Looking for something in the Bay Area that Ruth & I hadn’t done, I studied a map. My eyes moved north to Richmond. “What could possibly be in Richmond?” I wondered. I looked closely at what was under my finger—Rosie the Riveter/World War Home Front National Historical Park. I didn’t know anything about it. Now I know it’s a 5 Compass museum/attraction run by the National Park Service.
The character of Rosie the Riveter came to represent all women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II. In 1942, artist J. Howard Miller created a series of posters showing a woman flexing the muscles in her right arm and saying, “We Can Do It!” The next year Norman Rockwell created a cover for the Saturday Evening Post showing a very strong woman eating lunch with a rivet gun across her lap. Rosie’s image was set.
At the Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park I told Sally at the front desk that I knew a woman who worked in the Richmond shipyards while her husband was in the South Pacific. I called her Aunt Florence even though we were not related. She was very unassuming and died young. I told Sally about her and Sally encouraged me to record my remembrances while there. She told me that all the records of the women who worked in Richmond had been systematically destroyed because they contained social security numbers, etc., and the only way to learn about them was via oral histories made by museum visitors. Unfortunately, I didn’t know enough about Aunt Florence to do this, but I did learn a lot about the women who worked here. I even met 4 of them.
Why Richmond? There was a Ford Assembly Plant and a Kaiser Shipyard there before the war. During the war the Ford Plant made 49,000 jeeps, and Kaiser Shipyard #2, now the park memorial, was one of 4 shipyards that produced in excess of 747 ships between 1941 and 1945, more than any other location in the U.S. Richmond’s population shot up from 23,000 in 1940 to 100,000 in 1945. It didn’t have enough housing, but it did have room to grow, a deep water port, and a railroad terminus.
There were 4 films available and we watched 2. My favorite was Home Front Heroes. In it an African-American woman from The South recalled that a ticket to The West was the favored graduation gift during World War II. Women did jobs that had been done by men up to that point in history, and they quickly earned reputations as better welders because they were more uniform. The female work force was 12 million in 1941 and 18 million by 1944.
Agnes, Kay, Marian, and Marian all worked in defense plants here during World War II. Now they show up at the Rosie The Riveter Historic Park every Friday from 10 to 2 to greet museum visitors and talk about their lives back then. They were all sharp and delightful, but they wanted to tell me much more about their invitation to the White House 2 years ago than about riveting.
Walt Disney personally created the cartoon bug for this poster. The Disney Studios made films for every branch of the service.