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Rosie the Riveter & the World War II Homefront Experience

In collaboration with the city of Richmond and the National Park Service, the Regional Oral History Office is interviewing residents of the Bay Area about their wartime experiences during World War II. We are uncovering how and why people from different backgrounds came to the Bay Area, what they did when they arrived, and what they learned from the fluidity and flux of wartime life that affected decisions they made after the war ended. We are interested in a broad range of topics: what did women learn about the relation of work and family life? how did attitudes towards education change? how did war affect race relations and reshape civil rights struggles? did new ideas about sexuality take root and if so why and where? what happened to entertainment? to what degree did religious organizations provide people with a new sense of community?

The project has been underway for the past year. Interviews collected will be used in the National Park Service's visitor center at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Homefront National Historic Park in Richmond, California. They will also form the basis for a book.

The Rosie interviewing is made up of students and ROHO professional staff editors/interviewers. Under the project coordination of Jackie Thornton, the Rosie team has met regularly to discuss individual interviews, experiences with video, and develop the evolving themes of the project.



Rosie Student Projects

Student Interviewer David Washburn with narrator Mary Lou Cordova
(photo by Peg Skorpinski)
"The End of Town: Richmond's Mexican Community and World War II Migration," by David Washburn. This was an oral history project conceived by Professor Cándida Smith and myself. The paper served as my senior thesis for a seminar taught by Prof. Cándida Smith on war in the United States and war related topics, and evolved into a collaboration with the Regional Oral History Office, specifically its Rosie the Riveter project. Prior to this study little had been written about Richmond's Mexican community and Latino defense industry migration in general. I was fortunate to find nine people of diverse backgrounds, all current or former residents of Richmond, willing to participate in this local history project. Their interviews informed this study, providing the details and unique perspectives necessary for a community study of this nature. In particular, the interview with Sal Chávez, a former resident of the Santa Fe Railroad's company housing, was extremely helpful in determining the historical details of Richmond's Mexican community prior to World War II. His interview is complimented by that of another native Richmonder and seven narrators who came to Richmond during World War II to work in the defense industry. The essential argument of the paper is that, in order to accommodate wartime newcomers-all of Mexican descent, but with a variety of identities-Richmond's Mexican population looked to social spaces like the church, dance halls, and movie houses in order to form community. This was a change from prewar habits, which relied upon social expectations and traditions that emerged from Richmond's colonia (neighborhood), such as the celebration of Mexico's Independence Day, and local baptisms and weddings. The paper includes lengthy quotes from most of the narrators; many are accompanied by audio clips which allow the reader to get closer to the primary source material-the interviews.





"The End of Town" (Word document) (paper contains audio excerpts from additional narrators)

For Multimedia Help


Audio excerpts from Interview 1 with Sal Chávez

Audio excerpts from Interview 2 with Sal Chávez

Audio excerpts from Interview 3 with Sal Chávez


If you have any difficulty accessing audio, please contact ROHO.





Rosie Student InterviewsThese are interviews related to the Rosie project that have been completed by students independently or in collaboration with ROHO staff members. We are still in the process of clearing these interviews for additional public access.
 

Interview Summary

Narrator
Russell, Polly
Interviewer
Washburn, David
Date of Interview
9/22/2002


Russell moved from Las Cruces, New Mexico, to Richmond with her parents and sister Mary Lou. Soon after arriving, she was trained as a welder at the Kaiser shipyards. She frequently attended dances at local clubs and Oakland ballrooms. Discusses: life in Las Cruces before the war, adjusting to life in Richmond, working at Kaiser, meeting her husband, dancing and entertainment in the Bay Area, work after the war.

Narrator
Ramírez, Josephina
Interviewer
Washburn, David
Date of Interview
10/14/2002


Ramírez moved from Santa Barbara, California, to Richmond after her husband secured a job in the Bay Area defense industry. She was an active member of Santa Barbara's Mexican Baptist community before World War II, and continued her participation in church activities with Richmond's First Mexican Baptist Church. Through the church Ramírez acclimated to life in Richmond. Discusses: life in Santa Barbara before World War II, finding a home in Richmond, meeting people at church and church activities, moving out of Richmond to El Cerrito in the 1950s.

Narrator
Sauer, Marian
Interviewer
Rigelhapt, Jess
Date of Interview
10/15/2002


Marian Sauer taught in the Richmond Public Schools during the Second World War. Discusses: her experiences playing in an all-girl swing band, as well as life in Richmond before and after the War.

