June grew up in Philadelphia, PA and went to Olney High School. Her parents were divorced, and she lived with her mother at her aunt’s place. She needed to get a job to help so she and her mom could get their own apartment. She went to the counselor at school and the counselor told June that next year she could take clerical classes. That wasn’t going to help her now. She then went to a teacher and explained the situation. June started taking mechanical drawing classes four times a day! Ms. Robbins left high school in 1942. Her teacher gave her a letter of recommendation and called the Philadelphia Navy Yard. She had to lie about her age, she was only seventeen. They accepted June and put her in a class teaching her all about the Navy Yard. She worked in a unit with ten other women. Their project was rehabbing a cargo ship. The women got a tour of the ship so they could fully understand what they were doing. It was a cargo ship and the women were working below deck. June had to work with British screws and American screws. The women even had to do welding. June’s mother worked on the aircraft side. They never talked about what they were doing. “Loose lips sink ships.” “The United States was sending scrap metal to Japan.” “We got it back December 7th.”
June’s grandfather read the foreign news every day to keep up on the war. At that time, the U.S. newspapers weren’t that interested in it. June’s father was concerned that the Nazis might come down and kill them all, so he taught her to fight and shoot! June learned Jiu Jitsu and how to shoot a 45, 25, Lugar, Enfield and a Springfield! During the war, June was also a junior USO hostess.
June’s boyfriend joined the Navy. She still remembers sending him off! He was the starboard gunner on a B-24. Like so many others when they returned, he would not talk about what he did during the war. June said, “We wrote lots and lots of letters to each other.” June also wrote to others when they were away. There was a period that June didn’t hear from her boyfriend and feared the worst. There was an article about a plane crash on the base where he was stationed. The women she worked with were of many races, ethnicities and religions. One night after work, they took June to a church on 13th Street between Market and Chestnut. They all prayed for his safe return. The prayers worked! She said, “We all pulled together.” “We all had differences, but it didn’t matter because we were all Americans.” When the war was over, June and her boyfriend got married.
June kept her tools until two years ago. In 2017, the Rosies were invited to the Netherlands to speak about what they did. That is where Ms. Robbins donated her tools for the museum they were building. They went again the following year for the opening of the museum and met the King and Queen of the Netherlands.
“Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it”, June said. “I’m afraid it’s happening again.” “The young people just want to know what’s new today.” “They don’t want to study history.” As a Rosie, she is deeply concerned about this.
Ms. Robbins belongs to two organizations today. American Rosie the Riveter Association and Thanks! Plain and Simple, Inc. These two groups try and find all the Rosies and get their message out there. They want to recognize and preserve the history and legacy of these women that did so much during the war.
June is also a member of the Philadelphia Mayor’s Commission on Women and the Mural Arts Commission. Every Labor Day the Mayor has the women gather at the Liberty Bell and ring bells. These women go to different speaking engagements to tell their stories. June said, “We were average women who did extraordinary things.” “We broke glass ceilings.” June said she would love to see their story in the history books! She also is trying to get a mural of the Rosies in Philadelphia! Right now, there aren’t enough funds. I say we help raise the money. Let’s get them in the Smithsonian Institute! I say we help raise the money. We can do it!