HomeLearning CenterA Gold Medal for America’s Rosies, the Women on the Home Front

A Gold Medal for America’s Rosies, the Women on the Home Front

Originally published by for the New York Times

Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Marian Sousa moved to California to care for the children of her sister Phyllis Gould, who had gone to work as a welder in a Bay Area shipyard.

Just a year later, Ms. Sousa, at 17 years old, joined the wartime work force herself, drafting blueprints and revising outdated designs for troop transports. Wearing a hard hat and with a clipboard in hand, she would accompany maritime inspectors on board ships she’d helped design and examine the product of her labors.

She and her sister were just two of the roughly 6 million women who went to work during World War II, memorialized by the now iconic recruitment poster depicting Rosie the Riveter, her hair tied back in a kerchief, rolling up the sleeve of her denim shirt and flexing a muscle beneath the slogan, “We can do it!”

More than eight decades later, Ms. Sousa, now 98, gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday with around two dozen other so-called Rosies — many of them white-haired and most wearing the red with white polka dots made famous by the poster — to receive the Congressional Gold Medal in honor of their efforts.

“We never thought we’d be recognized,” Ms. Sousa said in an interview. “Just never thought — we were just doing the job for the country and earning money on the side.”

Congress passed legislation authorizing the medal in 2020, after years of urging by Ms. Gould, who died in 2021, and another Rosie, Mae Krier, who accepted the award on Wednesday on behalf of all Rosies in front of a crowd of roughly 600, including congressional leaders.

“Up until 1941, it was a man’s world. They didn’t know how capable us women were, did they?” Ms. Krier said on Wednesday, to cheers. “We’re so proud of the women and young girls who are following in our lead. I think that’s one of the greatest things we’ve left behind, is what we’ve done for women.”

The Rosies went to work out of necessity. During the war, women were desperately needed to fill jobs vacated by men who had left to serve in the armed forces. Shortly after graduating high school, Ms. Sousa took a six-week course in engineering drawing at the University of California, Berkeley, and answered the call.

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