– Jennie Lee Taylor
Jennie Lee was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1919. When she was five, her family moved to Los Angeles’ Old
Chinatown. She graduated from Belmont High School and was working as a salesperson in Chinatown when she heard on the radio that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Shortly thereafter, she entered welding school. In March of 1943, Douglas Aircraft Company hired Jennie Lee as its first Chinese American woman welder, and her picture appeared on the Los Angeles Daily News. This interview is by Dr. William Gow for the Chinatown Remembered Project on 22 April 2007.
After Pearl Harbor, I went to welding school because they were hiring women to work in the defense industry. It was the Warren School of Aeronautics in Los Angeles. We happened to know the owner who let my brother and I learn how to weld. They were mostly men at the School. They taught everything about working in the defense factories. I went and took up aluminum welding.
I applied for a job at Douglas Aircraft, and I was the top scorer on their exam. But they said I was “Oriental” so they didn’t hire me. I went to work for a small place on Olympic Boulevard welding aluminum boxes. You know aluminum is a funny metal to weld because you can’t see it. It’s not like steel that turns red when you heat it up; aluminum just melts. I worked at this place for six months. Then I went and applied again at Douglas because they needed aluminum welders. My brother was already there as an aluminum welder, and there were other people all over that worked as riveters and other different things. They certified me. I got my picture in the papers because they certified me to be the first “Oriental” woman welder!
I worked the graveyard shift from 12 midnight to 7:30 am. We used to have a lot of fun. We used to have races. I used to weld aluminum oil tanks. Whoever welded the fastest would win a drink. We just enjoyed ourselves during that time.