PASCAGOULA, Miss. — Vera Anderson was petite and soft spoken, and her family said those who met her would never dream she won the title of “World’s Champion Welder” during World War II while working at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula.
Anderson, who died recently in Ridgeland at age 90, was 19 when she competed against female welding champions from Oregon and California. In 1944, she won the title in the first Women’s National Welding Championship, along with $350 in war bonds and a trip to the White House.
“I was invited to have tea with Mrs. Roosevelt. She talked about what a contribution the women were making to the war effort,” Anderson later said.
Anderson was very modest about her experiences, said her daughter-in-law, Tina Anderson of Hattiesburg.
Details of her experiences were shared only when Ingalls celebrated the company’s 60-year anniversary in 1998, and Vera and her family were invited to the celebration.
She recalled at the time, “Newspapers and radios stressed that women were needed in the war effort. I became a welder.”
In “Personality of the Month” profile for Temple Baptist Church in Hattiesburg in 2003, Anderson said that after her father died when she was 11, her family moved from Sumrall to Gulfport. She graduated from high school in 1941.
She and her sister, Minnie Anderson of Gulfport, entered a training program and upon finishing welding school went to work at Ingalls in 1942.
“Vera Anderson proved to be one of the most earnest, adaptable and skillful workers in welding,” the late Monro Landier, longtime Ingalls president, once said.
“One highlight of my experience at Ingalls was a local contest, and then a similar national contest, to determine the champion woman welder, based upon speed, quality and workmanship,” Anderson said.
She became the Gulf Coast Welding Champion, and that brought a challenge from the Vancouver Yard of Kaiser’s Shipbuilding Company, which claimed the West Coast Champion, Hermina Strmiska.
She won that challenge on May 28, 1943.
Moore Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Company of Oakland, Calif., then claimed that the previous contestant was not the West Coast Champion. On Jan. 24, 1944, Anderson kept her crown by out-welding Edna Slocum.
Anderson also met her husband, Anselen Harrison McDonald, of Jackson while he was an electrician. They married on Sept. 11, 1944, at Handsboro Baptist Church. She quit her job but returned to Ingalls in 1945 until “Mac” was discharged from the Army when the war ended.