A woman operates a hand drill on a "Vengeance" dive bomber at Vultee Aircraft in Nashville, Tennessee in this February 1943 Library of Congress handout photo obtained by Reuters January 28, 2016. REUTERS/Alfred T. Palmer/Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Collection/Library of Congress/Handout via Reuters(reuters_tickers)
By Lisa Fernandez
OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) - They welded pipes. They drew blueprints. And, of course, they fastened munitions and machine parts together with rivets.
Now, seven decades after World War Two ended, a surviving handful of the women who marched into factories and shipyards, redefining workplace gender roles to help keep America's military assembly lines running, will be honoured on Tuesday as part of a National Rosie the Riveter Day celebration.
"Well it's about time," said Marian Sousa, 91, of El Sobrante, California, who worked as a "draftsman" creating blueprints for warships at the Kaiser Shipyard during the 1940s. "It shows that women are not only capable now, but they were capable then. Yes, the recognition will be nice."
Sousa and a half a dozen other Rosies, all now in their 80s and 90s, will be feted for the first time with speeches and a U.S. Senate resolution at the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park, which opened in 2000 just north of San Francisco in Richmond, California.
Sousa's sister, Phyllis Gould, 95, and fellow Rosie worker Anna “Mae” Krier, 91, of Levittown, Pennsylvania, were the two women who pushed for a national day of recognition for the last few years.
“This is big,” Gould said in an interview on Monday. “Really big.”
Gould was among the first six women to work as Navy-certified journeyman welders at the Kaiser-Richmond shipyards in the 1940s. It irks her that her slice of history is often overlooked.
"The work that the women did during the war is totally forgotten," Gould said, "and it shouldn't be."
Krier flew to Washington for a separate but related event to be attended by Senator Bob Casey, of Pennsylvania, a chief sponsor of the Rosie resolution, and other members of Congress.
Facing a labour shortage as many able-bodied males joined the Armed Forces between 1940 and 1945, America's industrial arsenal turned to women to help fill jobs previously reserved strictly for men to produce ships, planes, munitions and other war supplies.
The share of U.S. jobs occupied by women grew from 27 percent to 37 percent during the war years, with nearly one in four married women working outside the home by 1945, according to the National Park Service.
The Senate resolution pays tribute to 16 million women it says worked or volunteered for the U.S. war effort, including many who toiled for the American Red Cross, hospitals, rationing boards and other non-factory settings.
The phenomenon was captured in the iconic "We Can Do It!" posters from the era, picturing a determined-looking woman in blue factory togs, her hair swept back in a red scarf, rolling up a sleeve to show off her biceps.
“The ‘Rosies’ helped our nation win World War II, and inspired generations who continue to follow in their footsteps," U.S. Representative Jared Huffman, of California, said in a statement.
Marian Wynn, 91, a former welder now living in Fairfield, California, agreed the honour was long overdue.
"We wouldn't have won the war without the women,” she said. “I think we deserve it."
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Leslie Adler)