These factory workers, welders and riveters were an unstoppable force whose accomplishments led to a cultural icon that celebrated perseverance and courage. We know this icon as Rosie the Riveter and these workers as the women who kept the labor force alive in the 1940s.
Today, many of the workforce sites and their historical and cultural importance are preserved through the National Park Service as part of the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park. The spirit of the workers, however, and the significance of Rosie as a symbol for women’s economic power is celebrated through the Rosie’s Girls Program, led by Rosie the Riveter Trust.
Rosie’s Girls is a national program created by Vermont Works for Women and designed to help girls build self-esteem, leadership skills and physical confidence through an exploration of trades and non-traditional activities. Each summer in Richmond, approximately 30 girls learn skills such as welding and carpentry and take trips around the historic park and to neighboring public lands such as Yosemite National Park.
According to Rosie the Riveter Trust’s Executive Director Marsha Mather-Thrift, the six week program provides a unique opportunity to place girls in an empowered setting and help them explore careers they may have never before considered. She explained that at the start of the program each year, some girls are intimidated by power tools or don’t seem enthusiastic about the work involved but, by graduation, “they’re proud of their skills... They’ve bridged the learning gaps they came in with and they show changes in attitude and confidence.”
Rosie’s Girls have built bike racks for their community, installed teaching gardens, designed and built furniture and participated in park rehabilitation projects. They've also met with real-life “Rosie the Riveters” in their 80’s and 90’s, and learned from these role models the importance of self-confidence and how to break down barriers for women.
Rosie the Riveter Trust (the Trust) not only provides all spots in the program to lower-income girls of color, they provide the program at full scholarship. Most, if not all of the girls are from Title I schools and haven't had as many opportunities to engage in hands-on activities and participate in field trips to public lands.
The Trust works to secure program support from many community partners, including the City of Richmond, West Contra Costa Unified School District, the YMCA of the East Bay, and many more regional organizations. Each year, the Trust takes on the task of securing funding through grant-writing and direct donation solicitation to the public. They work with the National Park Service, the YMCA and other partners to secure full-time staffing for six weeks of day camp programming and a four-night overnight trip to Yosemite.
The Trust's strong sense of partnership and the important skills their Rosie’s Girl program teaches young girls are reasons why they are a recipient of this year’s Outstanding Public Engagement Award for Program or Service through the Public Lands Alliance’s Partnership Awards Program. In the words of the Partnership Awards Committee, “The program's focus on underserved girls targets an important population that needs to be cultivated to be the next generation of conservation and environmental stewards.” By giving these girls the opportunity to approach challenges, team build and learn the history and culture of where they live, Rosie the Riveter Trust is empowering them to become leaders and to live the Rosie anthem, “We Can Do It.”
Written by Amanda Keith for Public Lands Alliance. Read the article in its original form here.