The Rosie tour group, including Gould's little sister Marian Sousa, 88, have been invited to meet Vice President Joe Biden in his office on Monday.
Phyllis' dogged letter-writing campaign, conducted over the years of the Obama presidency, finally hit paydirt last month when Biden phoned her to extend a personal invitation to the nation's capital city.
"They (Biden's office) called me the day before to tell me when he would call. I picked up the phone and he said 'Phyllis, this is Joe Biden, Vice President Biden."
Biden continued: "I know you were hired in the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond, Calif., as one of the first six women welders. That's pretty impressive kid!"
Paving the way for today's women
Thrilled by the Biden invitation, Gould is quick to explain the motivation of her quest. "This isn't about personal glory. "I wanted this visit to bring attention to the fact that our generation had to struggle to earn the right to work in a man's world," she said. "Young women need to know this history and realize we paved the way for them. I think that knowledge has been lost."
Gould, a farm girl from Eugene, Oregon, was one of the first women welders admitted to the Boilermakers Union in Richmond, Calif., and to be hired in the Kaiser shipyards in July 1942.
She first earned the status of journeyman (proficient) welder by passing a prescribed test in her first year in the shipyard. Later, she was one of only a few workers – male or female – who achieved U.S. Navy certification as a welder during World War II.
A long life of adventures
In the 70 years since her defense industry stint, Phyllis Gould married a burner-turned-hairdresser, raised five children, worked as a government inspector in an ammunition factory and achieved success as an interior decorator.
She built her own cabin in rural Bolinas near the Sonoma Coast, where her daughters attended high school. Over the years, she has collected discarded bits of fabric and other materials to create clothing and countless pieces of folk art and paintings.
For a time in the 1970s, she immersed herself in Native American history and culture and wore her hair in two long braids with feather ties at the ends. She traveled to a Nebraska reservation where she participated in a private, tribe-members-only sun dance, and the next year went on a class field trip to visit Native American sites in Arizona.
In the late 1970s, she became friends with the rock group The Tubes through a mutual friend in San Francisco and has been to many of their shows and been invited back stage to hang out with the band. She also attended a Tubes recording session in Los Angeles.
She traveled on her own in her pickup truck/camper to all 50 states, including Alaska, where she worked for seven summers in the 1980s as a cook for the staff of Denali National Park.
Phyllis was one of the few West Coast shipyard workers whose story was told through an audio clip and photos at the D-Day Museum in New Orleans.
She's been interviewed about her life as a Rosie many times over the past 10 years as the Rosie the Riveter national park and UC Berkeley staff have developed materials that document life in the shipyards.
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