More than a thousand women of all ages gathered at Richmond’s WWII Home Front National Historical Park a couple of weeks ago to to commemorate the women who worked in shipyards and factories during World War II -- and to set a new world record for “The Largest Gathering of People Dressed as Rosie the Riveter.”
Several multi-generational families were among the hordes dressed in Rosie's unmistakable uniform of red polka dot head scarf and rolled up denim work shirt. The members of one such family, 9-year-old Julia Dolan, her mom Jennifer Dolan, 43, and grandma Carol Burns, 71, talked to KQED Arts about the importance of embodying the bicep-flexing, feminist icon.
What is your personal connection to Rosie the Riveter?
Carol: I was born in California at the end of 1943 and earlier that year my mother completed training in aircraft production. Because of her unplanned pregnancy with me, she was unable to go to work at the North American Aviation plant in Fresno. However, it was always a source of pride for her that she was able to complete the training.
Jennifer: Even though my grandmother didn’t do factory work, like so many other people on the home front, she worked hard and kept her family and the country moving forward. Celebrating Rosie the Riveter feels like I am honoring her.
Julia: When I was in third grade I bought a book called “Heroes of World War II” and I loved reading about the Rosies. I don’t think I would have liked to do that kind of work. It would have been hard to live during a war. But I would have done it for the war effort just like the Rosies.
What was it like at the Rosie rally? What did you learn?
Carol: We were lucky enough to get to the "We Can Do It!" sign before the line got ridiculously long, and got some great photos. I was delighted to see the way women had dressed up their little girls, infants, and even dogs. There were Rosies of every age, shape, and size. I couldn’t keep from smiling. What an event! Of course it helps that we broke the record for attendance also.
Jennifer: Getting our picture taken with some original Rosies was the highlight. I thought it was hilarious that so many of them thought the red and white bandanas were funny because they had never heard of anyone who actually wore them. One welder told us that she wore a sweatshirt and men’s jeans to work, because at that time there were no jeans for women. I also thought it was very empowering to see women of all colors representing Rosie. The posters usually show a young, white Rosie, which isn’t fair. Rosies looked like all women.
Julia: I got to meet some of the original Rosies. I also loved reading the quotes on the Rosie Memorial and learning how many women volunteered right after Pearl Harbor was bombed.
Why is the Rosie the Riveter an important symbol?
Jennifer: Rosie the Riveter represents the unsung hero, the person who works hard day after day but doesn’t always get proper recognition or sufficient financial reward. She’s also a symbol of tremendous optimism. For a while, not only was there equal pay for equal work, but there was a concerted effort to help working parents both serve their country and support their families. This all ended when war production ended. But I often think about how much stronger our country would be today if we made it easier for working parents to do everything that needs to be done.
Why is it important that the Rosie the Riveter tradition lives on?
Jennifer: Rosie is one of the most recognizable symbols of the strength and determination of women. But it’s important that people learn the whole story. She was a hero. But she was also resented at times, sexualized by popular culture and in most cases forced back into domesticity when the men came home and wanted their jobs back. In most cases, the recognition and respect she got during wartime didn’t continue.
Carol: The amazing effort to produce ships couldn’t have been accomplished without the help of women workers. It was an opportunity for women to show what they could do if no one was holding them back. The example they set was the beginning of the women’s movement and a source of confidence for future generations.
What was the significance of having three generations from your family at the event?
Carol: Jenny first heard of the Rosie rally and posted it on Facebook. My other daughter Emily and I immediately said we wanted to go and all of us started mentioning it to friends to see how many we could talk into joining us to do our part to help set a record.
Jennifer: I saw a lot of families at the event. I loved seeing husbands and dads supporting their wives and daughters from the sidelines. And I loved being there with my own family. My mom was born during the war. Being there with her, my sister, and my nine-year-old made me realize that World War II really wasn’t all that long ago. I wish my grandmother could have joined us too, she would have loved it.