61 Black Widow. German bombers were more likely to attack under cover of night. The P-61 was the first US night fighter and the first aircraft designed to use radar. With its radar, the P-61 could track and destroy enemy aircraft in complete darkness. 

Northrop P-61 Black Widow
Zenda described her work on the Black Widow: “We put an auxiliary tank on it. Northrop had built it and then this small company in Van Nuys was doing auxiliary work. Put an extra tank on it. I was out on the line, I was the only lady out there, but those men were terrible, a couple of them. Know how to do mechanics, these guys didn’t. Every now and then the boss would yell, ‘Lang, come here and see if you can fix this hole.’ And I’d go over and see if I could plug it up for him.”

Zenda's experience was not unique. Other riveters commented that the men, confident that they could do “men's work,” were less careful and made mistakes more frequently. Furthermore, rivets were often needed in small spaces—spaces that more easily accommodated small females.

Despite the women's skill, the jobs did not last. Zenda relates, “When the war ended in ’45 I was working at Northrop and everybody just laid down their tools and walked away. I mean they all knew that that was the end of the job, except for a few. There was no sense hanging around.” When asked what she did at the end of the war, Zenda replied, “Put my tools down and walked away. When I tried to get another job as a riveter they had their men that had been in the armed services that the jobs were promised to. I mean Congress had passed a law that said they had first choice. So anyway, this cut out quite a few. They said, We don’t care if you did do riveting; these guys have done it much longer, so we’ll keep them.”

As she still required an income, Zenda became a file clerk and later a proofreader. After marrying, she stayed home to raise her children.

Reflecting on her work as a riveter, Zenda said, “I think sometimes women can do things just as well as men. I figure they should be in the home, if they are able to, but it’s nice to know you can do other things too.”


Zenda's quotations are all from an interview conducted by Jerry and Carol Roberts on September 6, 1981.

Information on the P-61 is from the following websites:
· “Nothrop P-61 Black Widow,”  www.world-war-2-planes.com/northrop-p-61-black-widow.html  , Accessed 23 December 2014. 
· “Northrop P-61 Black Widow Night Fighter,” worldwar2headquarters.com/HTML/aircraft/americanAircraft/p61.html , Accessed 23 December 2014. 
· “Northrop P-61C Black Widow,” National Museum of the US Air Force,  www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=524  , Accessed 23 December 2014. 
· “Northrop P-61 Black Widow,” wikipedia, en.m.wikipedia/wiki/Northrop_P-61_Black_Widow , Accessed 23 December 2014.

Poster is from UNT Digital Library. United States. War Manpower Commission. Women in the war : we can't win without them.  http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc616/  . Accessed 23 December 2014.

Black Widow picture is from wikimedia, P-61 Black Widow category

No comments:

Post a Comment