|Chronicle Touts Rosie Visit for
Women's History Month
March 30, 2004
Today’s San Francisco
Chronicle featured Richmond’s Rosie the Riveter Memorial in the Rosie
the Riveter World War II/Home Front National Historical Park as a
Women’s History Month special. The article, which also describes the
park’s “spectacular waterfront setting,” follows:
Rosie the Riveter lives
March 29, 2004. San Francisco Chronicle.
ON A RECENT warm Sunday afternoon, joggers, bikers, strolling couples and picnicking families began filling up the Rosie the Riveter Memorial National Historical Park in Richmond.
Tucked away in a spectacular waterfront setting, this national historical site, which opened in October 2000, commemorates some 18 million women who worked in the home-front defense industries that helped the United States win World War II.
So who was Rosie the Riveter? With her sleeves rolled up, her biceps flexed, Rosie the Riveter was a popular icon, whose slogan, "We Can Do It!" helped mobilize millions of American women to replace the men who left to fight in battle. During the war years, she began to stand for all the women who fought the war at home -- most famously, as welders, machinists, mechanics, pipe fitters, electricians and boilermakers.
As they began training for jobs previously reserved for men, these women learned skilled work, earned "men's" wages and gained a new sense of independence.
At the height of the war, the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond produced one Liberty ship every day. To accomplish this astonishing feat, the shipyard recruited new workers -- especially African Americans from the South -- who quickly transformed a sleepy little town of 24,000 into a bustling city of 100,000, which soon became known for its thriving blues and jazz musical scene.
At the heart of the memorial is a symbolic representation of a Liberty ship. Partitioned into three distinctly nautical displays, the sculpture is also the length of a Liberty ship.
At one end is the partial skeleton of a ship's hull. In the middle is a smokestack, on which are exhibited photographs of the women who worked at the shipyards, along with their letters, diaries and postcards from the period. At the water's edge is the bow of the ship, which commands a breathtaking view of San Francisco Bay and is aligned with the Golden Gate Bridge. You can almost imagine the newly built ship slipping into the bay, ready for battle.
Etched granite pavers -- inscribed with historical timelines and personal reminiscences -- form a walkway that links the three parts of the sculpture.
As you stroll along the imaginary keel of the symbolic ship, you read, for example, about some men's reluctance to trust the newly trained women: "It was hard to convince your lead man that you could do the work. When he assigned jobs, I used to follow him around and say, 'I could do that.' He got sick of me and said, 'OK, do it.' And of course, I could. I could do it."
New opportunities gave some wives a new sense of freedom: "Let me tell you this. I was 23. I never had a job. My husband was an electrician. I told him, 'I'm going to work, too.' He said, 'No, you're not.' That same afternoon I went down to the hiring hall."
Many of the women also encountered racial and gender discrimination. "I learned to weld and when they said I was OK, I went to the hiring hall and was run off. You had to belong to the union and they said, 'no women or blacks.' "
In the end, however, this woman was among the first six female workers hired to do a "man's job."
During these war years, Kaiser grew into the most productive shipyard in the nation. When the war ended, however, tens of thousands workers were left jobless and Richmond entered a 50-year economic decline. Most of the African Americans who had been recruited from the South remained in the area, but both women and African Americans were particularly hard hit as they tried to compete for jobs with returning veterans.
When you visit the Rosie the Riveter national park, this history comes alive. You understand the critical role the Kaiser Shipyards played during the war; the origins of Kaiser Permanente, today the world's largest health maintenance organization, designed to care for shipyard workers; how women's wartime experiences raised their daughters' expectations for their own futures; what pulled Southern African Americans to the Bay Area in such large numbers; and why there is so much poverty today in Richmond.
Women's history month may be ending, but you still have the rest of the year to explore how women workers and the Bay Area helped shape each other's character during World War II. You won't be disappointed.. For information and directions, visit www.rosietheriveter.org.
E-mail Ruth Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.