Rose Marie Johnson worked in food service in Butte and belonged to the Women's Protective Union for 40 years. She eventually served on its Executive Board.
As a working wife and mother, particularly in the 1950s and 60s, Johnson's story is a common one. In an era of limited access to birth control, she was in and out of the workforce while bearing children.
Johnson was a cook her entire life in Butte. She worked at Gamer's, Meaderville's Vegas Club, Sully’s Truck Stop, 4B's, Lydia’s, The Moxsom, Martha’s, Lloyd's, Kingsburger, Montana Tech, and finally the Silver Bow County Jail.
Born in Butte in 1930 to a family of 11 children, Johnson married after high school in 1947 and entered the workforce soon after. She started her first job as a dishwasher at Gamers and joined the WPU.
Hopeful of building their own home, Johnson and her husband worked toward that goal for two years. When Johnson became pregnant, her boss would not allow her to work. But that did not relieve Johnson of her picketing obligations during the 1949 WPU strike. After the birth of her second child, the union helped Johnson get back to work as a cook.
In 1974 with the help of the union, Johnson got a job in the dining services of the local college, then known as the Montana School of Mines. There she learned about catering and using culinary equipment, and had a glimpse of a career she night have had if she'd had the opportunity for training.
“If I had my life to live over again, I would have liked to have went to a chef’s school, and to learn a little more of the fancy things,” Johnson said. “A lot of these young people who cook up there at Tech, that’s where the money is. To go to school, you know.” [source of quote?]
Johnson's waitressing career spanned three decades, from the heyday of Butte's mining economy after World War Il into the years of the country’s burgeoning economy. Alternating day and afternoon shifts with her husband, Johnson raised 7 children.
“The thing, when I look back, that I always say is that I didn’t get to all the plays, the Christmas plays. When you’re working, you can’t always do it, but the kids knew that,” Johnson said. “And we always kept - they never got in any trouble. You know, we always kept tabs on them, so they never ended up in jail or anything. (laughter)”