Honoring American Women's Labor During WWII
The area where you are now standing was alive with activity during World War II, when it as known as Kaiser Shipyard #2. It was one of four shipyards carved from Richmond's coastline to serve the war effort. The Rosie the Riveter Memorial commemorates the crucial contributions American women made to the World War II home front. An estimated 18 million women worked in defense industries and support services including steel and lumber mills, foundries, factories, hospitals and daycare centers.
Here in Richmond, women were an important part of the Kaiser shipyard workforce — the most productive in the United States. They worked along-side men and around the clock to build the troop transport and cargo ships that helped to win the war. As the war ended, women lost may of the benefits that had been inspired by war-time necessity, yet their accomplishments successfully challenged limited ideas of what women could contribute to the nation's workforce. Post-war movements for social justice built on these advances made by women, people of color, and organized labor during that time.
Developed for this existing waterfront park, the Rosie the Riveter Memorial evokes both the act of constructing the ships built on this site, and the process of reconstructing memories of women who worked on the home front. The designer's intent was to trigger stories and recollections about the war years within a stroll the water's edge.
This walkway is the length of a ship's keel. It slopes toward the water and aligns with the Golden Gate Bridge. A timeline about the home front and quotes from women workers are inscribed on the path. Sculptural elements drawn from ship's blueprints suggest the unfinished form of a hull, the stack and a stern under construction. Two gardens — one of rockrose and one of dune grass — occupy the location of the ships fore and aft hatches. Porcelain enamel panels on the hull and stack display photographs and letters gathered during the course of the memorial project.
(Timeline, bow to stern)
U.S. commits supplies to European Allies in war against Hitler
Nationwide construction of defense plants and housing begins
Henry Kaiser opens shipyard in Richmond with contract to supply Liberty-type ships to Britain
Widespread opposition to hiring women and minority workers
Black leaders threaten to organize 50,000 workers in a march on Washington to demonstrate for jobs
Executive Order 8802 bans racial discrimination in defense work
Pearl Harbor attacked
U.S. enters World War II
80,000 women find work in defense plants
FDR builds his "Great arsenal of Democracy," asking all citizens to join the war effort by "Outproducing and overwhelming the enemy"
Workers recruited by press, radio, and film
Henry Kaiser adapts mass-assembly techniques to shipbuilding
Over 1.2 million Southern Black workers migrate north and west for industrial defense jobs.
Heavy industries adopt new skill classifications, channeling women and minorities into the lowest paid jobs
AFL-CIO adopt no-strike pledge during war
Kaiser begins a health-car program for shipyard workers
Bracero program imports workers from Mexico on short-term contracts to work in agriculture
Executive Order 9066 transfers 120,000 people of Japanese descent to internment camps; 70,000 are U.S. citizens
Hitler implements "Final Solution"
FDR freezes wages and prices while calling for increase in production
Industries employ 200,000 people with disabilities
Prisons take on defense work; some states relax child labor laws
Office of War Information launches campaign to promote defense jobs to housewives
"Rosie the Riveter" pop song released
Women compose 60% of Kaiser work force in Portland, Oregon; 24-hour day care provided at 70 cents per day
United Mine Workers strike when pay rates fall behind inflation
Wildcat strikes throughout country demand wages reflect increasing corporate profits
Race riots over jobs and housing breakout in Detroit, New York, and Los Angeles
Kaiser produces larger, faster Victory ships
Ammunition Explosion at Port Chicago, California kills 320 sailor and dockworkers — largest industrial accident of the home front
Number of Black workers in industry triples during war
Average weekly wages for factory worker — men, $55; women, $31
Unions slowly begin to add equal pay for equal work clause to job contracts
Allied invasion of Normandy uses over 700 ships and 4,000 landing craft
G.I. Bill of Rights passes in Congress
Victory in Europe
U.S. drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Victory agains Japan
World War II dead: 54.8 million world wide, including civilians
Defense industry demobilizes; massive layoffs, especially of women and minorities
Veterans given priority for post war jobs
Labor force at Richmond Kaiser Shipyard reduced from 90,00 to less than 10,000
Women returning to pre-war jobs experience significant decline in wages
(Personal memories, bow to stern)
I'm 83 years old now. I would appreciate if you would check and find out that I was truly there and did my part to the end, and add my name to the women who did their part also...
I learned to weld, and when they said I was okay, I went to the hiring hall and was run off. You had to belong to the union, and they said, "No women or blacks." I got pretty upset, and went back every day and up to a different window. I was one of the first six women to get hired at pre-fab.
A chaperone was hired to escort us to our workplace and herd us to the bathroom and lunch. They didn't know how the men would react. But soon there were just too many of us.
Let me tell you this. I was 23. I never had a job. My husband was a electrician. I told him, "I'm going to work, too." He said, "No you're not." That same afternoon I went to the hiring hall.
When I got my first paycheck it was $16.80 a week. I was so happy. I struck it on my wall in the bedroom, the in the kitchen. I didn't want to cash it. I thought I was so rich.
Remember those blue stamps? You could hardly find meat. Our friends had a lot of children, so we traded shoe ratios for meat rations.
It was in all the newspapers — they needed women workers in factories. We all got raises because my boss was afraid we'd quit and get defense jobs.
My mother-in-law had already started her family during the war, so she took a job in the Maritime Child Care Center —- where they had shifts of children coming in. After the war the day-care ladies brought in the union. They started Local 1.
My parents worked in the shipyard until the end of the war. Unable to find work, we returned to Arkansas to farm a few more years until going to Michigan to build cars.
Everyone was from a different state and a different place and everything. I'm sorry I can't remember anyone's last name...
(Located at the 'stern' platform)
You must tell your children, putting modesty aside, that without us, without women, there would have been no spring in 1945.