Marin’s ‘Rosie the Riveter’ may get national recognition for ‘Rosies’
Ninety-five-year-old Phyllis Gould of Fairfax made history during World War II as one of the women who collectively became known as Rosie the Riveter. Now she’s determined to make history again, spearheading a campaign for a national Rosie the Riveter Day as part of Women’s History Month.
From 1942 until the end of the war in 1945, Gould worked as a welder at the Kaiser-Richmond Shipyards, helping build Liberty and Victory ships to replace the ones torpedoed by Nazi submarines. One of the first six women to become journeymen union welders, she put down her welding torch after the war and raised five children. She’s now a grandmother and great grandmother.
For much of the past decade, she and a fellow “Rosie” from Pennsylvania, Mae Krier, a former riveter on the Boeing B-17 warplane assembly line, have been lobbying U.S. government officials to recognize the contributions of the millions of women who supported the war effort on the home front, holding down jobs previously held by men as riveters, loggers, welders and electricians.
“Oh, god, it’s taken so long and it hasn’t happened yet,” she said last week. “It’s maddening.”
Recognition for the Rosies inched closer to becoming a reality, though, when Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, kicked off March, Women’s History Month, with a congressional resolution designating March 21 as a national Rosie the Riveter Day.
“Phyllis Gould has been such a dynamo in driving this resolution forward,” Huffman said. “I wanted to be part of recognizing these incredible Americans while we still can.”
Huffman’s resolution and an identical one in the Senate have the bipartisan support of some 60 members of Congress, but it will not be official until it gets through the Senate Judiciary Committee and is then approved by a vote of the full Senate. Even if that happens, which is no sure thing in today’s bitterly divided Washington, the Rosie day will be for this year only.
“I’m not counting on anything,” Gould said. “This has gone to Congress twice before. It’s been sent to the President (Obama) and nothing happened.”
In 2014, Gould and four other Rosies visited Washington, D.C., meeting with President Obama and Vice President Biden in the Oval Office. They got a hug from both men, posed for photos with them and had lunch in a White House dining room. But they didn’t get the recognition — any kind of formal recognition — they were hoping for.
When Gould got home, she was in the shower (“that’s when I have my wildest thoughts”) when she came up with the idea for a national Rosie the Riveter Day, and began firing off letters to that effect to everyone in the capital she could think of.
“I wrote a really hot one to (House Speaker) Paul Ryan,” she said. “I said if he was as powerful as I was told, he’d get on the phone and tell the people on the judicial committee to deal with it.”
After the presidential election, Gould taped a sign on the front window of her apartment saying, “Don’t blame me, I voted Democrat,” and hung a black tassel of mourning on her front door. But her drive for a Rosie Day for her and the Rosies across the country is greater than her distaste for the president, so she’s been trying to get through to him, writing letters and phoning the White House, knowing he has the power to issue an executive proclamation marking March 21 (or any day, for that matter) as a Rosie the Riveter Day.
“I’ve written five different letters, the most recent one last week, but I’ve never gotten a reply,” she said. “I got someone from his staff on the phone and asked her how long it took for letters to go through the mail room. She said she didn’t know, but the mail room wasn’t staffed.”
A remarkably spry nonagenarian (she still drives a pickup with a stick shift), Gould is cautiously pinning her hopes on the Huffman resolution, the best chance she has to make history one more time.
“It’s intense how much time and money we’ve put into this,” she said, speaking of herself and cohort Krier. “We represent all these millions of women, and we deserve to be recognized.”