The National Park Service is looking for personal stories from the World War II Home Front that will shed light on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender life in the war industries.
Unconventional sexual relationships were necessarily kept under wraps in the 1940s because if they came to light the people involved could be arrested and suffer discrimination and harassment by co-workers, family, friends and employers.
Although largely undocumented, same-sex relationships existed in defense industries, and the park service wants to capture these stories before the last of the aging Home Front workers are deceased.
“There is a sense of urgency for the park to collect these and other under-represented stories, since many people from this generation have already passed away,” said Elizabeth Tucker, lead park ranger at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, Calif.
Since the park was established in 2000, individuals have shared many stories and artifacts related to life in the 1940s; but some aspects of civilian life have not been chronicled.
“Likely due to the prejudice and severe legal, economic and social consequences of revealing sexual orientation in the 1940s, the park’s museum collection does not yet have any information about LGBT civilians,” Tucker said.
The NPS has engaged public historian Donna Graves to produce a LGBT traveling exhibit in 2015. Stories, photos and artifacts collected in the coming months will become part of the show to honor the history and contribution of LGBT civilians.
The National Park Service and the Rosie the Riveter Trust are sponsoring a special LGBT event 3 p.m. Monday, March 24, at the Lesbian Social Club in Rossmoor, a large retirement community in Walnut Creek, 15 miles east of Oakland.
Therese Ambrosi Smith, author of “Wax,” a novel about two Kaiser Richmond Shipyard workers, will be keynote speaker. The group will discuss the themes in Smith’s book, including the realization of one of the workers after the war that she was a lesbian.
The group will also discuss the book “Against the Current: Coming out in the 1940s” by Beverly Hickok, a riveter at Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica during World War II. Hickok, who was the head librarian of Transportation Library at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Berkeley for 32 years, published the book in 2004.
Hickok, 95, will be a guest at the Monday event and is expected to speak and to sign her book. A limited number of copies of “Against the Current” will be available to purchase.
In her book, Hickok tells the story of a young woman who begins to accept her lesbianism while a student at UC Berkeley. Although fictionalized, the story mirrors Hickok’s actual life as a riveter in a defense plant and a librarian after the war.
Angela Brinskele, director of communications for the Mazer Lesbian Archives, wrote this review of Hickok’s book on Amazon.com: “This is a well-written book about the fascinating early life of Beverly Hickok. It is an excellent way to get a real understanding of what lesbians had to face when simply trying to live life true to themselves in mid-century America.
“I mean after all, can you even imagine what coming out in the 40’s would be like? For most of us today it is hard to imagine a time when you could be arrested for simply being gay.”
Ranger Tucker invites anyone who would like to share a LGBT story from the 1940s or to attend the Walnut Creek event to call the park’s confidential phone line, 510-232-5050, ext. 6631.
The Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park Visitor Education Center, 1414 Harbour Way South, Suite 3000, is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The center is located on the site of the former Kaiser Richmond Shipyard No. 2. Kaiser Permanente traces its origins to the wartime shipyards.
By Ginny McPartland, Heritage writer
Health of Americans improves with less meat, sugar and fat
Scarcity of everyday food items may seem like a hardship, but rationing of ingredients during World War II was actually good for Americans’ health. Animal fat and sugar cane were needed to make explosives, and domestic sugar supply was cut even further by the diversion of Hawaiian and Filipino cargo ships to military purposes.
Wartime householders cooked mostly from scratch, served vegetables from their own “Victory Gardens” and kept a close tally of the family’s rationing points. Many women also worked in war industries and had to find shortcuts to get meals on the table.
Even though losing weight was not foremost in the minds of the Home Front citizenry, they clearly benefited from the kind of diet that many are advocating today.
Therese Ambrosi Smith, a volunteer at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park, has studied the effects of rationing on America’s eating habits and offers the best lessons learned from the period.
Smith shares tips in her talks at the park’s Visitor Education Center in Richmond, Calif.
Cake recipe with less sugar still popular
Smith proves you can bake a delicious, low-fat, low-sugar cake using a 1940s Rosie recipe that originated on the Home Front. The “Dump Cake” is so named because you dump all the ingredients into a pie dish in which you mix, bake and serve.
The recipe calls for no butter or lard, substituting a healthy oil such as canola, and only one cup of sugar.
Smith acquired the tried-and-true Dump Cake recipe from Kay Morrison, a Rosie who also volunteers at the park. The recipe makes a good-tasting, firm yet airy cake, with cocoa giving it a reddish tinge. You can eat it with your hands and lick the sticky dough off your fingers.
Wartime cooking practices – using less meat, fat and sugar – serendipitously resulted in Americans weighing less, an average of seven pounds less, according to statisticians.
Today the same strategy can help reduce America’s waistline, which has grown significantly in the past 70 years since the war ended.
Research in the past 50 years has shed light on how eating healthier can help prevent heart disease, diabetes and certain kinds of cancer.
Patriotic chefs save good stuff for fighters
During the war, people cheerfully did without their favorite recipes as an act of patriotism, a way they could do their part for the war effort.
“Our food is fighting,” declares a 1942 government poster that Smith uses in her presentation. “People understood that men fighting the war needed more calories than civilians on the Home Front,” explained Smith. “They couldn’t get the food they were used to, so they had to adapt.”
“Rationing was a way of making sure the available food was spread out among all the people, not just the ones who could afford it (at premium prices),” Smith said. Produce from prewar sources couldn’t be shipped because much of the supply of rubber, gasoline, and oil had to be reserved for military vehicles.
