Tacoma Narrows Bridge Funsite

Feature Article
The Jill Lucille Clark Story

A woman in a "man's" field- overcoming adversity
Courtesy of Jill L. Clark

  Some fields of work have traditionally been thought of as a man's job. There are several reasons for this; the work may require a level of strength, the abilities of the worker may be important, the work conditions such as in hazardous or very dirty environments, and even factors such as women had never held certain jobs before. But these and other reasons are basically stereotypes. As there are many women who can and do surpass their male counterparts in some, or all of these ways.

Jill L. Clark, photo from Ms. Clark

When thinking about this subject, and knowing the history of employment and jobs during various periods of time in America; one can tend to overlook facts like periods of war when men were serving overseas in battles. World War II was a prime example. Women were needed to fill so many jobs that without them- would have caused immediate and crucial shutdowns in not only the war efforts, but also in the basic needs of the public with regards to manufacturing & day to day necessities for survival and continued production of American goods.

A TBC produced US Navy vessel, photo from TPL

Ship and boat building, along with aircraft manufacturing reached a peak of importance during both World War I and World War II. In the local Tacoma/Seattle region, there were several companies who were called upon to fill orders. Tacoma Boatbuilding Company was one, having started in business in 1926. They slowly grew in size and capability, with a peak of orders and production taking place in the 1970's to early 1980's. Government contracts were a bulk portion of the work load for TBC, and it was demanding and precise work.

The Tacoma Boatbuilding Company, photo from TPL

It was during this latter period that the first woman completed the Washington State Apprenticeship Council's program for machinists. The story of Jill L. Clark is a remarkable one; a story of courage and determination against many odds. Ms. Clark was born in Tacoma in 1959, at a time when men and womens' roles in the workplace were still identified by stereotypes. She grew up in University Place, just south of the City line, and eventually her family moved to Vashon Island. She completed High School, and after she held a couple of jobs. Jill had a desire to obtain a Trade position- as a long-term goal. She enrolled at Clover Park Vocational- Technical Institute in the Machinists program. Having been enrolled at L.H. Bates Vocational/Technical Institute at the same time, the Author can testify that the Trades programs at these Intitutions were very much gender-oriented. Women were just not in many of the programs.

A recent pic of Clover Park's Machinist Classroom, photo from CPTC

Jill continued the Machinist program at Clover Park Voc-Tech up to the point when an Apprenticeship opportunity arose at Tacoma Boatbuilding Company; where her father, Richard L. Clark was employed. This was Jill's chance to achieve a goal not many women would aspire to. The company had started a new program- the Washington State Apprenticeship Council's Machinists training that was aimed at drawing women into the machinists trade. They initially had another woman begin the program, but she had a tough go at it and she left. Jill decided to leave the class at Clover Park, and begin the Apprenticeship with TBC.

Richard L. Clark's Apprenticeship Certificate

Imagine, if you will being the only woman in a rough and tough man's world of heavy duty machines and noise. During the first part of her time at TBC, Jill encountered complaints from several wives of the men there. Jill was 19 years old, and was working alongside the men. A most unusual thing that took some getting used to by not only her fellow workers, but some of their family as well. A mention was made that she was intending on taking bread of working men off their tables- because this was a man's job.

Richard is concentrating on his duties, photo from Ms. Clark

Jill having her father, Richard working at TBC as a Foreman in the hydraulic department helped settle things down for her. She continued on in the Apprenticeship program doing conventional work. She performed work with engine lathes, vertical turret lathes, various drill presses, horizontal boring machines, and a Viking NC machine. The Viking was an auto operation machine, but the rest were all manual operations.

A recent pic of Bates Voc-Tech's Machinist Classroom, photo from BTC

The program included classes at L.H. Bates Voc-Tech that she attended each week, with the other men who were enrolled as apprentices with different companies. Their instructor was Bert Mork, who was also the Foreman for her department at TBC. Jill completed the Apprenticeship in 1983, with a total of 8,000 hours- the first woman to accomplish this in the history of the program, and within the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Union. A most remarkable achievement in a "man's" field.

Jill's Certificate of Completion                               Tool & key check tags

Photos from Ms. Clark

Difficulties did not cease after Jill completed the Apprenticeship, even though her position in the field seemed secured by her detemination and hard work. Jill followed suit with the other employees, and they went on strike at one point. In 1985 the Tacoma Boatbuilding Company experienced major difficulties and they filed for Chapter 11 protection. She was layed off, and had to seek other employment. Not letting this deter her, she obtained another position with Carlson-Formetech where she set up machines for "handlepullers". Jill operated Bridgeport tracers, making sure they held their tolerances, as well as running vertical turret machines- making dies for hot forming of helicopter parts. This work led to her obtaining a position with the famous Boeing Company in 1986. At that time Boeing had just installed some new high tech equipment that included a Mazak high speed boring mill cell; four machines, a tool robot, and four load/unload stations. Jill was selected to receive training for all of this, and she was the only woman on the team responsible for this machinery.

Jill in her workplace, photo from Ms. Clark

Jill left employment with Boeing in May of 1999. She has always reflected on her working career with great pride- she says "It was an amazing trade to be in, and I loved it". She now spends her time in Springdale, Washington with her husband and various farm animals they care for and enjoy. These had included cows/calves pairs, goats, and sheep. However, now they have horses, donkeys, llamas, and dogs. Quite a change from the pressures and stresses of working a career in a "mans's" field, but then Jill made significant changes in that field by leading the way, and opening it up for other women to follow her excellent example. Change from the so-called "norm" is what determined and strong women need to continue to do, in order to make this world and all employment careers on an equal basis. Jill L. Clark has set her name into history in this way, and she is most deserving of praise and recognition.


All above photos are from Ms. Clark

These photos may not be copied nor duplicated in any form or part without expressed written permission.

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