FAIRFIELD — Evelyn Magee entered the workforce at a time when it was just becoming socially acceptable, even encouraged, for women to join.
Her son Jerry Magee said his mother recalled her days as a “Rosie the Riveter” as exciting and adventurous. Though “Rosie the Riveter” was an actual person, the famous picture of a woman flexing her muscles with the slogan “We Can Do It” represented women defense workers of World War II, according to the Library of Congress website.
Evelyn Magee shared many stories of her life with her six children, including Jerry Magee, through memory books she created late in her life. The longtime Fairfield resident died in March at age 91.
Jerry Magee said his mother was a charming woman, a powerhouse mother and a positive person with a can-do attitude who viewed life as an adventure. A few of her children shared their memories of their mother, her life as a “Rosie the Riveter” and her life in Fairfield.
Jerry Magee said his mother was born in Lismore, Minn., in 1921. She traveled from her home in Ellsworth, Minn., to Kansas City, Mo., during World War II to test for a job at the Pratt-Whitney factory making B-29 bombers. She hoped to work in the lathes – a machine for cutting– but after taking her test, she was called into the office for a private meeting. She thought she failed miserably and was being sent home.
“In spite of her desire to work with lathes, she apparently did ‘too good of a job’ with the surface grinders . . . so she was placed in that department,” said Jerry Magee.
She and her husband, Jim Magee, left Kansas City after the war and moved to Fairfield in 1945. There, Magee, her husband and her children watched it grow from a small town to a city. She and her family lived in the temporary military housing at Waterman Park, otherwise called “cracker boxes” for their saltine cracker package shape, Jerry Magee said. Those homes sat where the Fairfield Civic Center is now.
As families moved to the outskirts of Fairfield, the Magee family remained in the center of town at their home on Georgia Way until 2008.
Jim Magee handled the Fairfield rural route as a mailman for 40 years. Evelyn Magee considered working at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, but opted to stay home during her six pregnancies, Jerry Magee said.
Though she never did go back to work, she never said, ‘Women can’t work.’ She supported the feminist movement,” he said.
Janice Altomare (maiden name Magee):
“My husband and I live in Merced and my mother would come to visit us. About 15 years ago we went to a presentation of ‘Annie Get Your Gun,’ a play about Annie Oakley. . . . We were all engrossed in the play and watching a scene of Annie in a shooting match with another marksman as Buffalo Bill announced their performance. As Annie would shoot at a tossed item there was the ‘bang’ of the rifle and Buffalo Bill yelling, ‘It’s a hit.’ Bang. ‘It’s a hit.’ On the third bang Buffalo Bill (gave) a long theatrical pause but before he could say his lines, my mother called out, ‘It’s a miss.’ You could see Buffalo Bill cringe as he bravely continued and said his lines ‘It’s a miss,’ but my Mother had stolen his thunder . . . After the play the Buffalo Bill actor came and shook my Mother’s hand for stealing his lines.”
“In the 1950s and ’60s, we took almost biannual trips across country from California to Minnesota, where both mother and dad grew up, to visit our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins . . . I remember reaching Harrah’s, in Reno, on one trip, where we piled out, invaded, and largely depleted their buffet, before returning to the van. Mother though, begged off and said, ‘I just want to put a few nickels into the slot machines, you guys go ahead, I’ll be out in a little while.’ . . . Mother’s few minutes turned into a few hours. We awoke from our slumbers to find her still missing. Our Dad, who by this time was none too happy, went in to find her. We giggled at visions of her being dragged out, kicking and screaming, with the wrenched-off handle of a slot machine still clutched in her hand. When she finally returned she exclaimed, ‘I couldn’t leave, I had a really hot machine’ and indeed, she was up by about a hundred dollars, a lot of money in those days.”
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