March 20, 2014

Rosie park seeks LGBT stories from WWII

Contributed by Lincoln Cushing, Archivist and Historian

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.

Bevery Hickok's book "Against the Current: Coming out in the 1940s," published in 2004.

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 “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.