- Betty Webster graduated from high school in 1943 in Tidioute, Pennsylvania. As soon as she turned 18 years old, she boarded a bus to move to Niagara Falls, New York.
- Betty’s friend was working in Niagara Falls at the Bell Aircraft factory.
- At first, Betty’s motivation for moving was to earn money.
- But as Betty and her friends worked at the factory, they realized they were doing important work for the war effort. They had many friends from high school and relatives who enlisted or were drafted into the military.
- The Bell factory built P-39 Airacobra and P-63 Kingcobra warbirds.
- Most of the planes made by the factory were purchased by the Soviet Union through the Lend-Lease Act. The law permitted American companies to sell airplanes to approved foreign countries. The Soviet Union was an ally of the United States and England during world War II.
- Betty left the factory before the war ended. She moved to Florida to help her sister who was having a baby. Her sister’s husband was a soldier serving overseas. He was killed.
- Betty believes it’s important to keep WWII history alive for younger generations.
- On Nov. 14, 2020, a P-63 Kingcobra, made in Niagara Falls, was dedicated in Betty’s honor. “Miss Betty” is a living artifact of the millions of soldiers who served during WWII and the tens of millions of civilians on the Home Front. They went to work in factories so their boys could come home.
Nov. 25, 2020 – Seventy-seven years ago Betty Webster, still a teenager, moved from her home in western Pennsylvania to Niagara Falls, New York to work at the Bell Aircraft factory where one of her friends was already employed. The factory built Bell P-39 Airacobra and P-63 Kingcobra warbirds. Betty has a few scars as reminders of how difficult her job was but she carries those scars with tremendous pride for her role and that of millions of other Home Front “Rosies” who were riveters, buckers, welders, mechanics and assembly line workers. They just did it.
On Nov. 14, 2020, Betty was present when the Dixie Wing Unit of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), located in Peachtree City, Georgia, dedicated their P-63 in her honor. Betty first met “Miss Betty” at the Bell factory during WWII where her job was to shim her struts and bleed her brakes.
Betty Bishop, 95, has fond memories of her days working at the Bell factory. She graduated from Tidioute High School in Tidioute, Pennsylvania in 1943. As soon as she turned 18, she boarded a bus and headed to Niagara Falls. Anne McKown, her high school buddy, was working there.
At first, the motivation to work was the money, Betty said during an Oct. 2, 2020 phone interview. But she and her friends soon realized how serious their job was for the nation. Some friends and family who went off to war did not come home. Their motivation to work shifted to serving their country and bringing their boys home.
Betty worked the swing shift at the factory from 4 p.m. to midnight. After work, she and her friends would grab something to eat. In winter, they occasionally had snowball fights until 2 or 3 in the morning. “Even though it was a sad time, it was a fun time,” Betty said.
Betty vividly recalls the day at the factory when representatives from the Soviet Union came to inspect airplanes they were purchasing. Most of the P-63 production at the factory was sold to the Soviet Union under the Lend-Lease Act of 1941. The Soviet Union was an ally of the United States and England during WWII.
“Miss Betty” rolled out of the Bell factory on Feb. 24, 1944, purchased by the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF). After the war, it was used as a test plane by NACA, the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, the predecessor to NASA.
The CAF Dixie Wing Unit acquired the plane in 1996, began restoration work in 1999 and after thousands of hours of work by volunteers, flew it for the first time in 2017.
As the war was winding down in 1944, Betty took a leave of absence from Bell to help her sister in Florida who was expecting a baby. Her sister’s husband was serving overseas and did not come home.
Betty said she thinks it is difficult for today’s youth to understand the gravity of the times during World War II. She is extremely grateful for those who honor that history today by telling that history.
“Miss Betty” has a new and vitally important mission to tell Betty’s story, a Home Front story that represents millions of others. Few artifacts can tell that history better than a restored warbird, a combination of steel and steely grit by Betty’s generation who built it, fixed it, and flew it to liberate Europe.
- When did Betty begin working at Bell Aircraft?
- Where was the Bell Aircraft factory located?
- Why did Betty decide to apply for a job there?
- What planes were made there?
- What was Betty’s initial motivation for working at Bell Aircraft?
- The airplanes made at the Niagara Falls Bell Aircraft factory were sold to the Soviet Union. What was the law that allowed foreign countries to purchase airplanes made in the United States. What effect do you think the law had on the outcome of the war?
- As Betty worked at the factory, how did her outlook on her job change?
- Why was an airplane recently dedicated in Betty’s name?
- Discuss the meaning of “steely grit” as used in the story. How does that phrase apply to Betty and all women who went to work in factories during World War II?