Violet Nelson, Sheet Metal Worker

By Washington Women in Trades

Violet Nelson, sheet metal worker

Violet Nelson, who goes by Vi, is from Clarkfield, MN. At 18, she tried out a career as an x-ray technician, but it wasn’t a good fit. She left the school after three weeks. The next morning, when a NYA (National Youth Administration) woman came to the door recruiting, Vi jumped at the chance—she’d never been out of the state.

After training in Minnesota, she was sent by train to Seattle and put up in a dorm in Georgetown. She trained for an additional 4-6 weeks, but before they could place her on a job, she went on her own to The Labor Temple. She got sheet metal swing shift work at Winslow Shipyard on Bainbridge Island, where she crafted ventilation pipes for destroyers. She became a journeyman and at one time supervised men as old as her father. She lived in a boarding room on Queen Anne and took the ferry each day to work. One day, she forgot her watch in her coverall pocket at the shipyard. (It was her special graduation watch–she bought with her own money.) When she told the folks on the ferry, they held the boat for her!

Vi also worked at Todd Shipyard and after WWII, ended up in the office at Industrial Plating for her 41-year career. The third and last set of owners she called “kids!”, and the shop employees replied with, “Yes, Mom.”

Vi, on the difference between men and women:

  • “Men. They beat everything into shape if it doesn’t fit.
  • Women are more careful, they do it right the first time–by pattern and fit.”

Vi still lives on Queen Anne, loves to garden, and is active with her co-op board and her church. (Denny Lutheran, since 1943!)

To find out how you can become an apprentice and launch your career in aerospace or manufacturing, visit AJAC’s Get Started Section.

Washington Women in Trades interviewed and wrote this story of Violet Nelson.