October 20, 2005

6:37 minutes

Interviewed by Ann Kelsey

Filmed by Michael O’Hagan

For the County College of Morris, Learning Resource Center

Randolph, New Jersey

Rosie the Riveter Project

Transcribed by Jardee Transcription, Tucson, Arizona

Kelsey:  Where were you born and raised, Helene?

Nichols:  Well, I was born in Mancelona, Michigan.  My parents didn’t stay there too long because it was hurricanes. 

             And at that time, you know, they had no warnings.  My mother said the first thing that happened, the wind

             would come through, pictures come off the wall, and she just couldn’t take it anymore, and gave the final word

             to my father, “move back to New Jersey.”  So we came.

Kelsey:  And where in New Jersey did you move?

Nichols:  Stanhope.  My father was a wanderlust.  He stayed in Stanhope, then he went to Netcong, New Jersey, and

             then Whippany, then he came back to Stanhope, and that’s where he spent the rest of the years there.

Kelsey:  How old were you when you moved to New Jersey?

Nichols:  I think I was about ten years old—yes.

Kelsey:  Where were you living when World War II started?

Nichols:  I was living in Port Marsh, known as Landing now, New Jersey.  My husband and I married.  We had three children, and my husband volunteered.  He went to the world war—I always forget these things—and left me with three children.  So I went to Hercules, and my mother came with me, because she was a widow at that time, and I went to work there.  And I worked there for three years until my husband came back.  And then the war was over, and all the women left, and I came home.  My husband got sick, he died of cancer, and left me with three children, so I went to Picatinny to get a job.  And that’s where I worked after Hercules, and worked there until I retired.

Kelsey:  So did you and your mother both work at Hercules?

Nichols:  No.  No, my mother stayed home and took care of the children.

Kelsey:  And what year did you go to work at Hercules?

Nichols:  See, you know, I just don’t recall—you know, when the war started, so it would be around that.  What would it be, 1942? or something in that age.

Kelsey:  Do you remember what you did there?

Nichols:  Yes, I crushed powder.  I didn’t know much about it; it was just crushing the powder, working three shifts—you know, different shifts.  Once in the press we had a fire, and we women scattered up and out.  And after it was over, the fire, they put it out, and our supervisor said, “Now, where were you ladies running to?!”  And I said, “We were going—” it used to be the “A” Line, up, away from.  He said, “You were running right in the path of danger, the worst place to run.”  You know, instead of running out through the gate, we were going further into the building where the powder was being manufactured.

Kelsey:  Did you think of that as being a dangerous job?

Nichols:  I didn’t have any thoughts of that being dangerous at that time, but now I look back at it, it was a dangerous job.

Kelsey:  And then when did you go to work at Picatinny?

Nichols:  Well, after my husband came, I didn’t have a job, and he was taking care of us.  He got ill, and they didn’t know much about cancer, and he had cancer.  After he died, I was left with three children, so I went to Picatinny.  I didn’t drive at that time.  My neighbor took me up for an interview, and that’s when I was hired.

Kelsey:  Do you remember what year?

Nichols:  Now you’ve got me!  (laughs)

Kelsey:  What did you do at Picatinny?

Nichols:  I was an inspector and inspected on the line.  And then I became an inspector, watched the other people do whatever they were working on, see if it passed inspection.  And I worked there, and I went from building to building.

Kelsey:  And you worked there how many years?

Nichols:  Twenty years, ’til I retired.  Of course in the meantime I married my second husband, who was very good to my three children.  We educated them.  Our son was a professor in Roger Williams.  His name was—my first marriage was Anderson.  And my daughter, she went to college.  And my youngest one, she just retired from Morristown Memorial Hospital as a nurse.  She’s the young woman who brought me here, too.  I wish I was more prepared with dates.

Kelsey:  Oh well, don’t worry about it.  Not a problem.  All right, well thank you very much.  You have a very interesting story.

Nichols:  Oh, thank you for listening.






The Learning Resource Center at the County College of Morris

214 Center Grove Road, Randolph, New Jersey 07869