Victory Gardens yielded healthy abundance
The Office of War Information encouraged people to grow vegetables in their backyards (and community gardens) and to can the surplus for off-season consumption.
In the war years of 1943-1945, civilians grew 40 percent of the fresh fruits and vegetables consumed on the Home Front.
Twenty million Victory Gardens were in cultivation during these years, yielding 8 million pounds of produce.
The government published weekly bulletins to let people know about changing rationing requirements. The bulletins offered alternative recipes that helped home cooks make the most of their rationing points.
Rationing spawned a plethora of commercial war time cookbooks, such as the Betty Crocker wartime booklet “Your Share,” as well as packaged meals like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.
At times, householders relying on commercial canned goods had to choose between rationed products with different point values due to their availability.
For instance, a cook might choose canned peaches for dessert and do without canned tomato paste needed to make spaghetti sauce.
Not faced with shortages of essential food items today, we can nonetheless be inspired by the sacrifice of World War II householders whose health was generally improved by consuming less.
By Ginny McPartland
At first glance, one would think the newly released novel “Wax” is about women working in the West Coast shipyards during World War II. Famed photographer Dorothea Lange’s powerful photo of proud, bold “girls” stomping through the yard implies a story about their struggles and triumphs in that setting.
Once inside, however, the reader pretty quickly understands that the stories to be told play out far from the shipyards. Three young women who met in Henry J. Kaiser’s Richmond Shipyards in 1943 formed friendships that endured for decades. The “Rosies” earned a bit of freedom and independence that they would refuse to relinquish when they returned home.
First-time novelist Therese Ambrosi Smith says she wrote the book about “Rosie the Riveter” to spark an interest among today’s young people, especially girls. Rosie national park Ranger Elizabeth Tucker turned Smith on to actual Rosie oral histories, and the would-be author was off on her quest.
World War II’s sociological impacts explored
Smith proclaims the novel’s premise on the front cover: “Pearl Harbor Changed Everything.” Historians know this fact, and they have written millions of words about the social, economic and political effects of World War II.
Smith’s approach is to place a spotlight on personal lives. She creates three main characters, Tilly Bettencourt from a small town near Half Moon Bay, California; Doris Jura from Pittsburg, PA, both in their early 20s; and slightly older Sylvia Manning, 32, from Kansas City. She shows a smattering of their shipyard employment experiences and then places them back in their peacetime lives. These war-time experiences will color all they do from then on.
Author Smith takes the theme of women’s independence full bore as the young women return home and establish a candle factory on their own. (Yes, that’s where the book title comes from!) Such a bold move had seemed impossible before the war. Despite obstacles, Doris and Tilly’s dream comes to fruition.
Life lessons learned in the shipyards
Other life lessons are to be learned as well. At the shipyards, the girls awaken to the idea that blacks should be treated equally with whites. Smith writes of Tilly’s encounter with a caring black coworker who helps her to the clinic when she receives a serious eye injury and is temporarily blind.
Later, Tilly ponders the experience: “I don’t know why,” she (Tilly) told Doris, “but this whole thing has rattled me. I mean being helped by a colored.” Smith as narrator explains: “There weren’t any coloreds in Montara or Moss Beach; she had no history with them.”
Tilly then comes to the realization: “The work was dangerous and difficult, and everyone who did it, regardless of color or background, was helping to win the war. They were all in it together.”
Doris chimes in with: “I feel like we are seeing the world up close here. It looks different.”
Although this book is fairly light on the historical significance of the Rosie experience, I enjoyed it. The characters are creditable and the description of the settings took me there. At times, I felt like I was sitting in Tilly’s uncle’s comfortable café perched on the coast near Half Moon Bay.
More about Rosies at the Home Front Festival Saturday October 15
Learn more about the Rosie experience from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. this Saturday at the Fifth Annual Home Front Festival in the Craneway Pavilion at the southern end of Harbour Way in Richmond, California. Admission is free.
Area historical societies, the Rosie national park and the Pacific Region of the National Archives will have exhibits and information to share with visitors. Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources will have displays highlighting the pioneering medical staff who launched the Permanente Medical Care Program in the Kaiser Shipyards during the war.
The Red Oak Victory, a World War II ship built at the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards, will be open on Saturday for visitors to tour. The ship, owned by the Richmond Museum of History, is just returning to the shipyard Friday from dry dock where it has received an extensive renovation.
Historian Steve Gilford will debut his new book on Saturday aboard the ship. Gilford will be signing the book, “Build ‘Em by the Mile, Cut ‘Em off by the Yard, How Henry Kaiser and the Rosies helped Win World War II,” from 2 to 4 p.m. on the ship. Shuttles will ferry visitors between the Craneway and the Red Oak.
Lena Horne tribute at USO Dance Friday, Oct. 14
The Home Front party actually starts on Friday night with the Rosie the Riveter 1940s USO Dance, featuring a tribute to Lena Horne, also in the Craneway Pavilion. Robin Gregory will play the role of the legendary singer. Also on the bill are the Singing Blue Stars, Junius Courtney’s Big Band and the dance group Swing or Nothing!
Tickets for the dance may be purchased online at www.HFF2011.com or by calling the Richmond Chamber of Commerce at 510-234-3512. Advance tickets are $20 general and $15 for seniors; tickets may be purchased at the door for $25 general, $20 senior. Anyone showing a military i.d. or wearing an armed forces uniform will be admitted for free.
Event: Home Front festival
Description: Historical exhibits and 1940s-era entertainment
When: Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Oct. 15, 2011
Where: Craneway Pavilion (end of South Harbour Way  in Richmond, California)