I’ve begun to research Rosies, starting with the original Rosie the Riveters to have an understanding of the history from which our “New Rosies” come.
I’ve accessed the Oral Histories of many Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front Oral History Project at UC Berkeley.
Many of the stories they have gathered revolve around the Richmond Shipyards…. I am fascinated by how the foundations of many important social and political movements intersect at the factory where Rosie worked.
During the Depression tens of thousands escaped the Dust Bowl in search of jobs and headed west to work in the fields. Then, during World War II manufacturing ramped up to build ships and vehicles and airplanes for the War Effort.
Scenes from the Dustbowl: A Dustbowl farm. Coldwater District, north of Dalhart, Texas. This house is occupied; most of the houses in this district have been abandoned. Photo by Dorothea Lange
Oakland became home to many war related industries: Kaiser Shipyards, Moore Dry Dock Company, and the Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant, to name a few. Richmond also supported a large canning industry, and of course there was the Rail Road.
As I listened to these oral herstories and read the transcripts I became aware of all the changes that were happening at that time and all the important issues that I can look at through the lens of these Rosies–perhaps that is part of the reason why the image of and the idea of Rosie has endured.
Some of the Rosie the Riveters tell stories about coming from farms to the city, meeting and working with people from all over the country and from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. There were even workers that came from Mexico as part of the Bracero program. Rosies’ stories are not just the stories of changing gender roles, they are the stories of immigrants, of war, of Japanese internment, of racial inequality, of corporate responsibility, of gentrification, desegregation, and of changing industries. Stories we are still grappling with today.
Check out the collection of oral histories from folks living and working on the home front during World War II. The project is a collaboration between the City of Richmond and the National Park Service interviewing residents of the Bay Area about their wartime experiences.