Museum Monday: Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park

An exhibit inside Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park visitor center
(Photo by California News Press)

On the edge of the San Francisco Bay in Richmond, California, is Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park. The park preserves and explores the history of the “Rosies,” some 6 million women who entered the nation’s industrial workforce during World War II. Thousands of these women worked at Richmond’s Kaiser Shipyards, where welding, rather than riveting, became a coveted skill. (“Wendy the Welder” never quite reached Rosie’s level of fame). 

Alongside those trailblazing women were members of minority communities who had been previously excluded from the workforce. The national historical park tells their intertwined stories as well. Visitors learn all about the transformation of Richmond into a diversely populated boom town, and the social changes wrought nationwide by the Rosies and their Home Front compatriots. 

A poster of Rosie the Riveter at the national historical park in Richmond, California
(Photo by California News Press)

The national historical park visitor center is a fantastic East Bay attraction for anyone interested in World War II history or local history. It’s a great way to learn about the Rosies, Richmond and the roles they played in many of the most important events and social movements of the 20th century.

About Rosie the Riveter and the WWII Home Front

Rosie the Riveter is a symbolic character based upon the countless women who entered the workforce during World War II. The national historical park builds upon Rosie’s symbolism to tell the very real stories of the Home Front worker in Richmond and nationwide. 

With 10 million Americans serving in the military, most of them working-age men, serious labor shortages arose in the defense industries. This was amplified by the need for massive increases in production to support US and allied war efforts. Factories were retooled or built from scratch to produce military equipment, and they needed workers in the thousands. 

The US government turned to actively recruiting those traditionally excluded from factory and shipyard jobs. With appeals to patriotism, recruitment campaigns first targeted middle-class white women, followed by minority men, and finally minority women. 

museum posters and art at Rosie the Riveter WWII national historical park in Richmond, California
(Photo by California News Press)

Women and minorities embraced the opportunities for pay, autonomy, an expanded skill set and union membership. Wearing overalls, welding warships and slogging through shift work were a far cry from being a housewife or choosing another traditional role. People of color and workers with disabilities proved they could excel in roles that previously excluded them. 

Resistance to the integration of women and minorities in the workforce was widespread. However, the social changes were acknowledged as essential to an allied victory. In-depth museum exhibits at the visitor center show how the roles of Rosies and their colleagues sparked further progression in the women’s rights and civil rights movements in the post-war era. Of particular interest are materials relating to the “Double V” campaign, which tasked African Americans with fighting for victory over fascism abroad and racism at home. 

How the Rosies Transformed Richmond

Perhaps more than any city in the United States, Richmond was transformed by the demands of the Home Front. The nation experienced huge population relocations to industrial cities, and Richmond with its shipyards and auto factories became the epitome of a Home Front boom town. From 1940 to 1945, the city grew from a population of 23,000 to over 100,000. The shipyards placed ads for workers all over the country, recruiting thousands and even loaning train fares to California. 

A museum exhibit at Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front visitor center in Richmond, CA
(Photo by California News Press)

The museum showcases the remarkable successes of Richmond’s industries and newly expanded workforce. During the war years, Richmond’s four Kaiser Shipyards produced 747 ships, a feat that has never been equaled. Novel mass assembly line techniques and newly trained welders turned out Liberty and Victory ships within just over two weeks. Kaiser workers even won a competition by assembling the SS Robert E. Peary in under five days. Further, the Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant produced tanks and nearly 50,000 Jeeps for the military during the war. The plant is adjacent to the national historical park visitor center. 

Richmond’s boom town era required countless new businesses and service providers. The city faced housing shortages, and the needs for child care and health care for thousands of new workers posed a challenge. Child care centers and field hospitals built to serve Home Front workers became the foundation of institutions that still exist today, notably Kaiser Permanente. 

Brick building housing the visitor center for Rosie the Riveter national historical park in Richmond, California
(Photo by California News Press)

Visit Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park

Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park was established in 2000, three years after Richmond opened its Rosie the Riveter Memorial in Marina Bay Park. More than 200 former Rosies attended the opening ceremony. 

The general public is welcome to explore the visitor center’s museum exhibits for free. The visitor center is in the old Oil House brick building next door to the restored Ford Assembly Building. Check out the current events calendar for ranger, docent and guest speaker programs. These include Rosie Fridays, when former Rosies occasionally give talks as volunteer docents; their first-hand accounts are an invaluable piece of living history. As the volunteer Rosies are in their late 90s or older, the park service reminds visitors that appearances are not guaranteed. 

After an hour or so at the visitor center, you might want to explore other historic sites related to the Home Front in Richmond. The park service has a thorough list of places to go, including Lucretia Edwards Shoreline Park and the SS Red Oak Victory, a museum ship docked nearby. 

Visitor center entrance at Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, CA
(Photo by California News Press)


Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park

Visitor Center: 1414 Harbour Way South, Oil House, Richmond, CA 94804

(510) 232-5050 Ext. 0

History buffs might also like Museum Monday: Point Mugu Missile Park, Ventura County

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