The Allies were able to win World War II partly because the United States transformed its industrial capacity to produce the massive amount of weapons, ammunition and equipment needed by the troops. With so many men in uniform, women stepped up to fill the labor shortage in war industries. Richmond was the center of west coast ship building. By the end of the war one-third of the 90,000 workers there were women.
Calisphere, the University of California's catalog of digitized historical resources, celebrates Women's History Month with a collection of photos from the Richmond Shipyards. A few of these were taken by famed photographer Dorothea Lange. The most amusing image is a dress code poster that advises female workers not to come to work in high heels, jewelry and nylon stockings.
The contributions of "Rosie the Riveter" (or "Wendy the Welder," as she was known in California) are memorialized at the WWII Home Front National Historic Park in Richmond. The park has a terrific online exhibit filled with articles, photos, artifacts and oral histories of women shipyard workers. In 2000 The Bee published a story about the planning of the Rosie the Riveter memorial which later opened in 2003. The article includes an interview with Ollie M. Hawkins, an African American woman who started working in the shipyards at age 18.
PHOTO CREDIT: Richmond Shipyard welding crew. Courtesy of the Clem Family and the Rosie the Riveter Project