Seventy years after the end of World War II, the 16 million women who served their country by taking jobs on the homefront are finally being honored with a national day of recognition.
National Rosie the Riveter Day kicked off its first annual fete on Monday across the country, with special ceremonies here in the Bay Area and the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. The long-overdue tribute honors the women, known as Rosies, who stepped into roles at shipyards and factories, and kept assembly lines running while men fought overseas.
The women’s tenacity and skill not only helped the U.S. win the war, but also jumpstarted conversations about gender equality in the workforce, lawmakers say.
"These brave and dedicated women broke barriers by taking jobs as riveters, welders and electricians, paving the way for future generations," said Congressman Mark DeSaulnier of Concord. "I cannot think of a more fitting tribute to the invaluable contributions these women made than a national day of recognition during Women’s History Month."
For Bay Area women, there’s an added significance: The protracted battle to establish the holiday got its bearings in Richmond, where the Rosie the Riveter National Historic Site is located inside what was once the old Kaiser Richmond shipyards. Women who worked there during the war effort produced more ships than anywhere else in the country.
About a dozen surviving Rosies, who got the nickname from the iconic Rosie the Riveter poster campaign used to recruit women into the wartime workorce, marched back into that shipyard to be celebrated for their long-lasting contributions. A special rose was planted in their honor to symbolize how far women have come — and how much room there is to grow in achieving gender equality.
"Women have made accomplishments in all fields since then," said Marion Sousa, 91, who worked in Richmond drafting blueprints for warships. "But when we were working here, we didn’t expect to be recognized. We were just doing the jobs, doing what had to be done."
Her sister, Phyllis Gould, 95, of Fairfax, was instrumental in getting Congress to pass the resolution establishing National Rosie the Riveter Day. Over the past few years, she travelled to Washington D.C. to meet with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
During the last few weeks of the administration, however, she thought another year would pass without her lobbying paying off. When it finally did, Gould said a sense of relief washed over her.
"The last few weeks — I was distraught. I didn’t think we’d see it," she said, with tears in her eyes. "It’s been a lot ups and downs. I really didn’t believe it until it was true."
When asked if she had any plans to retire from her advocacy efforts, Gould quickly replied, “Nope!”
“My next project is a commemorative coin with Rosie the Riveter,” Gould said. “I’ve been gathering information on how to go about it, so we’ll see.”
Odds are, she’ll succeed. After all, if the Rosies can’t do it, who can?