Two local students discovered the history of Pueblo’s wartime workforce and a sense of pride in the accomplishments of working women while developing an exhibit now on display in the Robert Hoag Rawlings Public Library through April 25.
“I felt a lot of pride learning about these women,” said Lauren Knight, a student researcher who helped put together an exhibit highlighting the former Pueblo Ordnance Depot’s female workforce. “Some would spend their lunch breaks practicing tasks reserved for men so that they might break into those roles.”
During World War II, approximately three million U.S. women assisted with the war effort by performing jobs traditionally held by men. Locally, woman ordnance workers, known as WOWs, made up more than 25 percent of the depot’s workforce in 1943.
Alyssa Vargas-Lopez, a student researcher who partnered with Knight on the exhibit, said in the beginning, women were hired to work as secretaries or in the mail room, but as time went on, women were promoted to jobs such as carpenter assistants, where they would build crates to ship ammunition, or as guards, under the command of one of their male counterparts. Later, women were hired into more physically strenuous jobs, previously reserved for men, such as auto mechanics and saw filers.
“The women were exceptional with the intricate details of their work,” Vargas-Lopez said.
Knight and Vargas-Lopez became involved in the project about a year after their honors advisor, Dr. Fawn-Amber Montoya, facilitated student research on WWII and women.
“After looking at the research and learning how relevant women were at the time, I fell in love with the project,” Vargas-Lopez said. “As I read articles written from 1942 to 1945, I could see how the workplace evolved. It was pretty amazing.”
The exhibit, She’s a WOW: Women Ordnance Workers in Pueblo, CO 1942-1945, is co-sponsored by Colorado State University-Pueblo Honors Program, PuebloPlex and the InfoZone News Museum.