Narrator
Chávez, Sal
Interviewer
Washburn, David
Date of Interview
10/22/2002


Born and raised in Santa Fe Railroad housing off lower Macdonald Avenue in Richmond. Chávez worked for local industries, such as the Santa Fe Railroad, American Radiator and Standard, Filice and Perreli Cannery, and Kaiser shipyards. During the war he served with the US Coast Guard, and later started a career as a barber. His interview offers a unique perspective into the history of Richmond's longtime Mexican community. Discusses: life of the employees of the Santa Fe Railroad, Mexican culture in Richmond, social relations (dating) in Richmond schools, race relations.

Narrator
González, Frank
Interviewer
Washburn, David
Date of Interview
10/28/2002


Born in the Mexican state of Sonora. González came with his parents to Arizona in the early 1920s. He followed friends to Richmond where he worked in the shipyards, eventually working his way up to leaderman and then foreman despite only rudimentary English skills. Eight of his siblings followed him to Richmond, where they all worked for Kaiser. González later owned a local Mexican market, and then open a popular restaurant, which still exists. Discusses: Coming to the United States, working in Arizona, coming to Richmond, work at the Kaiser shipyards, running his business after the war, Mexican Baptist in Richmond.

Narrator
González, Evelyn & Rose
Interviewer
Washburn, David
Date of Interview
10/30/2002


Sisters from Phoenix, Arizona, they came with seven other siblings to work in Richmond's shipyards. Prior to getting married, all of the González sisters moved into a home together. Discuss: Coming to Richmond, adjusting to life in Richmond, working in the shipyards, relations within the family, Mexican Baptists in Richmond.

Narrator
Córdova, Mary Lou
Interviewer
Washburn, David
Date of Interview
11/1/2002


Born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Cordova, came to Richmond during the war with her parents. Her father found work at Standard Oil. The family moved into war housing off Cutting and 40th, later buying a home nearby. Cordova, still a teen when she arrived, entered high school and frequently found friends at local recreation halls. Settled in San Pablo after the war. Discusses: growing up in New Mexico, moving to Richmond, social relations at school and rec halls, attending dances, race relations, attending St. Mark's Church.

Narrators
Durán, Ned & Emma
Interviewer
Washburn, David
Date of Interview
11/5/2002


Raised in a small mining town in southern Colorado. Durán was part of Colorado's Conservation Corp during the 1930s. By the beginning of World War II he was enlisted in the Army's First Cavalry Division, stationed in Texas and Oregon, and served in North Africa. Recruited by Kaiser to work in Portland shipyards, later came to Richmond where his brothers were employed by Kaiser. After the war, he settled in Richmond, where he worked for the post-office. Discusses: growing up in Colorado, serving in the CC camps and Army, racism in Colorado, Texas, and Army, coming to Richmond, meeting wife, Richmond's Mexican community, employment after war, buying home in Richmond.



Narrator
Avalos, Tony
Interviewer
Washburn, David
Date of Interview
11/6/2002



Raised on south 1st street in Richmond. Avalos attended local schools, St. Mark's Church. Worked in local industries, including Kaiser during the war. After the war he became a longtime employee of the Richmond School District. Discusses: the character of Richmond's Mexican-American community, dances at Sweet's Ballroom, zoot-suiters, racism.

Narrator
Oishi, Tom
Interviewers
Washburn, David
& Graves, Donna

Date of Interview
12/12/2002


Native of Richmond, Oishi grew-up on the southside of town where his family operated a carnation nursery. He was part of the first group of workers to be employed by the Kaiser shipyards. Upon graduation from Richmond High, Oishi received training to become a welder and began work at Kaiser by late-1941. All of Richmond's Japanese families, including the Oishis, were forced to move to the Tanforan Race Track in San Bruno, where they stayed until being relocated to internment camps throughout the west. The Oishi were interned at Topaz, Utah. Oishi found was able to work in a nursery in Chicago during the war, and was among the first in his family to return to their nursery in Richmond in 1944. In 1945 Oishi was drafted by the army and served at P.O.W. camps in Virginia and California. He continued to work in the nursery business up until the 1990s. Discusses: growing up in Richmond's Japanese community, attending various city schools, the cut flower business, work at the shipyards, the Japanese internment, life after the war

Narrator
Ong, Royce
Interviewer
Washburn, David
Date of Interview
1/14/2003


Raised in Point Richmond, Ong attended high school in Richmond during World War II. He lived with his mother in their family home—established by Ong's grandfather near the turn of the 20th century. Discusses: school environment during 1940s, life in Point Richmond, mother's job at Standard Oil during the war, Chinese-American community in Richmond.

