In Denver and across the Front Range, author-historian Gail Beaton is keeping the stories and events of World War II alive. As the archivist for the Denver Woman’s Press Club, Beaton uses a unique hook to keep the memories fresh and her audiences engaged.
She tells the story from a home-front perspective, in an entertaining and informative account through a character she developed and named, Gail Murphy. This character was modeled after one of many women, popularized as “Rosie the Riveter,” who worked at the Denver Ordnance Plant, now the Denver Federal Center.
Rosies were those who labored behind the scenes to support not only the war effort, but also the men and women who served. After the war, most Rosies lost their jobs to the returning vets and once again took their positions at home in the kitchen.
One reason Beaton is committed to this effort is her concern about the history curriculum in our schools.
“There is a push for more learning time to go to reading, math and science, and the social sciences are getting lost. Less history is taught in the classroom,” she said.
In 1996, as a history teacher at Sheridan High School, Beaton knew she had to come on strong to interest kids in WWII and the role women played. That was the impetus for her Rosie character. She continued the role in her classroom until retiring from teaching in 2005.
Beaton has authored many books, and is currently working on her next book about the female homesteaders of Colorado.
Word-of-mouth spread and soon Beaton was getting requests to perform her program in schools and community organizations throughout Colorado and in neighboring states. She is already booking into 2024 with March filling up quickly.
“March is National Women’s History month,” Beaton said. “It’s a very busy month for Rosie.”
Though Beaton performs for many schools, she cautions that the very young would be difficult to engage.
“I was recently asked to perform for a K-12 assembly and I told the liaison the little ones will be lost.”
During a recent performance at the Denver Woman’s Press Club, the audience of men and women were fascinated with the presentation that included Rosie in costume and the use of many authentic props. Audience members were filled with questions. The younger attendees in the group wanted details about the hardships these women faced, and the older crowd shared the experiences of their parents during the war.
The Denver Woman’s Press Club, located at 1325 Logan St., founded in 1924, was well established by the time the war started. Its contribution to the home-front support was extensive.
“Members of the DWPC, like those in other women’s clubs, really stepped up during World War II,” Beaton said. “Being a community of writers and activists, they opened the clubhouse doors to servicemen. One major project was the monthly Writers Roundup for soldiers who were writers or interested in writing.”
The female member journalists held sway, especially considering that so many men — journalists included — were off to the battlefields, Beaton added.
The Rosies worked in the media as well. Beaton discovered that Lucille Hastings became the first female full-time news editor on any radio station west of the Mississippi in 1944 when KLZ in Denver hired her for the position. Hastings also formerly served as the editor of the Brighton Blade, now a publication of Colorado Community Media.
After the performance at Denver Woman’s Press Club, Linnea Tanner, the club’s president, said, “Beaton inspired everyone in the audience to meet challenges of their own time … to build for the future by understanding the past.”
This author-historian continues uncovering myriad stories from key players during WWII and is dedicated to telling them. But Beaton cautions, “of all the women I interviewed for my book, ‘Colorado Woman in WWII,’ only two remain alive. All the others have died.”
In Colorado today, there are 1,910 WWII veterans still alive. Nationally, that number is fewer than 120,000, with 131 dying every day, according to NationalWW2Museum.org.
“What I hope to accomplish with this performance is not only tell the women’s stories from WWII, but also encourage the audiences to talk to their elderly friends and family members and ask for their accounts,” Beaton said. “I want people to know that these women were amazing. As I researched for one of my books, I was impressed with how humble they were.”
Beaton paused thoughtfully.
“They simply told me,” she said, “‘we just did it.’”