Lady Engineers




I was born August 24, 1921 in Baltimore, MD the third child and first daughter of an Engineer Metallurgist.  I was awarded a full scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania where I earned a BS degree in Education. I probably should have gone to art school but the depression had a negative financial impact on that possibility.

At that time I wanted to be a dress designer, so I divided my time between Penn and Drexel Institute where I studied pattern drafting.  When I graduated in June 1943 I was tired of school and looking for adventure.

I thought my Dad would be proud to have another engineer in the family so I was attracted to the Chance Vought Aircraft Company Program to train women graduates in the field of engineering. My boyfriend was a pilot in the Navy which increased my interest in aircraft.

I was surprised to be accepted by the Chance Vought Aircraft Training Program and sent off to Yonkers’ Ditmar House and NYU for a  year of pure engineering courses. Since we had all the pre-requisites already, this was equivilent to a full 4-year Engineering degree we were told. 

I hadn’t had any Math for four years and was grateful they started us out in Algebra and moved up to Calculus gradually.  I loved it and dug right in.  We even had a chorus. My fondest memory was meeting my Norwegian cousin who was stationed at the Norwegian Hospital in New York.  He came out to Yonkers  and we danced the European waltz in the ball room in Campagna House. It was like the waltz in The King And I. I was twenty-one at the time and had just gotten a  slide rule for my birthday.

I enjoyed learning how to work all the machinery in the shop.  I didn’t like the fact that the room had no windows.   I felt a calling as an industrial engineer who would determine what process came next. I was assigned to  the drafting board in the Change Group which got a little boring after awhile and I couldn’t sit still any more.  When blueprints from the engine group started coming my way I noticed that they had been “drawn by Nissen” and now they were “changed by Nissen”.  Harry Nissen was now head of the Engine Group and was being teased by his men so I was told to add my initial. He was no relation to me. After three months I requested a transfer to Shop Contact which required a lot of walking and climbing in and out of cockpits on the assembly line.  We were invading a man’s world and when Len Cooke, Shop Contact’s boss interviewed me, he asked me questions about my purpose and seriousness regarding the job, to determine how much of a distraction I’d be to all the men. This job required wearing slacks because of the climbing and assembly work.  Until WWII the only woman who wore slacks was Katherine Hepburn and no sewing classes taught how to construct them.

I learned to drive an electric scooter between the plant and the airport hanger which was fun. I wrote EO’s (engineering orders) for the change group in drafting.  It required researching all relevant blueprints. My biggest thrill was designing the installation for a new instrument in the cockpit. I was given the job because none of the men wanted to work overtime that weekend. Morale was high as we met our weekly quota of completed F4U airplanes. A huge sign above the production line acted as a scoreboard. Rallies were held to keep everyone informed and feeling like an important part of the team.  I enjoyed participating as a tap dancer in a follies-type production which was fun and lightened our spirits.

I remember Lindberg making several visits and doing some flying. One  experimental aircraft he flew was called the flying wing.  It was way ahead  its time and was relegated to “Mothballs” but I heard recently it was taken out to be restored and placed in a Museum..

When the war ended, so did my job. I was offered a job as a Librarian of Naval Specifications but I declined. I was engaged to Ed Beers who worked in Flight Test Planning and we were married on Oct. 13, 1945.  I learned how to make butter out of heavy cream and victory gardens were prevalent.  We were on a waiting list for one year for a new car before delivery could be made. The whole plant moved to Grand Prairie, TX and took over half the North American Plant. The biggest industrial move ever made. We followed in December 1949 and were part of over 1300 key personnel that made the move. A few moved back to Connecticut for various reasons during the next few years. We had three children but no grand children.  Ed died on June 1, 1990.  I became an accomplished portrait artist (especially of American Indians), an actress in community theater, and somewhat of a poet.  I am a widow living in Lewisville still marching to a different drum beat looking for adventure.