–by Diane LeBow, photos by John Montgomery
Visit Rosie the Riveter and Wendy the Welder in Richmond, California
When Pearl Harbor Naval Base was attacked on December 7, 1941, and America became the “home front,” suddenly the American workforce started changing to include more women and minorities. American men were called up and shipped out to fight on the various fronts, leaving the home workforce depleted.
Richmond, California, situated on San Francisco Bay, just north of San Francisco and Berkeley, became one of the nation’s wartime boomtowns. Over six million women joined the workforce to assist in the war effort, in spite of traditional attitudes that women should not work outside the home, that they might be taking jobs from men, and that they were unsuited to “men’s jobs” required to build the large numbers of warships needed immediately.
The 1940 Emergency Shipbuilding Program spawned the Henry Kaiser shipyards in Richmond which were among the first to employ women. By 1944, women made up 41 percent of welders.
This incredible story is beautifully told at the Rosie the Riveter Visitor Center which is open every day from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. While there, you will meet some real “Rosie’s,” like Kay Morrison, now 90, and Priscilla Elder, 94 years young, who worked in the shipyards from 1943-45. Priscilla said, “WWII opened the doors for us women.” Four Rosies are here to meet and chat with you every Friday morning. They explain what life was like during the war and how the shipyards changed a lot for women and peoples of color in American life.
Enjoy the museum displays and take in one of the informative and lively films about this era.
Just next door to the Visitor Center, is the enormous Craneway Pavilion, constructed in 1942 by Henry Ford for auto manufacturing and during the war jeeps and tanks. Today the space is used for exhibitions, like alternative auto shows, and is home of the architecturally impressive as well as Assemble Restaurant with its healthy and delicious cuisine.
Another Richmond must see is the WWII cargo ship, the Red Oak Victory, which is owned and operated by the Richmond Museum of History. Visitors can tour the decks, quarters, and rooms and get a feel of what life was like for the crew and officers during those challenging days of war.
Other highlights in Richmond include the very successful East Bay Center for the Performing Arts and the hiking and bike trails of Point Molate.
Richmond has much to offer the visitor as its slogan states: “Uncover. Discover.”