By Denise Clay
For most of the young women watching the 1980s movie Flashdance, the only inspiration received was the inspiration to run into your bedroom, grab the first sweatshirt you saw, and cut it up in a way that might make you look like star Jennifer Beals if you squinted just right.
But when Dianna Montague of West Philadelphia saw the film, she paid less attention to what Beals wore, and more to what she was doing.
And no, she didn’t focus on the ballet dancing.
“The main character in the movie was a welder,” she said. “it sparked an interest in welding for me.
That interest has led to Montague’s becoming the answer to a local trivia question: Who was the first African American woman to graduate from Ironworkers Local 405’s Apprenticeship program to become a journeyman.
Montague became the first African American woman to be certified as an Ironworker in the City of Philadelphia when she graduated from the apprenticeship program last week. She will now be able to apply for union jobs around the country doing such work as bridge repair, building framework and similar work.
Only 2 percent of the nation’s ironworkers are women, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
This wasn’t Montague’s first attempt to become an ironworker, she said. In 1985, she applied for the Apprenticeship program for Local 401 of the Ironworkers Union, but decided to go in a different direction for awhile, she said.
She became a welder at the Naval Shipyard. She also went to Europe to train when the Navy turned the shipyard over to the Kaverner Company.
But while there was travel and adventure, Montague never gave up on her dream of becoming a journeyman.
“I traveled around the country working at various shipyards as a welder,” she said. “But I wanted to be an ironworker. So in 2007, I applied for the Apprenticeship program for Local 405 and found out in 2009 that I had gotten accepted.”
While she admits that her chosen profession isn’t one that’s common for a woman, Montague believes that it’s something that any woman can do if she decides that nothing, including her sex, is going to get in her way, she said.
“You have to be determined,” she said. “It’s hard for females in this business. I know of only one other woman locally who is doing this.”
But now that she’s done her apprenticeship and is a certified journeyman, Montague plans to stay in her native Philadelphia and show young women and girls that not only can you cross a bridge….
You can build one, too.