Rosie the Riveter Museum...

Another place that has been high on my 'list' is the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park (the longest name of any park) in Richmond, CA.

First off, why is this museum here? The Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond produced 747 ships during World War II, the most productive shipyards in history (a feat not equaled anywhere else in the world, before or since). Many of the buildings used are still here. What a perfect location to tell this amazing story!

There is far more information here than I can share in this blog, but if you don't know the story of Rosie the Riveter, here's a brief synopsis. Ten million Americans, mostly men, would serve in the military during WWII. At the same time, the country would drastically increase its war production on the Home Front- what President Franklin Roosevelt called "The Arsenal of Democracy." The combination of so many serving in the military, during a period of necessary and drastic increases in production, led to unprecedented social changes on the American Home Front.
A shortage of white male workers led to active recruitment, by the United States Government, to war industry jobs, "cracking open" the door to equal rights that would have profound impacts on the Civil Rights Movement and Women's Movement during the following decades. During WWII six million women entered the workforce. Most of these were stay-at-home moms and married women, a group which hadn't worked outside the home before."Rosie the Riveter" and her "We Can Do It" motto came to symbolize all women Home Front workers. There weren't just Rosies, there was "Wendy the Welder" and "Sally the Secretary".

War work swelled Richmond’s population from 23,000 to 100,000 in three years. American Radiator and Standard converted from making "bathtubs to bombs." Fifty-five other businesses produced everything from aviation fuel to vitamins for defense. Jobs outnumbered beds despite 25,000 units of federally-sponsored defense housing, so newcomers slept in chicken coops, cars and took shifts in rented “hot beds” still warm from the previous occupant. The image above is a shift change at the shipyards. This was crazy stuff.
The museum did a fantastic job of documenting just what an influx of people did to the little town of Richmond, circa 1940. The WWII period resulted in the largest number of people migrating within the United States, in the history of the country. Individuals and families relocated to industrial centers (like Richmond) for good paying war jobs, and out of a sense of patriotic duty.

In addition to Home Front workers, everyone was expected to be an active participant in the war effort. Rationing was a way of life as twenty commodities were rationed and people were asked to, "Use it up –Wear it out –Make it do –or Do without."
Continuing our history lesson, we ventured off to see Henry J. Kaiser's Richmond Shipyard Number Three. We found this massive (and stylish) square concrete building intriguing. It was the general warehouse, from which ships received their finishing touches- blankets, mops, brooms and all the other individual pieces of furnishings and equipment needed to completely fit out a self-contained floating vessel.
This area is where the ships were assembled. Kaiser had been building cargo ships for the U.S. Maritime Commission in the 1930s, and when orders for ships from the British government, already at war with Nazi Germany, allowed for growth, Kaiser established his first Richmond shipyard in December 1940. Also berthed here is the SS Red Oak Victory the last remaining Victory ship built here.

We strolled along the waterfront to get a sense of what this place was once like and also to visit the Rosie the Riveter Memorial, This long over due commemoration began as a public art project for the City of Richmond in the 1990s. It highlights women's labor during WWII and it is the first in the nation to honor and describe this important chapter of our country's history. Filled with panels, quotes and timelines, it aptly illustrates the complex opportunities, challenges and hardships faced by women during the war years, including gender discrimination, hazardous working conditions, food rationing, and shortages of housing and childcare. Wow! What's really incredible is that during the creation of the memorial, the National Park Service was invited to participate, and this partnership led to the founding of this fantastic National Historic Park.

"You came out to California, put on your pants,
and took your lunch pail to a man's job.
This was the beginning of women feeling
that they could be something more."
-Sybil Lewis

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1 comments:

Peppermint Snowdrift said...

I just went there....dressed as Rosie the Riveter, and the experience couldn't have been more enjoyable!

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