“We fellowshipped a lot … through tears … to keep each other strong.”
Addie Loretta Houston-Smith was born in Baltimore City and grew up near Johns Hopkins hospital. She was the oldest of 12 children, and was the only child to ultimately go on to work at Sparrows Point. She began working at the Mill in July of 1974, and continued to work for Bethlehem Steel for the next 30 years. Initially, she started working as a crane operator along with various other trades, jobs and departments that included the pipe mill and the tin mill. She was charged with various duties at the mill like picking up coils, pipes and also loading up the trucks. In 1977, she became the chairperson of the union group, Women of Steel, where they held meetings to solve “women-related” equality, job, and pay issues. Her bold, independent, strong, and yet extraordinarily calm and humble personality gave her a legendary status at the old steel mill. Informally nicknamed “Rosa Parks” by her colleagues and friends, she was on the frontlines for Women’s Rights in the 20th Century. When asked how she felt about the title her co-workers gave her, she simply nodded, smiled, and replied, “I’m honored!” (Written by Brandon Reeder, Esther Ko and Nirjal Shah, UMBC students)
My name is Addie Loretta Houston Smith. I started working for Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point in 1974.
I was hired as a laborer and i was hired in the pipe mill and in the pipe mill we had jobs like grinders, hookers. It was funny because when i first got laid off my first experience with unemployment I had to tell them the type of job that i worked and i said “well I was a hooker,” you know, and the lady goes, “you were what?!” At Bethlehem Steel and i said “let me explain the job to you.” I was a crane follower and I hooked up these long cables and i would pick them up and hook it up to the cranes and that was what a hooker did. And I made a lot of money doing that so i didn’t leave.
As I went on I became involved in the union. I became a union official. I was the chairperson for “Women of Steel.” There was discrimination against women and a lot of times i felt like i was discriminated against and i was not a quiet person about it. It got me in a lot of trouble lots of times because I wanted something done you know and I would talk about the issues that involve myself and a lot of of other women. It was very difficult, you know we talked about racism. We fellowshipped a lot in the bathroom through tears you know to keep each other strong and there were a lot of problems but we would resolve them.
It wasn’t really a bad place to work because you know we had our issues too you know and we were women it is something new forthe men. When we first got hired you know they had to get used to us working in the mills and being a woman i was going to have it my way. Its my way or no way.
I had a babysitting problem and my foreman had me come in one night. I had to open the mill. I had to turn the lights on to do my job and during this time i didn’t have a babysitter. I didn’t know what to do with my child and like i said before a lot of us had problems with our children. Where were we going to leave them, you know? So i looked at my daughter, she was two. I grabbed her little pillow as she had on her little pajamas and I drove to Bethlehem Steel and I carried her up the ladder with me into my crane and there she stayed, she slept with her bottle until I completed the end of my shift.
Even now I get teary eyed because you work with these people all your life and then all of a sudden it’s all over with, you know and sometimes you know we we might not remember each others’ names when you see someone in the street but you go “you worked at Bethlehem Steel.”