By Matt Larson
Discover Richmond’s Riveting History of Rosie the Riveter
Chances are, if someone asked you who Rosie the Riveter was you could at least explain a vague recollection what the iconic image looks like, but do you know what it means? What it stands for? You do?! Good for you! You’re in the 1% of Americans that actually pay attention to history. Although the odds a likely a bit higher here rather than other parts of the United States since the national historic park is located here. That percentage of amateur historians is slowly growing, thankfully, with the help of organizations like the Rosie The Riveter Trust in Richmond, whose primary function is to raise money and resources to expand their public education programs.
The Trust works in active collaboration with the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historic Park on the Richmond waterfront. Here you’ll find the SS Red Oak Victory cargo ship launched in 1944, an awesomely abstract Rosie the Riveter Memorial, trained docents to guide you, a 38-seat theater with films showing every half hour, and much more! The grounds are so vast that you’ll need a car to get to all three of their waterfront park sites in one day. One might not think a “Rosie the Riveter”-based memorial park would have so much to learn about, but there’s quite a bit of story to tell…
“It’s an amazing history that most people know very little about,” said Marsha Mather-Thrift, Executive Director of the Rosie the Riveter Trust. “The war really catalyzed a lot of social efforts that produced enormous changes in the way our society functions,” she explains. “Women entering the workplace is just one example, but more than 100,000 people migrated to Richmond—many of them black people and poor people from the south and midwest—so there was an enormous push to integrate and actually come together. That’s pretty much transformed our workplace in the years succeeding.”
Throughout this time people flocked to Richmond as it became a shipbuilding powerhouse during the war. “Henry J. Kaiser, who built Hoover Dam and was recruited by FDR to come here, created the system that allowed Richmond to build 747 ships during the war,” said Mather-Thrift. That’s pretty impressive when the rest of the Bay Area only produced a combined total of 92. “Richmond was one of the most productive cities in the country in terms of churning out ships faster than the enemy could sink them.”
Hence, this wonderful national historic park chose Richmond as its home when it was established in 2000. The Trust collaborates with the park to help produce programs and activities. This year they hosted between 1,200 and 1,600 fourth graders at the park in an effort to get every fourth grader in the area to visit, something they plan to continue next year. Rosie’s Girls is a summer program where they teach low-income and at-risk middle school girls how to do welding and carpentry, learning confidence and career-building skills along the way, and the Trust also helped renovate the Maritime Child Development Center, a $9 million project.
Another reason to visit is to meet Betty Reid Soskin, the oldest park ranger in the country! “She’s one of the most amazing interpreters of history I’ve ever heard,” said Mather-Thrift. “We’re raising money to finish a film project that portrays history as seen through her eyes—she’s 94 years old, so it’s pretty important that we raise that money!” As Rosie would say: They Can Do It!
If you’ve yet to indulge in all that the park has to offer, please do. A great way to get involved is by attending the Rosie Rally and Home Front Festival on August 13th. Last year they broke the Guinness world record with over 1,100 people dressed as Rosie in one place—and have since lost the title to another group—so help them earn it back this year! Guys dressed as Rosie also count!
So pay them a visit, free of charge! Guided bus tours are available in advance. Open daily from 10am-5pm, head to the visitor’s center first at 1414 Harbour Way South, Suite #3000/Oil House, Richmond. For plenty more information call (510) 232-5050 x0 or visit rosietheriveter.org