I went to the Rosie the Riveter/World War II National Historic Park expecting to see the iconic image of the animated Rosie proudly showing her bicep below the saying, “We Can Do It!” It was nowhere to be found. For good reason. The monument, located in Richmond, California, pays tribute to the eight million actual women who jumped into the anti-Nazi war effort when family members went off to fight. The women prodded their way into a workforce that was sometimes hostile to their gender or their race or both.
The bayside design of the memorial is a fitting tribute to these tough women—it’s made of steel. The body of a ship under construction supports the displays showing women’s contributions. The exhibit stretches out to the bay, the exact length of the ships made in Kaiser’s wartime shipbuilding yard where many women were employed. Photos of women from different backgrounds, who are welding, sorting and binding, bring the exhibit to life.
WWII facts ingrained in the pathway in one direction convey the longevity of the effort of women and people of color to obtain justice while serving the country. “Widespread opposition to hiring women and minority workers. Black leaders threaten to organize 50,000 workers in a march on Washington to demonstrate for jobs. Executive order 8802 bans racial discrimination in defense work .” I hadn’t known that it was President Roosevelt’s order that also set up the Fair Employment Practices Commission to make sure companies followed the law.
Quotes embedded “on the ship’s floor” in the other direction let us hear from the women in their own words. “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 to the hiring hall.”
Located on the San Francisco Bay Trail, the park is fascinating and free. Since it is outside, you can see it anytime. The highlight of my second visit was talking with Amanita Cornejo, pictured here, who was thrilled to have just been hired to staff the exhibit after four years of volunteering with the National Park Service. She told me, “I grew up in Richmond. I am so proud to work at this exhibit. Now I can tell the information about these inspiring women every day.”
Kudos to the Park Service itself for taking a fading legacy and turning it into a living history that young women today are proud to claim.
By the way, the NPS links to the only site that sells the official Rosie the Riveter paraphernalia. The proceeds support the Rosie the Riveter Trust, which also manages the site. The project to collect interviews of women who joined the workforce during WWII is ongoing. If you are one of those women and want to participate, find out more here.