In March 2022, Betty Reid Soskin made headlines when she retired from the National Park Service at age 100. She was the oldest active ranger in the NPS. But amazing as that fact may be, it is far from the only remarkable thing about Soskin’s life.
Betty Reid Soskin first joined the National Park Service at an age when most people are well into their retirement. At 84, she started working at Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California. She became a permanent NPS employee in 2011, with her role focused on educating the public about the important roles played by men and women from diverse backgrounds on the Home Front during World War II. The National Park Service could hardly have found a more qualified candidate for that job, as Soskin is full of personal stories about living and working on the Home Front.
Betty Reid Soskin was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1921 to an African-American family with Cajun-Creole heritage. She spent her early life in New Orleans before the family relocated to Oakland, California when she was a child. During WWII, she briefly worked for the US Air Force but left when she learned her employers wouldn't have hired her if they had known she was African American. Instead, she worked as a file clerk for a segregated auxiliary lodge of the Boilermakers union – at the time, African-Americans were not admitted as full union members.
After the war, Soskin’s life continued to be full of excitement. She wrote protest songs during the Civil Rights movement and opened one of the Bay Area’s first African-American-owned record stores with her husband, Mel. Reid's Records remained a cultural icon until its closure in 2019. Soskin later worked for members of the Berkeley city council and the California State Assembly. She was a pivotal force in the planning of Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park, which opened in October 2000.
Telling the story of the "Rosies":
- Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park is located on the site of the Kaiser Company’s Richmond Shipyards, where hundreds of ships were built during World War II, with both men and women working on the assembly lines.
- Despite the more popular “Rosie the Riveter” term, the female shipyard workers were actually called “Wendy the Welders.”
- Betty Reid Soskin celebrated her 101st birthday on September 22, 2022.