UC Berkeley historians seek WWII homefront workers
By Chris Treadway
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 01/07/2011 06:59:02 PM PST
Updated: 01/07/2011 06:59:02 PM PST
The people involved with the Rosie the Riveter Oral History project would take a few thousand words over a picture any day.
The project, part of the Regional Oral History Office at UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library, has recorded interviews with more than 130 people who lived and worked on the home front during World War II and are trying to reach as many more as they can.
The urgency of reaching that generation was underscored last month by the death of Geraldine Hoff Doyle, whose image in a photograph taken in a wartime factory was the inspiration for the famous "We Can Do It" Rosie the Riveter poster of World War II.
"It's sort of a signal with her passing that the generation is getting older," said Sam Redman, an academic specialist for the Regional Oral History Office and lead interviewer for the Rosie the Riveter project, which is asking for subjects willing to tell their stories of the war years.
"The clock is ticking, and we're hoping to record the stories of as many people as we can in the next few years," Redman said. "Our top priority remains interviewing women and men who worked in some aspect of the defense industries."
Photographs, buildings and other artifacts tell a limited story, but the experiences of those who were there paint a much richer picture that can't be captured any other way.
"It's one of those projects that is labor-intensive, but the payoff is incalculable," Redman said. "For example, you may think you know all there is about victory gardens, and then someone will tell you something new."
Even details about seemingly mundane things can add insight to the way people lived.
"The fascinating thing to me is the patriotism and the desperation," Redman said. "People were coming out of the Great Depression when there was 25 percent unemployment, and here was a chance to have a job and help the war effort at the same time."
While the primary focus has been those who were homefront workers in the Bay Area, "as we look to expand the project we're starting to interview people who worked in the home front and moved here later," Redman said. "We're also starting to interview younger people who grew up during that time, which gives us a different and interesting perspective."
A recent interview was with a man in the El Cerrito and Albany area who recalled growing up during the war. "We learned that in 1942-'43 the Army was setting up machine gun nests in the East Bay," Redman said. "This guy as a 10-year-old would go down to the shoreline and see the machine gun nests being set up. We'd never heard that."
The project makes the interviews available online, where more than 90 have been posted, as well as through the Bancroft Library at Cal, the Richmond Public Library and the National Park Service, which oversees the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond.
"What a resource this is to share with students and later generations about what it was like to live through this time," Redman said.
People willing to be interview subjects or who know potential subjects can contact the oral history project at 510-643-2106 or email@example.com.
A collection of interviews is online at http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/ROHO/projects/rosie/.
Contact Chris Treadway at 510-262-2784 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at Twitter.com/christreadway.