Hundreds of red and white polka-dot bandanas decorated the Richmond skyline outside the Rosie the Riveter museum on Saturday morning, their wearers paying homage to the iconic but fictional World War II-era factory worker who drilled her way into history as a lasting symbol of female empowerment.
Organizers estimate that 1500 women, men, and children braved the cutting waterfront chill for the annual event, which is at once a nod to the cartoon woman’s legacy and that of her real-life peers. The “Rosies,” as they are collectively known, challenged stereotypical notions of “men’s work” when they stepped into roles at shipyards and factories, keeping assembly lines running while men fought overseas.
On Saturday, organizers had hoped that the massive turnout would best last year’s Guinness World Record for “Largest Gathering of People Dressed as Rosie the Riveter,” which the Richmond group snagged with 2,229 attendees. Though they fell short of beating their own record, the mood was still celebratory. Ultimately, it wasn’t about winning a title; it was about paying tribute to women who worked hard for this country, and whose role is often marginalized in retellings of the war effort.
“They were the feminists before feminism was a term people used,” said Louise Berman, who came donning Rosie’s trademark bandana and dark blue coveralls. “Rosie is one of many, many women who came before us.”
The story is well-worn, but it bears repeating, said Berman. When the men returned home from war, some of the Rosies refused to return to their cloistered domesticated spheres. It was too late; the trailblazers had already been allowed to actualize their economic power, and there was no turning back. Many of the 16 million women would go on to enmesh themselves in other career tracks, tenaciously braving explicit workplace sexism from men who thought they ought to go home.
“It was the start of something big,” explained Ardel Robinson, speaking of the Rosies with unmistakable…