A pioneer among independent women in the blue-collar workforce in America, one-time WWII-era welder Phyllis Gould, who went on to fight for national recognition for herself an other "Rosies," died last week at her home in Fairfax. She was 99.
While there were some 6 million American women who answered the call to take wartime defense factory jobs, a group of original "Rosies" in the Bay Area, including the highly activist Ms. Gould, have lobbied hard in recent decades for historical recognition of their work beyond the iconic Rosie the Riveter poster. As the Associated Press reports, Gould was instrumental in helping establish the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, opened in 2000. She and a group of other living "Rosies" met with former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden in 2014, and she helped lobby Congress to establish National Rosie the Riveter Day, to be recognized every March 21 — which the Senate voted to recognize on March 21, 2017.
Phyllis Gould died on July 20 at age 99 of complications from a stroke, and by then she’d become a national symbol— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) July 27, 2021
When time finally ran out for her last week, she was helping design the Congressional Gold Medal to be issued in 2022 to honor the Rosies. https://t.co/ZEY0KvEkXA
"She really put the Rosies on the map. It was her letters — so many of them she wrote, to everyone — that did it," Gould's sister, Marian Sousa, told the Chronicle.
Gould also helped successfully pushed for a Congressional Gold Medal to be issued next year to honor the Rosies — and she was reportedly still helping to design it when she died of a stroke on July 20.
Gould was known for he free-spirited and tenacious nature, and after working as a welder — one of the first six women to be hired at the Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond as the war effort began — she later worked as an interior decorator, and was married twice and raise three children.
"Phyllis is, in modern-day life, as iconic as the Westinghouse poster with the woman in the polka-dotted bandana,” says Rep. Jackie Speier, who helped lead the effort to authorize the Congressional Gold Medal, which was voted on last December, speaking to the Chronicle. "She flexed her muscles on the telephone every day telling Congress to move forward on recognition of the Rosies."
Speier added, "Even after we got the recognition of Rosie the Riveter day, she wanted it to be a national holiday. It was never enough."
The most likely inspiration for that actual Westinghouse poster, historians believe, was Naomi Parker Fraley, who was photographed in 1942 working in the machine shop at the Naval Air Station in Alameda, and wearing the iconic polka-dotted headscarf. Fraley passed away in January 2018.
Another of the well known Rosies, Catherine "Kay" Morrison, who worked with Gould at the Kaiser Shipyard, passed away earlier this year at the age of 97.
In June 2019, a group of Rosies traveled to Normandy, France to be part of the 75th anniversary celebration of the D-Day invasion.
Of Gould, her granddaughter Shannon Akerstrom tells the Chronicle, "She has been an ‘I can do it’ person all her life, and she passed that on to all of us." She added, "I do welding on my ranch — like grandma did — and so does my daughter. Grandma always thought that was very cool."
Top image: Portrait of an unidentified female riveter at work on bomber at Consolidated Aircraft Corporation, Fort Worth, Texas, October 1942. (Photo by Howard R. Hollem/Getty Images)