Narrator
Arnold, Jack
Interviewer
Washburn, David
Date of Interview
2/1/2003


Originally from Iowa, Arnold entered the Merchant Marine during the war, and later settled in Richmond where he had relatives working in the shipyards. For the latter part of the war he worked as a bartender in several Richmond bars. Discusses: bars, nightlife, meeting wife in Richmond, segregation, local communist activity, development of suburbs.

Narrator
Ziesenhenne, Lucille
Interviewer
Rigelhapt, Jess
Date of Interview
2/12/2003


Lucille Ziesenhenne has lived in Richmond since 1936. Discusses: how Richmond changed from a "sleepy town" to an industrial center during World War II. Mrs. Ziesenhenne's interview also details her experiences working for the War Manpower Commission in Richmond.

Narrator
Hardison, Don
Interviewer
Rigelhapt, Jess
Date of Interview
3/10/2003


Don Hardison moved to Richmond during WWII to work as an architect in the Kaiser shipyards. In his interview he discusses life in Richmond, the shipyards, living at Atcheson Village during the War, and later designing Parchester Village.

Narrator
Johnson, Ted
Interviewer
Washburn, David
Date of Interview
3/21/2003
Oakland native, Johnson played managed and played accordion for Dude Martin and his Roundup Gang. The country music group played throughout the Bay Area during the late 1930s, but settled down in Richmond during the war, often playing five nights a week at East Shore Park. Martin's band was a popular radio act in the Bay Area for years for much of the 1930s-1940s. Discusses: Music and radio business in Richmond, Oakland, and San Francisco, county music in the Bay Area, Swedish community in Oakland, music venue “The Barn” at East Shore Park in Richmond, the crowd at “The Barn,” relations with the City of Richmond and police, musician's union in Oakland.


Narrator
Robbins, Bobby
Interviewer
Washburn, David
Date of Interview
3/29/2003

An active member of Richmond music community for years, Robbins played guitar in several swing bands throughout his lifetime. He worked as a plumber for the Kaiser shipyards and in several of the new housing developments that were erected during and after the war. Discusses: nightlife and music in Richmond, the musician's union and community, newcomers in Richmond.
Narrator
Gee, Maggie
Interviewers
Li, Robin with McGarrigle, Leah, and Stine, Kathryn
Date of Interview
4/10/2003 
Beginning in March 2003, a team of ROHO interviewers conducted a series of four interviews with a local Berkeley resident, Maggie Gee. The team consisted of Leah McGarrigle and Kathryn Stine, ROHO interviewers, and Robin Li, a graduate student working with ROHO. Gee was chosen by ROHO and the Rosie Project for a number of reasons. Her stories represent two generations of "Rosies" -- her mother, Ah Yoke Gee, had worked as a welder in the Richmond wartime factories, and Maggie herself had also worked in the factories, as a draftsperson at Mare's Island, and also flew with the WASP's, testing planes and flying transport missions. Since that period, she has maintained an active presence in local Democratic politics, and is able to provide long-term perspectives on Berkeley politics and Chinese Americans in the Berkeley area. The interview provides much-needed perspectives on extra-Chinatown Chinese American communities, inter-racial community-building in Berkeley, and women in the workforce and local politics. Maggie Gee also shares amazing stories of her love of flight, training to become a pilot, and what the experience meant to her in terms of class, gender, and politics.
Narrator
Hawkins, Fay
Interviewer
Wheelock, Sarah
Date of Interview
6/2/2003
Fay Hawkins worked for the Richmond Police Department from 1946 until the early 1970s. His father was with the police department from the 1920s until 1941. Discusses: police practices of the 1920s and 1940s, Fay's views as a long-term resident of the city, several interesting calls that he went on, and his experiences as he moved up through the ranks of the department to Lieutenant.


Partner Sites

Rosie The Riveter World War II Homefront National Historical Park
National Park Service
City of Richmond
Apply to the
Rosie Project
through URAP!

Qualifications: Apprentices will learning interviewing techniques for both audio and video interviews. At this stage, priority is being given to transcribing and preparing the interviews for public access in both text and video formats. Students will help prepare interview summaries and help in the preparation of text or video extracts. Students will work with professional staff and graduate students as part of a work team aiming to find out as much as we can about everyday life during and after World War II.
 


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