RICHMOND -- Five members of the dwindling sisterhood known affectionately as the "Rosies" gathered Saturday at the national memorial to their wartime contributions to celebrate the beginning of Women's History Month.
Betty Reid Soskin, 92, the oldest and one of the most famous National Park Service rangers, joined four fellow nonagenarians plus the baby of the local Rosies, who is 87. The women came to California from across the U.S. seeking work in the shipyards and aircraft factories during World War II.
Although the federal government aggressively recruited women for defense industry jobs previously held almost exclusively by men, the men in charge of hiring weren't always eager to have them.
Catherine Morrison, 90, arrived in Richmond in 1942 looking for a job as a shipyard welder. She wasn't deterred by a sign saying women and African-American applicants weren't wanted. Morrison took the Navy's journeyman welding test and snagged a job at shipyard No. 2, where she worked from 1943 until 1945.
"When the war was over, they said, 'Thank you, you're through,'" said Morrison, who volunteers at the visitor education center at Rosie the Riveter/World War II Homefront Historical Park in Richmond.
"Working here (in the shipyards) was a privilege and an honor, and I loved it," she said.
Mary Torres was 18 when she left her parents a goodbye note while they were at church and boarded a bus for the five-day trip from Pennsylvania to California in search of a job. Torres took a welding course at the Oakland shipyard and became a certified welder six months later.
"I didn't know all my life I was a Rosie," said Torres, 90, who also volunteers at the visitor education center.
Elinor Otto made 65 cents per hour working on an aircraft assembly line in Chula Vista from 1942 until the war ended in 1945. At 94, Otto still clocks in every day at her full-time job at the Boeing factory in Long Beach, where she is the only woman on her crew and earns more than $40 per hour.
As a spokeswoman for "Spirit of '45 Day," the day Congress created in 2010 to honor the men and women of the World War II generation, Otto recently has become a bit of a media darling, but she shrugs off all the attention.
"Many Rosies went to war and I did too," the 94-year-old said. "I didn't win the war all by myself. I had a couple of people helping me."
National Women's History Month grew out of a weeklong celebration that began in Sonoma County in 1978. The concept of Women's History Week -- timed to coincide with International Women's Day on March 8 -- quickly spread to communities across the country. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a proclamation declaring the week of March 8 as National Women's History Week.
Buoyed by 14 states that had designated March as Women's History Month, supporters lobbied for national recognition. In 1987, Congress officially established March as the month to celebrate women's achievements.
A teary-eyed Glenda Sharp watched as Otto and Soskin placed a wreath near the water in honor of the Rosies who have died. Sharp, whose beloved grandmother worked at Marin Ship during the war, said Saturday's event seemed an ideal way to commemorate Women's History Month.
"We have to celebrate all those strong women that defied the world; that's so very important," said Sharp, who lives in San Rafael. "And we have to teach our daughters. It's making sure that our daughters have heroes. My grandmother was mine."
Contact Lisa P. White at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.