A decade-long oral history project focused on those with home front experiences during World War II has put out a call for Bay Area residents with stories to share.
"We're looking for anyone who may have had unique or interesting experiences," said Sam Redman of Albany, lead interviewer of the Rosie the Riveter / WWII American Homefront Project. "What may have been seemingly mundane, like maintaining a victory garden, participating in war bond drives or going to work each day and eating lunch ... can be interesting to learn about."
The project, based in the Regional Oral History Office at the University of California's Bancroft Library, began in 2001 with a focus on "Rosie the Riveter," who represented the American women who worked in factories during World War II.
The effort, a collaboration with the City of Richmond and the National Park Service, currently includes about 130 interviews and could one day grow to closer to 500.
"It's a significant collection," said Redman. "We're hoping to make it the largest, most complete collection of World War II home front oral histories in the country."
Most of the existing interviews in the project, he said, were done with Bay Area residents. They include a broad range of men and women of diverse racial and religious backgrounds "who did all sorts of jobs during the home front years."
"Some of the interviews discuss how Albany was changing during that period in history," he said. "Many people initially came to Albany to live while working at the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond."
Redman said he recently did an interview with a woman who's lived in Albany since World War II.
"She talked about how Albany maintained a community feeling, but El Cerrito, at that time, was a bit of a seedier place," he said. "There were bars around the shipyard where it was known you could gamble in the back. Albany was seen as a safer community. They were so different back in that era."
Another surprise came in an interview where Redman learned there used to be machine gun nests laid down in the marshland near .
"It's little things like that," he said, in addition to hearing stories that reveal viewpoints not well-reflected in published histories, such as feelings toward unions, race relations or experiences of religion, that make participating in the oral history project so interesting.
"I love those little things where you can understand how things have changed over time," Redman added.
One of the most exciting elements of the project is that the interviews are used actively by students at Berkeley in their coursework, as well as teachers in the classroom.
The interviews also "have changed the way historians look at existing historiography. Scholars from around the world continue to use the Bancroft Library to understand history," said Redman.
Many people enjoy giving an oral history, he continued. The process takes about an hour and a half, and interviewees receive a copy of the interview, which also appears online, to share with friends and family.
"It's an opportunity to reflect and recall what were, for many, enjoyable years," Redman said. "The war, while it was a really stressful time, was also a time when a lot of people really enjoyed themselves. They were coming out of the Great Depression. Some people would save their money and go home right after work. Others would really go out and enjoy the nightlife. They made friends at the shipyards. Some people say that, though they really felt guilty about it, those were really wonderful years."
To learn more about this, and other projects, of the Regional Oral History Office, visit it online, or call Sam Redman at 510-643-2106. You can also find the project on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Prefer to submit your story in writing? You can do so through a Rosie the Riveter project overseen by the National Park Service.
Everybody makes mistakes ... ! If there's something in this article you think should be corrected, or if something else is amiss, give editor Emilie Raguso a call at 510-459-8325 or shoot her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.