Many women entered the work force for the first time in the 1940s, filling factory jobs vacated by men fighting in World War II. The ladies rolled up their sleeves for a full days' work, usually for less money than the men and with families waiting at home.
Their contributions ushered in a new era that paved the way toward equal rights for women.
With the help of the national Student Conservation Association, the National Park Service and Richmond's YouthWorks, four Richmond teens have set out to educate the public about the famous "Rosie the Riveter" women who sweated in World War II shipyard and manufacturing jobs previously held by men. Their efforts will culminate with a 15-minute documentary to be unveiled to the public Saturday.
The all-female crew — made up of Kennedy High students Sara Moran, 16, and Maria Esparza, 17, and Richmond High students Veronica Godinez, 18, and Crystal Johnson, 18 — has for seven months been filming at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond and other places.
The journey so far has changed the girls' perceptions about their community, women's role in society, their confidence in themselves and the tenacity of the human spirit, among other things.
"We're learning about the history of where we grew up and that some of the women's movement was started here," said Godinez, a senior. "The message is that 'you can do it. Don't let people bring you down.'"
The teens have been working in collaboration with National Park Service rangers, the Richmond Youth Media Project and the Richmond Museum of History and are getting paid $8.25 per hour to participate in the project. The girls — all from low-income families — had to undergo a competitive application process and interview before they were selected.
They've visited historic places such as the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond and interviewed several people as part of the project, including Betty Soskin, an original "Rosie." Soskin worked during the war at a hall for shipworkers on Barrett Avenue. Now she's a National Park Service ranger, telling stories about the shipfitters, welders, riveters, tackers and electricians who created hundreds of warships.
The girls marveled at Soskin's story of tenacity.
"I really loved talking to Betty, she's really inspiring to me," said Johnson, a senior.
"She's taught me that if I just keep my head up and keep on moving, I can have a job that was not previously available to me."
Some of the teens came in with a media/filming background, while others were drawn to the project for other reasons. The girls have put in evenings and weekends on the project, and all feel they are a part of something special. They are excited to show their families and friends the documentary.
"I think it's important to share the stories of struggle that families and women faced during the war," said Moran, a junior.
The teens also are being trained in the technical aspects of film production, historical research, and in conducting oral interviews, in effect empowering a new generation of "Rosies" equipped to begin their journey into the work force.
"This program is instilling pride and raising the community's awareness of the 'Rosies' legacy, the role of the historic Richmond shipyards, and the presence of the new national park in the teens' own backyards," said NPS Outreach Coordinator Carla Koop.
Soskin, who visited the girls' work site on a recent day, said she's excited to see the girls' enthusiasm for the project and is looking forward to seeing the film.
"I think it's a long time coming," Soskin said. "To have people from this generation going back is great. We know these lessons are valuable, and too often we pass things up too quickly."
Reach Kimberly S. Wetzel at 510-262-2798 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.