Pioneer among women
By Denise Baran-Unland For The Herald-News June 7, 2012 1:20PM
Workers at Globe Aircraf in 1951, Henry Lange (from left); Bil Wolf (lead man); Elsie McBride; Louise Morris, foreman/certified teacher; and Kay Fojut. | submitted photo
Updated: July 9, 2012 6:01AM
In the 1940s, when women commonly worked as teachers and nurses, Louise Morris, 87, of Homer Glen was a certified welding foreman and educator for civilian companies honoring U.S. Navy contracts.
In short, Louise, at 19, supervised and educated men twice her age. Moreover, Louise did it because her parents wouldn’t let her become a stewardess.
“She was way ahead of her time in terms of women’s roles, which has inspired me over the years,” said Louise’s daughter, Dr. Linda Morris of Darien. “I’m not a radical women’s libber by any means, but I appreciate the efforts of women before me. My mother made a big difference.”
In those days, prospective stewardesses had to first become a nurse. Therefore, Louise, an artist at heart who understood the economic impracticality of an oil painting career, took all the high school math and science classes, as well as a pre-flight class, which outlined plane identification and Morse code.
“Some of the girls wanted to know why I took a class for boys,” Louise said, “but I had four brothers and our house was always full of boys. They never intimidated me. They were just people.”
Yet when Louise approached her mother about nursing school, her mother threw the information on the floor and declared, “We are not going to waste our money on you.”
Louise had two brothers in the service. She knew her family could not afford it. She understood the unspoken fear that she would only get married and waste the education.
“I cried and had a little pity party for about 15 minutes and then I got furious,” Louise said, “but I didn’t say anything because I knew the situation.”
The following week, a government school for welding opened. Louise had no idea what welding entailed, but classes were five nights week, just the “out” Louise craved to stay away from home.
Louise learned the mechanics of aluminum welding, which few people performed at the time, and oxyacetylene gas welding, which no other girl at that school learned. She also learned electric arc welding.
These were just the skills to land Louise key positions at local companies such as Farrell Manufacturing Co. and Globe Aircraft Corp. Soon Louise was teaching her skills to male employees also trying to obtain or renew their Navy certification. She wrote a training manual for Globe Aircraft; she had the backbone to ask for fair pay.
For instance, Louise had heard Globe’s starting pay was low, so she researched the top rate and demanded it, with the request that she start at a dime below it for the first month, just to prove her worth.
“They threw a whole bunch of stuff at me, but I took whatever it was and, so, got the top rate,” Louise said.
Then, when Louise was offered a foreman position, she again researched the pay scale and learned her salary would be less than customary. So she delayed her acceptance for two weeks, and then replied, “If I was a man, you would have paid me such and such.” And Louise received it.
Still, Louise did take some flak from the men on the floor. More than once, she walked away from crude language, which, she said, came more from the young women than the men.
One male employee baited her by hanging out in the restroom long past break time. Louise refused to bite and simply ordered him out or accept the consequences of being fired. He acquiesced.
Louise welded until her first child was born in 1954. She also has another daughter, Dr. Sandra Morris-Goodspeed of Crest Hill. Eventually, Louise’s husband Bernard built a welding shop on their farm. They ran that business with equipment they had purchased from Globe’s liquidation sale.
Not until Louise was 50 and her children were grown did she return to her first love: art. The more Louise painted, the less she sewed (Louise had made all the clothes for herself and her daughters).
Today, although Louise no longer welds, she still paints still lifes, landscapes and portraits. She also writes devotional material and is learning how to navigate her laptop. De-cluttering her house takes most of her time, but Louise knows the importance of pursing her interests.
“I’m the type of person who doesn’t live with regrets,” she said.