South Portland Shipyards and Liberty Ship Memorial

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South Portland Shipyards and Liberty Ship Memorial

View of Bug Light Park from the Eastern Promenade

Between 1942 and 1945, women worked as welders, mechanics, crane operators, tackers, burners, pipe coverers, and painters on Liberty Ships at the Todd-Bath Iron Shipbuilding Corporation. At its peak, 3,700 women out of 31,000 people from all over Maine and New Hampshire built 236 ships. Women worked outdoors year-round in dangerous conditions. They earned up to $1.20 an hour for an eight-hour day, six or seven days a week. Former welder, Shirley Wilder, said, "I loved welding. You need a woman's touch for welding," because, she explained, it required coordination and accuracy but not brute strength. After the shipyards closed at the end of World War II, jobs using their skills went to men returning from military service. Some women had their sights raised and went back to school; others returned to clerking in stores and working in the mills and shoe shops, but Wilder was lucky. She became the first woman welder at Portland Copper and Tank Works. Seventeen of the Liberty Ships were named for women, including Lillian Nordica (site C07), authors Sarah Orne Jewett, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.