Douglas Aircraft referred to the B-17 as “A Lady’s Airplane” because female crews made most of them in the Long Beach plant. The B-17 was the favorite of the U.S. Army Air Corps and the preferred plane of Lt. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle.
Gerrie Schipske (far left) with “Rosie the Riveters” at last Saturday’s honorary luncheon at El Dorado Golf Club Restaurant.
BY NICK DIAMANTIDES
Without the help of the approximately 25 million women who worked in America’s defense factories in the early 1940s, the outcome of World War II could have been very different. Since last year, Fifth District Long Beach City Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske has been on a campaign to develop memorial interpretive displays of those women, affectionately known as “Rosie the Riveters,” in the small city park that bears their name. About 25,000 of those women worked in the Douglas Aircraft factory in Long Beach during the war.
Last Saturday, Schipske hosted a luncheon at El Dorado Golf Club Restaurant to begin raising funds for the project. In mid-2008, Schipske formed a nonprofit organization called the Rosie the Riveter Foundation, through which she hopes to raise money for the displays.
“We put the board together and have been planning this event for several months,” Schipske said. “This is our first event.”
About 85 people attended the fundraiser, including about 12 women who worked for Douglas in the 1940s. In her presentation, Schipske honored the Rosies with brief descriptions of what each one did during the war and in the years since. Each Rosie was also given a small bouquet of roses.
The luncheon also included a flag salute by the Milliken High School Junior Army R.O.T.C. and live 1940s music performed by The Great American Swing Band.
During her approximately 30-minute speech, Schipske showed a video depicting the Rosies throughout America and in Long Beach. She also described their contributions to the war effort and told about their struggles in a society that largely frowned on women holding factory jobs.
In addition, Schipske talked a little about Rosie the Riveter Park. Located near the corner of Clark Avenue and Conant Street, the park was known as Douglas Park until about two years ago, when the Long Beach City Council unanimously agreed to change its name.
She noted that developing the displays in the park will cost more than one million dollars. “It can be done in phases,” she said. “One of the things we will be focusing on is what phases to do first.”
Schipske stressed that the money will have to be raised privately, and no city revenues will be spent on the project. “The city, county and state do not have that kind of money in this difficult economy,” she explained. “But we really need to do this for Long Beach. We need to have more reminders of our history and heritage, because to understand the present, we need to understand the past and the things that made us what we are today.”
No tentative date has been set for when the first phase will begin. “Right now we are working with a designer to find out what aspect we can start with, and we are going to be doing some national solicitations,” she said. “We are going to reach out to the Oprah Foundation because I think we have a tremendous African-American women history here, and we would love to be able to put that display up.” She explained that many African-American women worked at the Long Beach Douglas plant earning much higher wages than most people of color.
“We are also going to reach out to the Martha Stewart Foundation and see if we can do a Rosie the Riveter Rose Garden in the park,” she said. “There are also a number of other opportunities that we hope will provide us with the funding we need to bring all this to completion.” She added that Boeing might also be willing to contribute to the project, but she has not yet asked the corporation to do so.
Schipske briefly described the interpretive displays. “People will be able to walk around and call a number on their cell phone and listen to women talk about their experiences,” she said. “They will be able to walk from display to display and listen to the voices of actual Rosies and descriptions of that era in America’s history, and we won’t have to install a sound system to make that happen.”
She said that with all the support so many people are expressing for the project, she fully expects private and corporate donations to fund the project. “We are hoping to enhance this existing city park,” she said, adding that there will be no buildings constructed on the park, only displays, but she is hoping to get use of a room in a building in the vicinity of the park to display other Rosie the Riveter memorabilia.
Schipske has acquired a large collection of photos from the Library of Congress’s website that show Rosie the Riveters working at the Long Beach Douglas facilities. “You can take the pictures and get them photographically reproduced on ceramic tiles,” she said. “That’s what we want to do for the park displays because ceramic photographs are much more durable when exposed to the weather.”
The councilwoman has also written a book entitled Rosie the Riveter in Long Beach. Copies of the book were placed on bookstore shelves last May, and were also on sale at the luncheon.
Schipske said there was a lot of support for the memorial displays from women and men in Long Beach. “We are hearing from a lot of people whose mothers, aunts and grandmothers were Rosies,” she said. “When I do a book signing, many of the people who get in line have stories to tell of their family members who were Rosies and they bring me pictures.”
For more information on the book and the Rosie the Riveter Foundation, call Schipske’s office at (562) 570-6932 or visit www.lbrosie.com