MIDDLE RIVER — At 1 p.m. on Sept. 4, Patricia Collins and Darlene Welsh, dressed in blue work shirts with their hair tied back, rang a bell to remember the “Rosies,” or women who served on the homefront during World War II. Collins and Welsh are “rosebuds,” or daughters of a Rosie, and their mothers, who passed away a few years ago, had helped produce aircraft in Baltimore County during the war.
Both Collins and Welsh said that they were inspired by the hard work of their mothers and work to shine a light on them and others like them. Now they are officers for the Baltimore Chapter of the American Rosie the Riveter Association, which is housed at the Glenn L. Martin Maryland Aviation Museum.
“Ring a Bell for a Rosie,” a national event, started with Plain and Simple, a West Virginia-based nonprofit, to honor the Rosies.
It is a heartfelt expression for these women, chapter coordinator Debi Wynn said, and it keeps their memory alive, while promoting knowledge of history. It was particularly poignant this year, as the chapter had just lost a Rosie only a few days prior, the most recent loss in an increasing death toll for Rosies.
“If we are are not around to carry on the story of these incredible women, then who will be?” Wynn said.
Wynn, who helped establish the chapter in the early 2000s, said that, more than anything, she wants to help families, specifically daughters, engage and stay connected to the Rosies’ stories.
“I tell people that you can’t prepare for the future unless you know the past, and the younger generation is what it is today because of these women going to jobs in a man’s world and changing the social aspect of work,” Wynn said.
It is time, she said, to spread the word about these women, because they are dying every day and their stories hold so much worth.
“I have gone to so many funerals and met family members of Rosies who don’t know the experiences of these women,” she said. “It is important for families to connect with their older relatives before they lose them and lose the opportunity to ask questions.”
In fact, since the chapter started 20 years ago with around 75 active members, most of whom were Rosies, that number has dwindled to around 25 members. Wynn estimated that over 50 Rosies, who were involved with the chapter at one time or another, have now passed.
Wynn, who does not have Rosies in her own family, became interested in the experience of Rosies, after she saw a reporter in 1995 interview three Rosies about their stories working in aircraft plants during the war. She started to research and speak to other Rosies, and made a 1-hour musical documentary that she called ‘Rosie,’ that she and other actors performed for audiences.
During a showing, several Rosies attended and got to know one another, which led her to eventually form the Baltimore chapter.
“It was moving to see Rosies have someone to relate to and share their experiences with – the experience of going to work, going home to take care of the family and even suffering the loss of family members,” she said.
Now, Wynn and the rest of the chapter, continue to oversee official events and outreach, and are finishing a project now on the museum’s website that will be called the “Rosie the Riveter Heritage Trail.” It will feature photos and information about individual Rosies to help tell their stories.
“Rosies are an amazing history lesson that needs to carry on, and that is what the museum and Baltimore chapter for the Rosies is trying to do,” she said.