Rose the Riveter: Her Relevance Today

Until I visited the Richmond, CA museum dedicated to the home front effort during World War II, I had no idea of all Rosie represented. Four surviving Rosies spoke about their time building ships—744 in less than 4 years. They were part of a gargantuan effort, with the population of the small town swelling from 23,000 to 100,000, people working in three shifts, and more constantly arriving to earn the then-enormous wage of $61/week.

The four elderly women glowed when describing their White House visit with Joe Biden and Barack Obama. Although they’d received an invitation after long persuasion, they needed funds to travel. One airline not only came through with 6 tickets, but also provided a red carpet, 40’s dance band and dancers at the gate. The pilots were all women and the flight attendants all men. As Biden pointed out to the female news anchor televising the visit, “you might not have your job today if it weren’t for these ladies!” Indeed, many of the social constructs we take for granted today had their seeds in the home front movement: equal opportunities for working women, child care, health care, equality for African-Americans.

The spirit of the times was irrepressible: energetic, convinced of rightness, practical, eager to get on with the job no matter how formidable it seemed. (The Pacific fleet, after all, had largely been wiped out at Pearl Harbor.) Today we are more likely to question war, but then the imperative seemed clear.

“Why couldn’t we put the same effort into saving the planet?” I wondered. Everyone then did something, no matter how small it might have seemed. From growing Victory Gardens to soldering, those at home cheerfully supported the armed forces abroad. And many trace the Allied victories, which initially seemed unlikely, to such efforts. A common cause might engage disparate citizens today. What about protecting our earth home for our grandchildren’s heritage?

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