They did it!

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They did it!
All photos courtesy of Rosie the Riveter Trust.

By Kathy Chouteau 

A long-fought journey that started in Richmond culminated in 27 Rosie the Riveters being honored with Congressional Gold Medals April 10, with three of the ladies hailing from Contra Costa County.

Jeanne Gibson, age 98, Marian Sousa, 98 and Ernestine Wean, 96, flew to Washington D.C. last week to receive the Congressional Gold Medal at the U.S. Capitol for their contributions to the wartime effort as Rosie the Riveters, fulfilling jobs traditionally performed by men during WWII.

The trio was joined by 24 other women ranging from 96-106 years old from across the county to receive the honors after Rosie the Riveter Trust, the philanthropic partner of the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, raised $250,000 to support their travel costs. 

They carry the ‘We can do it’ spirit.

U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson presented Mae Crier of Pennsylvania with a Congressional Gold Medal in Emancipation Hall on behalf of all Rosie the Riveters. While the Rosies received other medals representing their honors, the gold medal from the ceremony was signed over to the Smithsonian Museum. From there, it may travel to visit the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond sometime soon, according to Sarah Pritchard, executive Director of Rosie the Riveter Trust, who attended the ceremony.

Coordinated by Tammy Brumley, who Pritchard said is the ‘Rosie wrangler’ of the trust, the honorees donned red and white polka dots and name badges with a picture of them on the Home Front. She said they created quite a stir everywhere they went in D.C. and “people really appreciated them and let the Rosies know how important they were.”

Ernestine Wean and Jeanne Gibson.

A number of Rosies let Pritchard know it was the best day of their life, with the Richmond leader also noting that it was a highlight of her career. She emphasized that the Rosies are truly remarkable women for traveling across the country at that age and, even today, “They carry the ‘We can do it’ spirit,” she said, emphasizing that it “resonates and inspires.”

The ‘We can do it’ spirit was present in making the medal ceremony and more come to fruition, said Pritchard. In a West Coast-East Coast hard press, the late Phyllis Gould of El Sobrante (Marian Sousa’s sister) joined with Mae Crier of Pennsylvania to actively advocate their local and state representatives to honor Rosie the Riveters with a national day and Congressional Gold Medal. 

The Rosies were successful in both efforts, with National Rosie the Riveter Day now being celebrated on March 21. And while Gould would pass away before the recent Congressional Gold Medal ceremony, her Rosie friend Mae, sister Marian, and other family members were there to bear witness that day. 

When considering what the Congressional Gold Medal means for the Rosie the Riveter Visitor Center and park, Pritchard said that her hope is that it helps put the Richmond national park on the map as it’s poised to celebrate its 25th anniversary next year. 

“It’s a gem of a place and there’s a lot of people who don’t know it exists,” she said, adding that it’s an urban park that tells the story of the WWII Home Front. She said when people do visit, they are so turned on by the quality of exhibits and history.

The executive director expects the Rosies’ recent recognition to bring glad tidings to Richmond too. She noted that Richmond is a working town and, as the city’s motto states, a city of pride and purpose that not only focuses on what Richmond is truly about today, but also what it was yesteryear. “They may be proud that a national park exists here.”

The legacy of the Rosie the Riveters working on the Richmond Home Front lives on today in many ways, including through the national park’s flagship program, Rosie’s Service Corps. The program shares career pathways with Richmond youth. 

“Rosies do inspire the next generation,” said Pritchard.

Marian Souza and her daughter.