An effort centered in Richmond, Calif., places a long-overdue focus on the contributions of American women to the nation's World War II effort.
The Rosie the Riveter Historic Trust, a nonprofit organization, was founded to honor the estimated 18 million women who worked in World War II defense industries and support services, including steel mills, foundries, lumber mills, aircraft factories, offices, hospitals and day care centers. About 16 million men served in the armed forces. Many women also served in various capacities in the armed forces. But for the most part, the citizenry has failed to honor the "Rosie the Riveter" contingent that was so vital to the war effort.
Korky Vann of the Hartford (Conn.) Courant quotes Tom Butt, president of the trust, about how the "Rosie" phenomenon changed our society.
"It was the first time in American history that women and minorities worked side by side with men for almost comparable wages," says Butt. "Not that there weren't problems. But the change in the face of the work force ignited major changes in civil rights and women's rights."
Women in work clothes, usually overalls, and wielding industrial tools became a symbol popularized in the 1942 song, "Rosie the Riveter." The song led to a nickname for all women who worked in wartime industries and business.
"Their stories are an important legacy," Butt said, "Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of records and the Rosies are now women in the 70s, 80s and 90s. If we don't act now to preserve the information, it's going to be lost."
In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed legislation authorizing the creation of the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historic Park to be built on the site of the former Kaiser shipyards in Richmond.
The park is still in development but the area already features a piece of public art commissioned by Richmond, a temporary visitor center based at city hall and self-guided walking trails around the shipyards. The park is due to open in stages, and a major goal is to provide a central source of information and reference materials on the home front industrial effort during World War II.
In November, the Ford Motor Co., the National Park Foundation and the National Park Service announced a nationwide effort to collect stories, authentic artifacts and personal histories from Rosies and the families of those women who joined the home front movement so effectively.
A special Web site has been set up, www.ford.com/go/rosie, and stories and comments also can be shared by calling 1-800-497-6743. The Lawrence area has a sizable contingent of such people, many of whom worked at the old Sunflower Ordnance Works near De Soto.
So much is owed by so many of us to the females who courageously broke tradition, sacrificed, pioneered in the work force and set the stage in many ways for the millions who followed them.
Our Rosies were every bit the heroes of the men who served the country so well in those troubled, demanding and dangerous times.