Phyliss Gould, One of the Original ‘Rosie the Riveters,’ Dead at 99

by Matthew Memrick

Phyliss Gould, an original ‘Rosie the Riveter,’ died this past week. The Associated Press reported that the 99-year-old woman’s death came on July 20 due to complications of a stroke.

Gould tirelessly worked in World War II defense plants and later fought to recognize those ‘Rosie the Riveter’ trailblazers. The U.S. military sought women recruits for defense jobs as men served abroad. That campaign featured the iconic “We Can Do It” banner with Rosie the Riveter, a woman worker flexing her exposed muscular arm below a rolled up sleeve.

“We had equal pay with the men,” Gould told CBS News. “I was married, a young marriage, and he was a welder, and I became a welder and was making the same money he did.”

Six million women joined the work effort as a result of the campaign.

Born in Washington state, Gould migrated with her family to California. She worked as a welder and was one of the first six women employed at a San Francisco Bay Area shipyard.

After the war, the California woman worked as an interior decorator. Gould had five children from two marriages and moved around before setting down permanent roots in Fairfax.

She was “kind of like a hippie, you know, where the wind blows,” her sister, Marian Souza, said.

“She has been an ‘I can do it’ person all her life, and she passed that on to all of us,” said her granddaughter, Shannon Akerstrom of Potter Valley in Mendocino County. “The ‘Rosie’ thing — that was really her.”

Gould, One of the Original ‘Rosie the Riveters,’ Worked Hard Until Her Death

U.S. efforts to honor her former co-workers got little appreciation in the post-war years, but Gould fought hard for them.

When the country was observing the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, Gould realized that the White House had never recognized millions of women who worked on the homefront and got busy writing to officials, her sister said.

In 2000, she pushed for the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, Calif.

She and other Rosies met with presidents like former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden in 2014. Ultimately, she worked for a national Rosie the Riveter Day for March 21. The U.S. Senate voted to recognize the day in 2017.

Sadly, she was working to create a Congressional Gold Medal design for 2022 before her death. The medal would honor all ‘Rosies.”

“She really put the Rosies on the map. It was her letters — so many of them she wrote, to everyone — that did it,” Sousa, said.

According to the Marin Independent Journal, Sousa was also a “Rosie” working during the war, hired for her experience in engineering drawings.

The family’s military service started with the father. He served in the Army for 30 years with Silver Star and Purple Heart awards for his World War I service in France.