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Montana's own 'Rosie the Riveter' recalls working for Boeing during World War II

Posted at 5:10 PM, May 14, 2023

ABSAROKEE — Absarokee is home to one of Montana’s own Rosie the Riveters. Beatrice Nelson has lived in the Treasure State for over 50 years but back in the 1940s, she was working for Boeing, supporting the troops during World War II.

She may be 96-years-old, but Nelson is still a kid at heart.

Am I beautiful or not,” joking asked Nelson at her assisted living home in Absarokee.

Her personality is just the same as it was when she was 18-years-old in her hometown of Cornell, Wisconsin.

This was during the tail end of World War II and the year was 1944. Boeing was looking for recruits to work in Washington and they found Nelson in a typing class at her high school.

Bea Nelson

“I didn’t know that there was anybody watching and I’m just typing away just minding my own business,” said Nelson.

It was Nelson’s talents as a typist that got her noticed.

“And so, when they knew that I could take dictation, I could do shorthand and naturally I could type, then naturally, they wanted me to go,” Nelson said.

Nelson’s family ended up relocating to Washington, but she didn’t work for Boeing as a typist for long.

“Then when I’m walking out, seeing everybody else is having fun and I’m in here typing and typing and listening and listening and typing. I decided, I don’t want this so I asked for a transfer out on the floor so I could have some fun,’ said Nelson.

This meant Nelson was able to work on airplanes until the war ended.

“And because I was small, I could get in there and I could crawl into the wings, more of the tip of the wings where they had a couple of bolts that had to be put on,” Nelson said.

Bea Nelson

Nelson would tighten bolts inside the planes, getting into spaces others couldn’t. Nelson’s time at Boeing ended when the war did, but she said the work didn’t seem hard back then.

“It didn’t seem that way, hard to us. I mean when you’re a teenager, everything is easy. Anyway, it seemed that way to me,” said Nelson.

After the war ended, she made her way to Montana with her husband Cliff and has spent the last 50 years calling the state home. She’s lived all over Montana, working various jobs in Townsend, Lewistown, and Bozeman.

But she said Absarokee will be her final home.

“I’m not moving from here. This is my last stop,” Nelson said.

It’s a last stop on a nearly century long journey, one that’s seen more than most.