Antoinette Irrera Mauro

During World War II, Antoinette Mauro lived in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from high school, she began to work at the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a draftswoman, working to repair wartime ships with other factory workers. Antoinette was a single woman who earned $27 a week. She worked at the yard until the war ended in 1945, when she moved on to other jobs and begin a new life with her husband.

In this interview, Antoinette talks about getting her first job out of high school at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where she worked as a draftswoman as she repaired ships that came back from war, such as the U.S.S. Missouri and U.S.S. Franklin. She speaks about her experiences as a woman working in a busy factory alongside men and other women.

The Beginning of Work at the Navy Yard 

JE:How and when did you come to work at the Navy Yard?

I came to work there—well, there was a war going on, and my parents wanted me to go to college. I said, “No, I have to help my country. I’d like to help my country.” So I took this defense course, which they were pushing all the students to do. And the defense course was a drafting class that we took downtown on Lawrence Street. And then we went to Pratt Institute for foundry courses. And I don’t remember if we did welding, but we did the foundry.

And we went to class, and we did this all summer long from say July to September. Then, they sent me over to the Navy Yard and I was put in the electrical department. I was off working on damage control, which is when the draftsmen or the engineer goes down—the ships come in damaged, they changed the blueprints. And then we worked from what they do—you know, the corrections that they make. We work on the actual prints. So that’s what I did during World War II.

Working in Buildings 3 and 77

JE: So, where in the Navy Yard did you work? Do you remember the building?

I worked in Building 3. And then later on, there used to be a ramp that we used to walk to 77 to have the blueprints printed, whatever, you know? We used to walk to Building 77. Then they moved us to Building 77 and we worked there for a long time.

And then when the [U.S.S.] Franklinwas hit, I saw it come in. See, they wouldn’t let the ladies down to the ships. But they let the men, because they were afraid sailors would be, you know, walking around naked or be exposed, whatever it is.

Daily Life on the Yard

Well, I thought it was nice [working on the yard], you know? I enjoyed it. We worked six days a week, even Saturday. And I went home with $27 a week and I was a rich woman. All my friends were getting $17, $18 in the banks, and here I was making a lot of money—but I was working Saturday. And $27 a week went a long way.

JE: So your friends in other jobs didn’t make as much money?

No, they didn’t make as much. They worked for insurance companies. They didn’t make as much as we did, you know? It was very nice. It was a nice experience.

JE: What hours of the day did you work?

We worked from 8:00 to 4:30, Saturday included. The only day we had off was Christmas day. New Year’s Day we worked. We worked allthe time. But we were never in the Yard; we were always in the office working on the plans of the ships. We saw the Missouriwas launched there. And then I have some pictures of another launching.

Margaret Truman Launching the U.S.S. Missouri

JE: Any other memories of sort of unusual events at the Navy Yard? 

Well, I remembered seeing Margaret Truman when she launched the Missouri. We were all on this balcony; we weren’t that close, but we could see. They gave us permission to see. Naturally, she was at a distance; you couldn’t see it. It was almost like going to a ball game. But I remember her coming in and launching the ship. She hit it with a bottle and it splashed. That I remember.

It was the Missouri. The balcony where we were was over towards the back. We must have seen it from 77. They made us all go down—I think we were told to see her. That was a big moment, because we worked on the BB-63. It was called the BB-63, the Missouri. That was built in the Navy Yard. We worked on that ship when they built it.