Shelly Hartney was in sixth grade in 1945 when the United States and Allied powers defeated Nazi-occupied Germany, imperial Japan and the Axis powers.
She grew up in a wealthy neighborhood and felt drawn to service by the Girl Scouts of America, Hartney said. She joined for a year, or so, in middle school before the girls in her troop became more interested in boys than regular meetings. She got accepted into Northwestern’s engineering program in Chicago after high school and dropped out when she became more interested in a boy than her schoolwork, Hartney said.
“I had four babies in four years,” she said. “I had to stay home, but we needed money.”
When the kids started school, Hartney said she left the home in search of work somewhere she could get paid for it.
She worked in Grand Rapids, Michigan, while her children were in high school and moved to Durango after they graduated. She worked administering grants at Fort Lewis College. She lead her girls, and many others in Durango, through Girl Scouts for years. Her children have grown into successful women, she said.
Hartney, like many other American women, were “standing on the shoulders of giants,” said Julie Westendorff, chairwoman of the La Plata County Board of Commissioners at a dedication of the National Rosie the Riveter Memorial Rose Garden in the Durango Botanical Gardens.
Girl Scouts wearing vests joined more than a dozen community leaders, gardeners and residents Saturday for the dedication ceremony northeast of Durango Public Library. Volunteers tended the garden for months before the dedication, which made Durango the second city in Colorado to receive the national recognition, said Judy Winzell, co-chairwoman of the National Spirit of ’45. The other is in Fort Collins. A third is planned for the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
The United States Congress designated March 21 as “National Rosie the Riveter Day” on that day this year. The U.S. Senate is considering a bill to create a Rosie the Riveter Congressional Gold Medal to be awarded “to the women in the United States who joined the workforce during World War II, providing the aircraft, vehicles, weaponry, ammunition and other materials to win the war, that were referred to as ‘Rosie the Riveter,’ in recognition of their contributions to the United States and the inspiration they have provided to ensuing generations.”
The women of the Greatest Generation broke social barriers when they left work at home for labor in a factory and created the social fabric that allowed Durango and La Plata County to be led, at least figuratively, by women, Westendorff said. Melissa Youssef, mayor of Durango, encouraged the Girl Scouts attending to embrace confidence and standing up “if you see something wrong,” she said before singing the “Rosie the Riveter” song from the World War II era.
But women today face many of the same barriers to the paying workforce that have been around since Hartney was young, she said. How much time should women spend at home with children when they’re not in school? she asked. And when the children go to school, how should women re-enter the workforce and at what cost to home life?
“Rosie the Riveter has drifted away, so it’s great to see a memorial. But who was she?” Hartney said of the figure that embodied a generation women who worked in what, at the time, were considered “male jobs.”
“How did she change society?” she said.