RICHMOND -- Reading about history isn't the same thing as talking to the people who made it.
And that's exactly what visitors to the national park in Richmond can do from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Friday.
"Rosie Fridays" at the Rosie the Riveter World War II/Home Front Visitor Education Center features four of the women who worked at the Kaiser shipyards during World War II.
Think of it as the ultimate in interactive visitor center offerings, a chance to talk with and hear about the experiences of women who were part of the sweeping social changes that took place during the war years.
Not that they were aware of any of that at the time. The entrance of large numbers of women into the work force was simply a matter of necessity.
"I came from a patriotic family. My father was a career Army man," said Marian Sousa, whose family came to California when she was 16.
She enrolled at Richmond Union High School, and when she graduated her art teacher recommended her for a six-week drafting class at UC Berkeley.
"I learned how to draw blueprints, and they hired me right out of the course at Kaiser shipyard No. 3," said Sousa, now an El Sobrante resident.
Her new technical skills meant a physically less demanding and more tolerant work experience than her two sisters, who were welders for the massive Kaiser operation and not always made to feel welcome by their male counterparts.
Another sister was in the painters union and worked as a taper prepping parts for the cargo ships being assembled.
"We all wanted to do something," Sousa said. "We all wanted to get the war over and get the guys home."
Priscilla Elder, a Pinole resident who turns 93 Saturday, had a husband in the service when she came to Richmond from Iowa and went to work as an electrician at Shipyard No. 3.
"We were taught that when you grow up, you have children. But they needed workers real bad; it was wartime," she said, adding that the real trial she faced wasn't working in a heavy industrial setting but doing it as a lone parent with a 20-month-old child.
Kay Morrison, 89, of Fairfield, was a 20-year-old bride when she came with her husband from Chico to the Bay Area in 1943. The couple were unique in working together as welders at Shipyard No. 2 through the end of the war.
As a certified welder, her wages jumped from 75 cents an hour to $1.39, big money at the time.
"It was equal pay for equal work," Morrison said. "We were patriotic. We were there to do a job."
Only in hindsight did the longtime El Cerrito resident realize that it was a groundbreaking time. "It showed what women could do besides changing diapers and washing dishes," she said. "I tell the gals coming up today to help each other. Stick to it."
For Marian Wynn, an 86-year-old Fairfield resident, the shipyards represented her impoverished family's chance to work and have an income -- a sharp turnaround from the Great Depression years in Minnesota, when her father finally found a $69-a-month spot with the Works Projects Administration.
"Kaiser paid his way to come out here on the train," she said of her father. "He came back in 1943 and got my sister. I graduated and came out and got a job as a pipe welder. Then I met my husband."
The four Rosies think it's important to let a new generation know about the experiences of the home front, the changes that took place and the sacrifices that people made in a unified effort to accomplish a monumental task.
"Even here in Richmond, they don't know what a Rosie is," said Sousa. "We're glad that the story is being told."
The Rosie Friday gatherings aren't the only opportunity for the public to hear firsthand perspectives from the war years.
At 1 p.m. each Thursday, the center screens "Blossoms and Thorns," a documentary about the Japanese-American flower growers in Richmond who were sent to internment camps during the war. The showing is followed by a talk presented by the Japanese-American Citizens League featuring one of those who was interned.
Another perspective on the period is available when the insightful Betty Reid Soskin, 91, the oldest active ranger in the National Park Service, is on duty at the center or giving a tour of nearby sites.
A quote by Sousa that sums up the era is commemorated on a sign in the visitors center: "I specifically didn't do anything great, but I participated in something great."
What: The Rosie the Riveter World War II/Home Front Visitor Education Center
Where: 1414 Harbour Way South, Richmond, in the former oil house behind the Ford Point Building.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day)
More info: 510-232-5050 or www.nps.gov/rori/.