Jerre Kalbas

Transcript: 

Acknowledgements: 

This interview was made possible by the generous support of Lillian Vernon.

Born in Harlem and raised in the South Bronx, Jerre worked a number of piecework jobs as a young woman, including one in an artificial flower company where she made velvet “Roosevelt Roses” for FDR’s election campaign. She left home shortly after her mother died and at one point joined a movement of American Jews who wanted to resettle in Alaska. The group was living and working on a farm outside of New York when the outbreak of World War II changed everything. Jerre moved to California to work in the defense industries, and later drove back to New York for a job at the Ford Instrument Company in Queens, N.Y. Working as a "Rosie" gave Jerre financial independence and a strong sense of self-worth. She speaks about her struggles to get the union at the California Shipyards to allow her, as a woman, to become a full journeyman and receive higher wages – a struggle she won not only for herself, but for the other women working there as well. She has continued to use her metalworking skills into her 90s, making small works of art out of silver.