Between the years 1940-1944, the percentage of Utah’s workforce made up of women more than doubled—but where did all those women find employment? Many inhabitants of Sanpete county and surrounding areas worked at the Manti parachute plant, which was built exclusively for World War II and employed hundreds of women.
The plant was created by the Standard Parachute Company of San Diego in 1942, and was converted into a factory from an old armory. Workers at the plant sewed and packaged parachutes for American soldiers overseas, carefully inspecting each one to ensure its reliability.
Whether it was to support their families financially, assert female independence, or support the war effort, many Utah women were employed for the first time at this factory. Some workers came straight out of high school; others came from homes where they were raising children.
One woman who worked there, Maurine Braithwaite Draper, lived on a farm with her husband. Her main reason for working there was “to have something to do.” Aside from a newfound pastime, Maurine left her factory job with increased confidence and independence as a woman. This was helpful when she later found herself divorced and caring for children on her own.
Another worker, Zola Anderson Ruesch, had a different reason for taking a job at the plant. She had previously been working for a family in Ephraim, UT, and discovered she could make better wages sewing parachutes. Aside from financial compensation, Zola felt a sense of patriotism through her contributions to the war effort. “I felt like I was doing some good for the men in the war. This way, we could help out too.”
Zola wasn’t the only one who was financially motivated to begin work at the factory—the Great Depression had left many families destitute, and jobs were so scarce that many Utah inhabitants jumped at the new employment opportunities provided by the war. Alice Frederickson Clark, who hadn’t finished her high school education, was excited at the opportunity for work. She recalled, “I needed the money. We didn’t have lights, water, a bathroom, or anything. I was anxious to get to work.”
Alice didn’t just do the minimum to get a little extra cash—she would spend time on weekends repairing parachutes that hadn’t been sent out due to minor defects. She remembered, “I’d go in on my own time [on Saturday] and catch up on those repairs because it made me sick to see them all piled up.”
In addition to financial benefits and sense of patriotism, these women also enjoyed strong friendships with their coworkers. Alice stated, “I never worked at a place where people got along as well. It just was kind of a happy family.” While most of the young men were off at war, the young women working at the plant would spend weekends and evenings socializing together. Many of them remained friends throughout their lives.
Whether they worked somewhere else after the war ended and the factory closed, or whether they opted to be stay-home mothers, these working women and this factory made an important contribution to the USA’s involvement in World War II.