#EngineerGirlShow highlights amazing women in engineering to inspire the next generation. This series was produced by George Retelas with his digital art students at SAE Institute.
Watch interviews with Agnes Moore and Marian Souza, volunteers at the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historic Park in Richmond, California.
Agnes Moore (AM): I was born in 1920, February the 24th, Searcy County, Arkansas.
What is Rosie the Riveter?
AM: Oh, well, that's the name they gave us. They actually wrote a song about Rosie the Riveter which was the women that worked on the airplanes and riveted planes together. I worked in the shipyards and I welded the ship parts together. I'd heard on my car radio, the music stopped and this announcer in a loud voice came out with this “do something for your country go to the Richmond shipyards and be a welder!” Well I was in San Francisco visiting my sister. I thought, “Oh, this is great, this is just what I've been wanting. Something I could do to help the war effort.” And so I went to Richmond and was hired to be a welder. And we went to school for two weeks and then they sent us out in the yard to weld.
I understand that you were a Rosie the Riveter in World War II?
Marian Sousa (MS): I was hired right out of the classroom to work in the engineering department as a draftsman. After graduation, I actually had an art class teacher that recommended me for a special class at UC Berkeley. It was a six-weeks course in engineering drawing and I learned to read and to draw blueprints. And I worked on the blueprints for the ships that were built in Richmond.
So what did you enjoy about that?
MS: First of all, it was my first job, my first paying job, and that was pretty exciting. But I was also with a lot of people that had the same purpose. We were doing this to get the war over with to bring the boys home. And so it was a united effort. Everybody was working for the same goal.
Why are the Rosies important to remember?
MS: This, we kind of upset the status of women. Women were kind of the second place citizens. Men had handled the money, called the shots, were really the head of the household. And we showed that we could take up men's jobs, and not only my job, which wasn't hard physical work. My sister did hard physical work. But women took jobs on the railroad and they didn't, you know, they did multiple things that you would never have thought that women could do. But we showed that we're capable. It's not just a man's world anymore.
How many women worked in the shipyards?
AM: Oh, there were hundreds and hundreds in the one shipyard where I was. All together, women made up over a third of all the work force during World War II because the men were off fighting the war.
What was your pay like compared to a man?
AM: We received the same pay as the men did. That was one thing about Kaiser, he, Henry J. Kaiser, he said the women are doing the same work as the men, so they get paid the same. You had to have this bandana tied tight around your neck so the welding sparks would fly down your neck. And then we also had to have another one tied around our hair real tight, and then over that we wore this hood and it, it set on our head like this… And when you're welding put it down like this, and there's a little window and I can see you now because this is clear, but when I have it down I can't see you but I could see the fire from the weld. I worked graveyard, from 11 at night to 7 in the morning.
Do women make better welders?
AM: I think the men's weld is just as good as the women, but they're a little sloppier with it, so it's not quite as pretty as the women's weld. You can usually look at welding on a ship and you can tell which was the woman’s and which was the man’s. But, they all held the ship together just the same, you know.
What would you like to see happen next to recognize the Rosies?
MS: Oh, well, my sister Phyllis is already working on that. There is a paper in Washington, DC, right now that we are trying to have “Rosie the Riveter Day.” We don't want to just proclaim, we went on the calendar. So that has a lot of signatures and it is in Washington, DC, now. And her next project is she wants a statue of a Rosie in the National Mall.
Wow, that's really cool. Thank you so, so much this has been great and I am so ecstatic to meet one of the Rosie the Riveters. You are a major role model for young women, so what advice would you give to them?
MS: Well, don't let anything get in your way of your goal. You've got the talent for it if you've got the drive, go for it.
Can you please tell us about the World War II veteran that called you up?
AM: Oh, yes! I had a call from this man, and he said, “I'm going to take this occasion to thank you and all the women that built all the ships and all the supplies during World War II. I want to thank you because you saved my life.” Because he said, “We were on one side of the island and over the mountain on the other side were the Japanese army. And when we were getting ready for a big battle” -- it was on Okinawa -- and he said they were running out of all supplies -- ammunition, food was getting low and everything. And they knew they were just going to get wiped out. And he said, “We got up one morning and looked out on the water” and he said there was every kind of ship that the United States could build. And he said, “You women are the ones that built those ships.” And if it wasn't for that he said, “We would have all been killed.” So that made me very humble.
Could you tell us about your recent trip to the White House?
AM: We were honored by a visit in the White House. President Obama, he felt very close to all of us because we were grandmothers and his grandmother had raised him. Vice President Biden gave us all hugs and kisses. Kind of overwhelming because I never thought that I was doing anything to be recognized for. I still think, if that time came again, any woman would be out there doing the job. As Americans, we would.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering to be an engineer?
AM: Go for it! You may have some hard knocks along the way but don't let it, don't let it deter you, because you can do anything you want to do!