CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Bells will ring in numerous locations Monday, not only in West Virginia but throughout the country, thanks to the work of some dedicated individuals of the Mountain State.
“We’re doing it based on the work that we’ve done here in West Virginia with the cooperation of many, many people around the country,” Thanks! Executive Director and Founder Anne Montague said. “So in other words, it’s not just a West Virginia project, but it is an American project that’s headquartered here in West Virginia.”
The bells will be rung to honor women who served as Rosie the Riveters during World War II.
Rosie the Riveter is a term to represent the women who worked on the home front during the war making airplanes, ships and other manual jobs that pioneered women into the workforce.
“Women broke all kinds of barriers to go into the factories and the farms and work for the government and do all of the things they did in World War II. They themselves don’t even know the importance of what they’ve done very often,” Montague said. “You know, there were as many women working on the home-front in World War II as there were women in the military, and my mother was one of those.”
Montague’s mother worked in a lens factory in Huntington. After her mother died unexpectedly, Montague decided that she needed to do something to honor the hard work and sacrifice that these women made.
“But I didn’t realize until I met with Garnet Kozielec in June of ’08 how much these women did,” she said. “They tell us a little story of World War II, they tell us stories of the women’s movement. It was their children that were told to get an education and be independent if you need to be, and that sort of thing.
“I would say a good quarter of them, if not more, nurtured men who were really injured in body and spirit, and there’s some fascinating stories of women who took care of men for years, decades really,” Montague added.
Kozielec’s story is what inspired the Rosie the Riverter project that Montague then began nine years ago.
“I realized I had to stop everything and capture these women — not just their stories but who they are as people and who they are as real, wonderful models for what America has been and is,” she said.
As Montague began to put things in motion, she discovered a plethora of stories run by different newspapers and media outlets telling the stories of Rosie the Riveters through human interest stories, and though the public may have read them, it was something she felt was too quickly forgotten.
“To me, the important thing there was that we could write stories, we could make documentary films but nothing was going to bring the public into full awareness until we got the public involved,” she said.
Thanks! Plain and Simple has since found more than 120 living women who worked on the home front during World War II and has told the story of many women to help carry their legacy into the future.
“So what we’ve done now is 18 different projects that prove that Americans want to work with Rosie the Riverters and leave something behind, leave some record of knowing them and hearing them and basically connecting to not only the women themselves but what the women represent,” Montague said.
Those projects include a Rosie-designed park, two bridges named the Rosie the Riveter Bridge, many visits to classrooms and art projects by students, non-fiction stories and original songs about Rosies, the first government building to be named the Rosie the Riveter Building, and planting dogwood trees, which is a species Rosies have chosen to best symbolize who they are.
The organization also made a documentary film with 31 Rosies which premiered in 2011.
The theme for the projects is “We pull better when we pull together,” adopted from a factory in Hagerstown, Maryland where many Rosies of the eastern panhandle worked during the war.
In 2016, Thanks! Plain and Simple did the first Labor Day bell ringing, including Rosies at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and at the Rosie the Riveter World War II Homefront National Park in San Francisco.
“Last year when we practiced this, we had 50 locations, and a lot of really good interest on the part of the U.S. Park Service and some very special people,” Montague said. “We saw last year that this is the way to get the American public involved. So now this year we are going to be ringing bells at a minimum of six places around West Virginia.”
Bell ringings will be held in Charleston, Huntington, Flatwoods, Rowlesburg and Harper’s Ferry. Rosies who cannot make it to those locations are asked to ring a bell somewhere in their hometowns.
“Our goal for next year is to get as many states as possible involved in finding the Rosies and ringing a bell, and getting even more involvement of the Park Service at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia,” Montague said.
To learn more about the American Rosie the Riveter project and its events, visit thanksplainandsimple.org