THE CONGRESSIONAL GOLD MEDAL STORY
By Tammy Brumley
It was recently announced that a ceremony awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to our Nation's Treasures, Rosie the Riveters, will be held in Washington, D.C. on April 10th, 2024.An honor very much long overdue, however this announcement might not shed enough light on the strenuous journey it took to achieve this award.
What I would like to convey is the years of hard work that two “Rosie the Riveters” had dedicated themselves to in order to obtain the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of all Rosies.“Rosie” Mae Krier (Riveter, Boeing, Seattle, WA) and “Rosie” Phyllis Gould (Journeyman Welder, Kaiser Shipyards, Richmond, CA) were each individually attempting to get a federal Rosie the Riveter Day.
A day that would spotlight year after year, what our Nation’s women did in a time when our country, and the world, needed them most.Mae and Phyllis were each working with their local and state politicians to help accomplish this goal.
They had connected by phone and were finally able to meet in person at the 2016 American Rosie the Riveter Association convention held in Richmond, CA.As they were both lobbying for the same dream, in true Rosie fashion, they decided to team up and work together; an East coast Rosie and a West coast Rosie hitting Congress from both sides of the country!
Mae lived very close to DC, which enabled her to go there several times to meet with Congresspeople; walking the halls of Congress, passing out her handmade red and white polka dot bandanas, trying to get them on board for the cause.From her West Coast home, distance from D.C. never hindered Phyllis as she continued to write many letters to a multitude of Congresspeople and make phone calls to all who could help. She was even able to join Mae on one of Mae’s trips to the Capitol building. Despite the visit happening during a bad snowstorm that kept many Congress people away, it was a memory Phyllis fondly recalled.
Phyllis would tell me she wanted the day to be March 21st, as the date was during Women’s History Month and it was also her mother’s birthday (since deceased but who was also a Rosie!). And the icing on the cake; it was also Mae’s birthday, so the 21st it would be!While it failed to become a Federal holiday, the U.S. Congress did pass a resolution marking March 21 as National Rosie the Riveter Day.It was during this campaign that they found out about the Congressional Gold Medal and set their sights on obtaining it on behalf of all Rosies.
Once again, Phyllis picked up her pen and paper and Mae continued making trips to the Capitol building and speaking about the goal at her many engagements and in television/newspaper interviews. Her ability to get the word out to the masses ramped up when she switched to making red and white polka dot masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, giving over 5,000 away to her Facebook followers.Despite their hard work, this attempt to obtain the medal failed. But these were“We Can Do It” women and their continued tireless advocacy finally saw the bill passing unanimously in November of 2020.
The Rosie the Riveter Congressional Gold Medal Act HR-1773 was co-sponsored by Reps. Jackie Speier (CA-14), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), HR 1773, passing in the U.S. House of Representatives on November 13, 2019.Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Lisa Murkowski, (R-AK) led the companion bill S.892 which passed in the U.S. Senate on November 12, 2020.
Phyllis was a talented artist and with that in mind, Mae asked Phyllis to design the medal.Phyllis had the idea to have four racially diverse Rosies on the medal, highlighting Executive Order 8802, June 25th, 1941:"There shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industriesand in Government, because of race, creed, color, or national origin."
She asked me for help in obtaining a wartime picture of her Rosie friend Luddie Mitchell, who was an African-American and whose testimony before Congress helped to establish the Rosie the Riveter WW2/Home Front National Park in Richmond, CA.(Although Phyllis and Luddie were both journeyman welders in the Kaiser Richmond shipyards during WW2, they did not meet until many years later).Phyllis’ vision was to have Luddie represent African-American Rosies and she was very excited to draw Mae as the Caucasian Rosie. I worked on obtaining pictures of other Rosies who would help represent the defense industries’ diversity and sent them all to Phyllis.
Despite her intentions, Phyllis was disappointed to learn that you cannot put a real person on the medal, but she was able to pass her detailed design idea to the Mint. While she lived to see the medal signed into law, Phyllis Gould died at the age of 99 years in 2021 before being able to see the medal design.Although Phyllis knew what she wanted on the front of the medal she was stumped as to what should go on the back.
After Phyllis’ passing, Mae stepped in and helped guide the design of the back of the medal, asking if the design could include what she and Phyllis worked on, a B-17 bomber and a Liberty ship respectively with the addition of a tank and a rivet for good measure. Lori Gould, Phyllis’ daughter also participated on the Gold Medal design committee.We hope the US Mint has honored Phyllis and Mae’s design wishes and we look forward to seeing the Gold Medal design unveiling at the presentation ceremony.
We are so fortunate to have Mae attending the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony to symbolically accept the medal on behalf of all Rosies.
After all these years of her dedicated work to have the Rosies remembered, we can only imagine the emotions she will be experiencing on this occasion.
May she and Phyllis know the deep appreciation from each Rosie, and, for those who have passed, from their descendants, for their unwavering efforts in obtaining the Congressional Gold Medal.