A city where the women flex their muscles

National Park Ranger Betty Soskin

National Park Ranger Betty Soskin

What is Richmond’s greatest resource?

Its deep water bay? Its status as home to one of the nation’s largest oil refineries? Its history as a World War II hub of manufacturing?

How about its women?

Richmond’s women have a history  of being vital, assertive assets in the city’s political, economic and social landscape, so much so that a National Park opened here in 2000 with the namesake of a definitively Richmond type of woman: Rosie the Riveter.

(Click on the play button above-right to hear a full radio broadcast on Richmond’s women that aired April 15)

They were unwitting pioneers, doe-eyed young women given wrenches and overalls and a host of grimy tasks. Later, the iconic nickname, “Rosie the Riveter” came to epitomize the force of six million American women who worked industrial jobs during WWII. They worked Richmond’s factories and shipyards in the throes of war in the early to mid-1940s, an act that was a revolutionary upheaval of social conditions.

Six decades later, Richmond still carries a legacy of strong women. The last three mayors in the city – Rosemary Corbin, Irma Anderson and Gayle McLaughlin – have been women. McLaughlin, in an added twist, is also the first “Green Party” mayor of a city of more than 100,000 in the United States.

Ask McLaughlin whom she admires most, and she doesn’t hesitate with an answer.

“Betty Soskin is truly an inspiration to me,” the mayor said. “She goes way back in terms of her involvement as a social activist, her involvement in WWII … she is someone who stands strong on her principles and values and her compassion.”

Soskin, 88, grew up in Oakland, but she is a Richmond icon. She served as a clerk for a Kaiser Shipyard union during the Rosie the Riveter period, and today works at the Rosie the Riveter National Park in Richmond. She is the oldest active park ranger in the United States.

“I only hope to grow on in years to emulate some of the inspiration (Soskin) has given me,” McLaughlin said.

To hear Soskin, McLaughlin, and other female leaders in Richmond, click on the play button above

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