Rosie the Riveters win Congressional gold medal in D.C. Rosie the Riveter became an iconic symbol of the millions of women who worked industrial jobs during WWII. Dozens, now in their 90s and 100s, are accepting a Congressional gold medal on their behalf.

Real-life 'Rosie the Riveters' reunite in D.C. to win the nation's top civilian honor

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The iconic Rosie the Riveter, with her flexed bicep and red headscarf, represents the millions of American women who worked in defense industries during World War II. Their contributions helped win the war and shatter gender stereotypes, and this week, they were officially recognized by Congress. As NPR's Rachel Treisman reports, dozens of real-life Rosies traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive the nation's top civilian honor.

RACHEL TREISMAN, BYLINE: The U.S. Capitol was a sea of red-and-white polka dots on Wednesday as nearly 30 Rosies gathered to receive their Congressional Gold Medal. The ceremony included speeches by lawmakers and a live U.S. Army Band rendition of a 1940s classic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROSIE THE RIVETER")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) All the day long, whether rain or shine, she's a part of the assembly line. She's making history working for victory - Rosie the Riveter. Keeps a sharp...

TREISMAN: Many of the Rosies were teenagers when they moved away from home to work at shipyards and factories to support the war effort eight decades ago. On Wednesday, those in the room ranged from their late 90s to 106.

MARIAN SOUSA: We never expected to be honored for this.

TREISMAN: That's Marian Sousa, who worked as a draftsman in the engineering department of a shipyard in Richmond, Calif.

SOUSA: You know, it was a job that needed to be done by women.

TREISMAN: The 98-year-old flew in from San Francisco for the ceremony. Her plane was staffed by flight attendants wearing Rosie-like scarves and greeted by water cannons.

SOUSA: When we got to Washington, D.C., the pilot said, don't worry about the fire engines. It's not a fire. It was all unexpected and just spectacular.

TREISMAN: Wednesday's award is a long-awaited form of recognition for the Rosies and their families. Efforts to honor their service and share their stories stretch back for decades. Congress passed a bill awarding them a Gold Medal in 2020 after years of lobbying by several Rosies. Here's one of them, 98-year-old Mae Krier, speaking at the ceremony.

MAE KRIER: Up until 1941, it was a man's world. They didn't know how capable us women were, did they?

(CHEERING)

TREISMAN: There's also a national park dedicated to Rosie the Riveter in Richmond, the boomtown where Sousa and so many other women worked during the war. On Fridays, she and other local Rosies volunteered to give talks about their experience. K. Lynn Berry, the superintendent of the park, says there's a lot that younger generations can learn from the legacy of the Rosies about their impact on the war, to the workforce and beyond.

K LYNN BERRY: They can serve as an inspiration to all of us to think about what it is our time requires and to take action where we can.

TREISMAN: The Rosies say their message to others is the same one that's motivated them all these years - we can do it.

Rachel Treisman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF KACEY MUSGRAVES SONG, "HEART OF THE WOODS")

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