Helen Dortch Longstreet worked as a riveter during World War II. Employed as a war worker at Bell Aircraft plant in Atlanta, Georgia, Helen was the widow of General James Longstreet – who participated in Civil War battles such as the Second Bull Run, Chickamauga, Antietam, and Gettysburg. If you’re trying to figure out how a widow of a Civil War general could possibly be working as a riveter during World War II, you have to keep a few things in mind.
When she married Longstreet in Atlanta’s Executive Mansion in 1897, Longstreet was 76 years old while Helen was 34. Helen was actually the classmate of Longstreet’s daughter. Suffice to say his children were not very keen on the marriage. Longstreet died in 1904. Helen was an advocate of her husband’s legacy and, by all accounts, a devoted wife. After her husband’s death, Helen worked a variety of jobs as a reporter, writer, editor, post office mistress, farmer, librarian, and politician. In 1943, while working as a riveter, Helen was around 80 years old.
When World War II broke out, she wanted to do what she could to help the war effort. “I am going to assist in building a plane to bomb Hitler and the Son of Heaven to the Judgement Seat of God,” she asserted. When it comes to her skills as a riveter, Helen pointed out, “I was the head of my class in riveting school. In fact I was the only one in it.”
Helen died in 1962 at the age of 99.
“Confederate General’s Widow,” LIFE, December 27, 1943.