One of the original 'Rosies' is gone; California woman dies at 99

One of the original "Rosies" is gone.

Phyllis Gould of Fairfax died last week at age 99, after suffering a stroke in May.

Gould helped lead the movement to give millions of women - called "Rosie the Riveters"- recognition for their work during World War II.

"She was a woman of strength, fierce strength and determination and I think we all got a piece of that," said her granddaughter, Shannon Akerstrom, of Mendocino County.

Akerstrom and daughter, Olivia, 10, have been helping Gould's daughter, Lori, pack up Gould's apartment of 30 years.

And amid the tears, there also many laughs.

"We found this dress from the 50's that has a note on it," said Akerstrom, pulling items from a barrel.

Gould left notes on many of her personal items, explaining their origins and who she wanted to have them. 

"She wore this dress when she was five months pregnant with you!" exclaimed Shannon, to her bemused mom.

"It's overwhelming, going through all this, thinking what am I going to do with it all, she was amazingly organized," admitted Lori Gould.

There are bins, boxes and photo albums, clearly labelled.

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Gould was meticulous about doing things right, which also made her an effective trailblazer.

"The fact that women stepped into the workforce and that's why women can do what we do today- to recognize that is a huge step in history," said Lori Gould.

As a mom and grandma, Phyllis Gould was pretty exceptional too.

"She was pretty darn happy, we went camping as kids, grew up on the Bolinas coast,  had a great life," said Lori Gould, "and she was always an adventurer."

Phyllis Gould was one of the first six women hired in Richmond's wartime shipyards.

At their peak, they employed 90,000 workers, one-third of them women.

Gould was the first woman accepted into the Boilermaker's Union, and her original work badge is pinned on a vest worn by her great-granddaughter.

"I loved her strong will, and I loved how if she wanted something, man did she get it done," said Olivia Akerstrom, with a chuckle.

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Gould was able to come home from the hospital after her stroke, and even as her health declined, cherished her visits with friends and family. 

She died three months before her 100th birthday, at home with loved ones, as she wished.

"She would say if you have a goal, don't let your gender stand in the way," said sister Marian Sousa, 95, of El Sobrante.

Sousa is the youngest of three Gould sisters, all of them Rosies.

Phyllis and Marge were both welders beginning in 1942, and Marian was a draftsman, working on ship design.

"Phyllis became an expert, she was a certified naval welder, and that was not easy to get," recalls Sousa proudly.

Still, the all-male workforce wasn't especially welcoming at first.

"It was so new they didn't know how the men would treat the women so they had chaperones for awhile," said Sousa.

The women held their own, despite harassment.

Gould sometimes spoke of a supervisor who would shine a light into the back of her welding hood, blinding her vision as she worked. 

"Well she had enough of that so she whacked his hat off, and he was really mad because she put a dent in it, so he gave her a lot of crappy jobs after that," recounted Sousa.  

The Rosie campaign came decades later, after the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

"She pointed out we had never been recognized by our government," said Sousa, "and for 12 years she wrote letter after letter to every legislator with no results."

That is, until a letter to the White House brought an invitation from President Obama and Vice-President Biden in 2014.

It was an amazing opportunity for Rosies from around the country, and finally gave them the platform they deserved.  

"She's part of history, she's part of American history," said U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, among those calling the Gould family with condolences.

Speier was an early ally of Gould's and the two became close friends.

Since 2000, a National Historical Park tells the Rosie the Riveter Story on the Richmond waterfront.

More recently, the two women also worked on a national Day of Recognition and the recently- granted Congressional Gold Medal for the Rosie workforce.  

"She never gave up, never gave in, and lived every day fully," reminisced Speier, "and it's profound, remarkable that she wanted the Rosies embedded in history."

And on a more personal note?

"She was the 99-year-old who was still driving a truck with a stick shift!" said Speier, eliciting laughter from Gould's family.

As the Rosies age and their numbers dwindle, Gould's relatives are glad she lived to see the Congressional Medal approved.

She helped design it as well, and when it's unveiled?

"I promised her I would be her voice and the three of us will go to D.C. and represent her, and do her proud," said Lori Gould, tearfully pulling her daughter and granddaughter close. "She's not going to see it, which breaks my heart but she knows that it's happening."