One hundred years ago, America started to recognize the importance of women’s voices. On June 4, 1919, Congress passed a constitutional amendment to give women the right to vote.
A few months later, Elinor Otto was born.
“Women were fighting for their rights in 1919 and we are still fighting now,” Otto said. Although she is approaching the century mark, Elinor Otto remains energetic and opinionated.
The 99-year-old said, “I don’t do anything different than I ever did. I walk around, I drive, and I still have lots of energy.”
In fact, she said she and her dog Blue regularly wake up before the rest of the world.
Otto said she has always enjoyed being active. In 1942, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, she joined the war effort, earning 65 cents an hour at Rohr Aircraft. Otto and her fellow women assembled aircraft with rivet guns; theses female workers were called “Rosie the Riveters.” The “Rosies” were famous for their contributions, but no other “Rosie” held a rivet gun as long as Elinor Otto, who continued long after the war.
In 1965, Otto moved to Long Beach to work for Douglas Aircraft (later known as McDonnell Douglas and, finally, as Boeing). Lured by the promise of 10 years of employment, she stayed much longer, working there for nearly 50 years until the plant closed in 2014. Otto’s longevity earned her the title of “America’s Longest Working Rosie.” She became a national celebrity and was invited to appear on the Today Show and the Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Otto said she decided to use the limelight as an opportunity to encourage other women. She began making speeches to push achievements in the next generation.
“I want to inspire young women to become technical ‘Rosies’,” Otto said. “I tell them ‘we made history in our day and now it’s your turn. You need to work hard, study, and get a good education and show them that women can do anything!’”
Moved by this barrier-breaking mentality, Michelle Molina, the owner of MADE (240 Pine Ave.), converted her store’s loading bay into a bar and named it in Otto’s honor. On Rosie the Riveter Day, March 21, 2019, Elinor opened. With concrete floors, steel air ducts, chain link fencing, and a staff dressed in mechanic uniforms, the bar pays homage to Otto’s industrial past. Its walls feature a signed portrait of Elinor Otto and the original pay stubs from her time as a riveter.
This weekend, Elinor is holding a celebration to honor its namesake’s 100th birthday. At 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12, there will be a special party for the centenarian. The public is invited to attend this free event, which will feature the Jazz Baker Band and a Rosie the Riveter art display.
“It will be a lively, festive occasion filled with family, friends, and fans,” said bar manager Heather Kern. “We’d love to see people dancing. Especially taking Elinor for a spin!”
“I used to go ballroom dancing when I was younger,” Otto said. “I loved the Fred Astaire movies and tried to copy the dance moves, but I was never very good at them.”
On Oct. 26, Otto will be honored in Washington D.C. at the American Veteran’s Center “Salute to Our Heroes.” The family has planned a much simpler celebration in Las Vegas on her actual birthday, Oct. 28.
“Elinor’s a healthy eater and she doesn’t eat many sweets,” her grand-niece, Brenda Wynne, said. “But we all love spending time with her. She’s a national treasure!”
To join the Long Beach celebration for this national treasure, head to Elinor (250 N. Tribune Court) at 7 p.m. this Saturday. And bring your dancing shoes!