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Black Elders of Portsmouth

ROSARY COOPER ( 1913 -- 1997 )

Rosary CooperI worked as the children's nurse for a family that owned hotels in Florida, Arizona and Maine...traveled with them...cared for their four children. The maids and cooks had their own cottage but I lived in the main house because I had to be near the children. I had a nice bedroom with a sitting room. At Oqunquit, I would take the children on picnics and to the beach. There were a lot of celebrities around there. Bette Davis would come by-- she liked to play with the children and make sand houses.

When I first went to the shipyard, I was a file clerk. And then they were training the women on the had to climb all those catwalks...l'm not going to say I wasn't afraid, I was. But I wasn't going to give [the men] the benefit of the doubt of knowing it. They had the wall cranes but they didn't pay as much money as the 20 tons, so that's what I wanted. You...had three months to qualify and...six months to make your first rating. So I kept going up until I got to be a first mate's crane operator on the 20 ton crane. That's the one that lays the keels for the submarines, the cradle, and the engines, torpedo tubes, anything like that. I worked on those 110 feet in the air. So I did that during wartime.

I went to beauty school in Boston and when I finished there I worked at [a] beauty parlor for one year. I opened my own shop and after my husband died I kept working at that and in the house, with my tenants and everything. I had my house cut up into apartments and two rooms over the beauty shop for single guys, but most of them were couples from the air base and navy. At the same time, I was going to night school, Maclntosh Business College, when they had a branch here up on State Street. I took shorthand and typing and I got a certificate from there. I was always taking something.

(c) Valerie Cunningham



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