Betty Reid Soskin began her career as a ranger at the age 85 at the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park.
Betty Reid Soskin, America's oldest National Park Service ranger, celebrated her 101st birthday today! Soskin began her career as a ranger at age 85 at the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park in California — a park that she had helped plan in its early stages years earlier. Prior to her retirement in March at the age of 100, Soskin gave a popular tour called “Untold Stories and Lost Conversations" during which she gave a tour of the park, shared her personal WWII story, and encouraged others to contribute their own stories to the park's collection of oral histories.
When Soskin joined the planning committee for the Rosie the Riveter Park years ago, she brought a unique perspective: she was the only person of color at the table and she was one of the wartime workers the park aimed to remember. Soskin’s wartime work began when she was 20, when she became a clerk for the boilermakers union. Like many unions, it was segregated; she was hired by the African-American auxiliary. In an interview with the Department of the Interior last year, she said, “When I graduated from high school as a young woman of color, my chances for employment were limited to two — working in agriculture or as a domestic servant... my job as a clerk in a Jim Crow union hall was a step up; the equivalent of today’s young woman of color being the first in her family to enter college.”
As the great-granddaughter of a slave, Soskin reflects that "what gets remembered is a function of who's in the room doing the remembering.... There was no conspiracy to leave my history out. There was simply no one in that room with any reason to know it." For her, being a part of the park's planning was invigorating: "For the first time since I was that naive young 20-year-old in that segregated union hall, I was in a position to learn, and share, the rest of the story."
Soskin says that, for many of the women who went to work during the war, "those years were a high point in their lives." She observes that when elderly "Rosies" visit the park today, "They express much pride and often great frustration at having been turned loose at the war’s end for the sake of returning veterans to the workplace." She hopes the park will capture some of that experience for younger visitors as well. In reflecting on her own time as a ranger, Soskin says that working at the park gave new meaning to her senior years: "To be a part of helping to mark the place where that dramatic trajectory of my own life, combined with others of my generation, will influence the future by the footprints we’ve left behind has been incredible."
Books & Resources Celebrating Rosie the Riveters
The iconic image of a woman in wartime is Rosie the Riveter, the symbol of the women who stepped into male roles in manufacturing when the men left for war. Author Penny Colman tells the amazing story of how 18 million women — many of whom had never held a job — stepped into vacated positions between 1942 and 1945 to support the war effort. The movement was necessary at the time just to keep factories running, but the impact of those three years rang through the decades after, as society’s and women’s attitudes about what women were capable of were changed forever.
From the first days of American history, women have served in the United States military — but too often, their contributions were minimized or overlooked. As Revolutionary War and Civil War soldiers, they had to disguise themselves as men to fight, and even in the 20th century, they were often sidelined, even as they fought to break down barriers and prove they belonged alongside their male counterparts. In this beautifully illustrated book, author Winnifred Conkling introduces readers to courageous women past and present — from Harriet Tubman to Tammy Duckworth — who proudly joined the defense of their nation.
In the midst of World War II, the United States Army found itself in desperate need of personnel — and women, including African American women, stepped up to serve. Black community leaders, including civil rights activist Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, saw it as an opportunity to end segregation — but the "separate but equal" policy stood. This book centers on Major Charity Adams and her 6888th Central Postal Battalion, but uses her story as a jumping off point to talk about other women who helped integrate the armed forces. Rich with historical detail, and including an inspiring forward by Maj. Gen. Marcia M. Anderson, Army (Ret.). this book gives these little-known military pioneers a voice.
Even in the desperate times of World War II, a would-be pilot could face both sex and racial discrimination. Ida Mae Jones’ father was a pilot, and she dreams of following in his footsteps, but young black women in 1940s Louisiana do not learn to fly. When the US Army announces the formation of the Women Airforce Service Pilots — WASP — program, Ida Mae has a chance to follow her dream — if she uses her light skin to pretend to be white. Ida Mae’s choice about whether to deny her identity and her family is superimposed on the exciting, suspenseful story of the WASP experience, giving the reader a fascinating glimpse into life as a black woman who yearns for the sky.
The need for women’s contributions during World War II also had an impact on racial dynamics in the US, and African American women were a major part of the war effort. This book teaches Mighty Girls about how African American women who stepped forward in many fields — from nursing to factory work to entertainment to the military — as well as the tremendous opposition they faced. Some of their names have been widely celebrated, but more are forgotten, and yet their tireless dedication helped set the groundwork for the civil rights movement to come.
Betty Reid Soskin has witnessed dramatic changes to American culture in her 96 years — and she's helped to create plenty of that change, too! Today, she's the oldest park ranger in the history of the National Park Service, sharing her perspective by leading tours of the Rosie the Riveter National Park. In this absorbing memoir, Soskin describes a life watching the course of American 20th century history, complete with tremendous strides in women's and civil rights. Conversational and fresh, this book will make you look at the world around you with new eyes.
She'll be telling the world "We Can Do It!" in this awesome costume that pays tribute to the iconic Rosie the Riveter! This set from Princess Paradise includes a jumpsuit with a front zipper and high quality trim and patches and a classic polka-dotted headwrap that will make her look just like Rosie. For a version for the littlest Rosies, check out this Rosie the Riveter newborn costume.
Generations of women have been inspired Rosie the Riveter, who has been an icon of women's empowerment for over fifty years! This 5 1/4" tall vinyl action figure is based off the famous "We Can Do It!" poster, which was inspired by a photo of Naomi Parker Fraley; it has articulated joints and comes in an illustrated window box. She's great for pretend play or for anyone who appreciates the role Rosie the Riveter has played in women's history. Fans of Rosie can also check out these Rosie the Riveter Paper Dolls for ages 6 and up.
The We Can Do It! image of Rosie the Riveter has become a cultural icon in America. Celebrate women's history with this poster print by J. Howard Miller. This 24 by 36 inch print is the perfect way to inspire Mighty Girls — and women — to continue to strive for their dreams!