A picture of Peggy Costello. Photo: DiaryofLadyPipefttr
Peggy Costello, 60, realized at a young age that she didn’t enjoy the home economics classes as much as she enjoyed the woodwork classes.
Costello explained the home economic classes were for the female students to learn how to cook and to manage the house while the woodwork classes were for male students to learn about carpentry.
Costello said she was bored in the home economic classes and her father, the school principal, asked her what class would she prefer to take instead. Costello said, “Something new like the woodwork classes.”
Her father went to the teacher and asked him if his girl Peggy could join the woodworking classes. The teacher was a bit shocked but did not mind.
“In a year like 1972 this was unheard of,” Costello said. “They had never had a girl in a woodwork class.”
At the age of 8, Costello started helping her father with the chores around the house. She said she remembers her first plumbing job.
“Something was stuck in the toilet, and my dad was not a handyman, so he asked me to help him out,” Costello said. “I remember I stuck my hand in the toilet and took out a white horse.”
Costello’s parents were gender neutral when it came to chores around the house.
“They never said, ‘This is a girl’s job’ or ‘This is a boy’s job,’” Costello said.
Years later, she married a man who worked in the trades as a nuclear pipefitter. At the time, she was working as a vet technician and realized she would be making three times more if she were to work in the trades.
Costello said she decided to start her pipefitting apprenticeship in 1985.
“As a pipefitter, I install the heating and process piping in the buildings, and sometimes I do a bit of plumbing,” Costello said. “I enjoy a hands-on job.”
However, during her career as a pipefitter, she had to overcome a lot of obstacles.
“My male co-workers had this preconceived idea that women would not go to work because of they were on their periods or they would have to take time off because of their children,” Costello said. “So the contractors would lay off women first, instead of the men.”
Costello added a lot of people helped her out but some wanted her to fail.
“Once I started my apprenticeship, some co-workers would help me out by doing my work, not necessarily teaching me,” Costello said, “Some also taught me things wrong, so I would make mistakes.”
Sexism was present during her whole career.
Costello said, “I had to put up with a lot during these years. I had to put up with sexual harassment, I had to put up with sexism, I guess a lot.”
Costello explained she loved working as a pipefitter but the biggest challenge she faces is being 60.
“If you work in the trades, it’s really hard on the body at my age,” Costello said.
Costello said she works around six months of the year but travels and writes a lot.
Costello started up a blog called “A Diary of a Lady Pipefitter.”
Costello uses the blog to write about her personal journey throughout the trades in a story like “March 10th, 1986, the first day” where she wrote, “What the hell was I thinking when I applied to be a pipefitter apprentice? Sure, I was up for any challenge, especially against the male-dominated world we live in, but I had no real idea of what this job entailed.”
Costello also writes pointers and tips for women in trades.
“Never let any man see you cry because they will take this as a sign of weakness,” Costello said. “Find a tradeswomen group to support you throughout your apprenticeship.”
Costello said she dreams of publishing a book in the future and tells women to not worry about obstacles they may face when working in the trades.
“Eventually,” she insisted, “the male co-workers will respect you.”
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