“That’s For Me: Welder Mildred Aupied”
At Delta Shipbuilding Company, welder Mildred Aupied was part of an army of American civilians working to build the “Arsenal of Democracy.”
Mildred Bonvilian (later Aupied) grew up in the bayou country near Houma, Louisiana. After high school, she joined her sister in New Orleans and got a job at the telephone company. When she saw a defense training school advertisement for a welding program targeted at women, she knew right away, “That’s for me.”
For women, war work provided opportunities unlike anything previously available. Many women were driven to work outside the home for the first time during the war, but a larger number had already been employed previously in some capacity, like Mildred Aupied. These women were able to “trade up,” leaving lower paying, often more traditionally female jobs, for higher paying positions in the production sector.
In the summer of 1942, Mildred Aupied and a class of 20 other women began their two-month welding training. After completing the program, they didn’t even have to look for jobs; they were all immediately hired by Delta Shipbuilding Company and went straight to work. Delta was one of the nine emergency shipyards established in 1941 by an initiative of the United States Maritime Commission to speed production of much-needed cargo vessels both for the United States and her Allies. The Emergency Shipbuilding Program was centered on the massive Liberty ship, which weighed more than 7,000 tons and became the backbone of the US merchant fleet, delivering 6,000 tons of cargo every hour during the war.
Aupied and the other female welders worked alongside the men in the shipyard, pulling their own cables and carrying their own equipment. They were determined to succeed. They pushed themselves, practicing different welds just for fun. They would experiment and try things out to see what they could do. The work was hard, dirty, and dangerous. Aupied suffered burns when her hot welding rod fell in her shoe. Another workplace hazard was that Aupied was “scared to death of water,” but she worked for years on ships sitting just above the water. A big part of the motivation was the paycheck for her eight-hour shift with the $1.25 rate of pay per hour. “Money makes you do a lot of things,” Aupied stated in her oral history interview. Although she sent part of her earnings back home to her mother and siblings, she was able to save $2500 working at the shipyard.
The women at Delta relished the opportunity, the pay, and the camaraderie. In addition, all of this hard work benefited their country during a time of tremendous labor shortage and need. In looking back at her time at Delta, Aupied remarked, “We thought the harder we worked, the faster our boyfriends would come home.” Aupied held a variety of jobs throughout her life; although she did not make a career out of shipbuilding, she was proud of learning and mastering a new and challenging trade.
Mildred Aupied is one of the many heroes you will come to know through her own words in Expressions of America.