Rosie the Riveter

Rosie flexes her muscle in Michigan in riveting rivalry with California

by Judith Stanford Miller, M.Ed., M.A.

Forty-three original Rosies were part of 3,755 Rosies who gathered Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti to set a new Guinness World Record for the Largest Gathering of People Dressed as Rosie the Riveter. A friendly rivalry with California for the record is keeping sales of Rosie apparel sizzling.

From left in front row, Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich.; Brenda Stumbo, Charter Township of Ypsilanti Supervisor; and Brenda McKinney, Superior Township Treasurer, are three of the 3,755 Rosies counted for the Guinness World Record at Eastern Michigan University on Oct. 14, 2017. (Photo: Student News Net at the event on Oct. 14, 2017)

On Oct. 14, 2017, Student News Net had the honor of interviewing three original Rosies. The video begins with Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) addressing thousands of Rosies. Her reference to Richmond is Richmond, California where ships were built during WWII and where the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park is now located.

Every generation rises to meet unique circumstances and challenges. In the early 1940s during World War II, millions of young men left home to fight in faraway lands in Europe, Asia, and Africa. And thousands of young women on the home front found themselves holding rivet guns at shipyards and airplane factories instead of sewing needles at home.

Original Rosies paved the way for generations of women

Among the thousands of Rosies at the event were a few members of The Riveters, a FIRST Robotics team with 47 girls from Mercy High School in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Guided by David Gaines, the team’s mechanical mentor, the girls compete in district and national FIRST competitions, not unusual for girls in 2017.

The bridge from rivets to robots was built almost 75 years ago, courtesy of original Rosies. “We’re creating women who make a difference,” Isabel’s mother said to Student News Net. Isabel, a senior, is the Strategy and Drive Lead for The Riveters.

Joining the Rosies and demonstrating their robot are from left, Sydney, Carolina, Madelyn, Clarisa, Isabel, Aubrey, and Sarah of The Riveters, a FIRST Robotics team with 47 girls from Mercy High School in Farmington Hills, Mich. There are also 5 boys on the team! (Photo: Student News Net on Oct. 14, 2017 at Eastern Michigan University)

Guinness World Record – back and forth between Michigan and California
Since 2014, a highly spirited Word of the Day rivalry has been unfolding between Michigan’s Willow Run Bomber Plant, owned by the Yankee Air Museum in Ypsilanti, and the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, Calif., one of more than 400 national park sites operated by the National Park Service (NPS).

Michigan
In 2014, Michigan set the record when 776 Rosies gathered on March 29 at one end of the original Bomber Plant, built by Ford Motor Company in 1941. At its peak, the factory was producing one B-24 Liberator bomber every 59 minutes with a workforce of more than 40,000 people, including thousands of women – original Rosies. Through the efforts of the Yankee Air Museum, one end of the Bomber Plant was saved from demolition in 2014 and will be the museum’s new home after an extensive renovation in process now.

From left, Marjorie, Irene, Judy, Loraine, and Delphine are five of the 776 Rosies counted for the Guinness World Record on March 29, 2014 at the Willow Run Bomber Plant in Ypsilanti, Mich. where some of the women worked as riveters during the war. At its peak, the factory was producing one B-24 bomber every hour. (Photo: Student News Net at the event)

California
On Aug. 15, 2015 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, California took the record back at a Rosie Rally attended by 1,084 Rosies, including Elinor Otto, 95, an original Rosie. She worked as a riveter until 2014 when she was laid off because the Boeing factory in Long Beach, Calif. where she worked closed! She has her rivet gun as a memento of her momentous career.

Elinor Otto, to the right of the new Rosie Memorial wearing a Rosie bandanna, holds a copy of a 1945 newspaper declaring the war was over. Elinor and other Rosies attended the Aug. 15, 2015 dedication of the new Rosie Memorial at the Rosie Rally in Richmond, California. (Photo: Daniel Frazer/Kathryn Williams/Student News Net)

Michigan
It didn’t take long for Michigan to respond. On Oct. 24, 2015, 2,097 Michigan Rosies reclaimed the record. The record only held for 10 months though.

California
On Aug. 13, 2016, through its annual Rosie Rally, California was again the record holder with 2,229 Rosies. It’s the current Guinness World Record as posted on their website.

2017 World Record attempt in Michigan
Rosie helpers wait to escort original Rosies on Oct. 14, 2017 at Eastern Michigan University to set a new Guinness World Record for the Largest Gathering of People Dressed as Rosie the Riveter. (Photo: Student News Net at the event)

Not to be deterred by a mere 2,229 Rosies, Saturday at the Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center, hundreds and hundreds of Rosies, from 18 states and Canada, enthusiastically filed into the arena throughout the morning until 3,755 Rosies were deemed authentically dressed as Rosie the Riveter.

To be counted, apparel requirements included the iconic bandanna, dark blue overalls or dark blue pants with a blue shirt, red soccer socks, and dark work shoes. The lunch pail made famous by Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post magazine cover of May 29, 1943 was optional.

The arena was a sea of red, white, and blue – and polka dots – from high in the rafters to the front rows where the 43 original Rosies took their place of honor for the official count. Remarkably, the age range of Rosies spanned more than a century, from 6 weeks to 110 years old.

Rosies, all 3,755 of them, are counted on Oct. 14, 2017 at the Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center for the Guinness World Record. (Photo: Student News Net at the event)

Officials from the Guinness World Records were there to verify that 3,755 Rosies were in place for 5 minutes. During the five-minute period, the event’s emcee led the crowd in the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance and other patriotic songs.

Rep. Dingell rallied the Rosies with a group chant: “Willow Run loves Richmond but Willow Run wins!”

The event ended with Alison Beatty, Yankee Air Museum public relations committee member, first leading all of the Rosies in a rousing rendition of a Rosie song and then announcing the official count. Ending on time, Alison said when women get together, they are unstoppable.

It was an incredible day honoring Rosie, bringing generations of women together, and keeping history alive.

What fun it will be to watch the next chapter in this riveting rivalry!

Original Rosie interviews

Student News Net had the honor of interviewing three original Rosies at the event.

Mae Krier, 92, of Levittown, Penn., Phyllis Gould, 96, of Richmond, Calif., and Helen Kushnir, 91, born in Dearborn, Mich., all original Rosies, spoke of sharing a common bond because of their experiences.

Helen
Helen Kushnir talks with Student News Net before the official count fro the Guinness World Record begins. (Photo: Student News Net on Oct. 14, 2017 at Eastern Michigan University)

Helen noted that her mother was not pleased when she went to work at a factory because she wore pants. Ladies did not wear pants in public, her mother believed.

(Editor’s Note: Only from speaking with Helen would this interesting ramification of women leaving the home to work in factories be revealed. Young girls in the 1940s were breaking stereotypes by leaving home and working in factories. Even though their work was to support the war effort, many parents did not want their daughters working in factories. Helen worked long days at Chrysler’s DeSoto automobile factory in Detroit, Mich., which was converted from making autos to airplanes during WWII.)

Women workers assemble wings for a Curtis Helldiver bomber in 1943 at a DeSoto plant in Detroit, the factory where Helen worked. (Photo courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library)
Phyllis
Phyllis talks with Student News Net on Oct. 14, 2017 at the Rosie Rally. One of her buttons (left) is a photo of Phyllis meeting President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in Washington D.C. (Photo: Student News Net)

Phyllis was trained as a welder in the California shipyards during the war. She said at first she was not given the same difficult welding jobs as men so she devised a way to be included in those jobs. She was paid the same wage as her husband who was also a welder. But he could not reconcile that she was his equal in skill and pay so he left her. She became a single mother with a young son. Her family moved from Oregon to California to help her through this time. Eventually, she remarried.

(Editor’s Note: Out of necessity, societal norms were turned upside down during the war. That upheaval was handled family by family in millions of homes across the nation. After the war, many of the jobs women performed went back to men but a significant number of women remained in the workforce, changing forever the types of jobs open to all women. And norms changed so that women felt comfortable wearing pants in public!)

This 1943 photo depicts Ada, a welder for Permanente Metals Corp. in the Kaiser shipyard in Richmond where Phyllis also worked as a welder. (Photo: Ann Rosener, Office of War Information, February 1943)
African American skilled workers played an important part in the construction of the SS George Washington Carver in the Richmond Shipyard No. 1 of the Kaiser Company. About 1,000 African American women worked at the shipyard. In this photo, Miss Anna Bland, a burner, is shown at work on the SS George Washington Carver. (Photo: Library of Congress)
Mae
Mae talks with Student News Net on Oct. 14, 2017. She moved to Seattle to work in a Boeing factory and while there, met Gen. Hap Arnold when he came to the factory to see airplanes being made. She said he was very nice. (Photo: Student News Net)

Mae worked as a riveter in Seattle at a Boeing airplane plant. She said Gen. Hap Arnold of the Army Air Corps would visit the plant and express admiration for the work the women were doing. Mae recalled everyone pulling together regardless of their background. Brenda McKinney, current Superior Township Treasurer who accompanied Mae to Saturday’s event, said Mae, and the millions of Rosies she represents, had an incredibly positive impact on African American women, helping to redefine their roles in society as well.

National Rosie the Riveter Day
Mae and Phyllis have been advocating for a long time for an annual National Rosie the Riveter Day. They are making progress. On March 15, 2017, a resolution passed Congress declaring March 21, 2017 as National Rosie the Riveter Day but now Mae and Phyllis want it to be a permanent resolution. They encourage everyone to write their representatives in Congress to advocate for it. The effort in Congress is being spearheaded by Sen. Robert Casey, Jr. (D-Penn.) and strongly supported by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who spoke at Saturday’s event. Mae is also active in the Twilight Wish Foundation, a foundation that grants wishes to senior citizens.

For more information, visit the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park (Natonal Park Service) in Richmond, California.

For more information, visit the Yankee Air Museum in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Copyright ©2019. Judith Stanford Miller/Student News Net. No portion of this article can be copied, disseminated, or distributed without the author’s permission.

History of Rosie the Riveter by the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress has an excellent history of Rosie the Riveter from the original song, a poster, magazine covers, a movie during World War II and finally, the renewed interest in Rosie in the 1980s.