March 25, 2022

Sen. Tammy Duckworth pushes for memorial to working women of World War II - CBS News exclusive

Source: CBS News


Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, knows firsthand the sacrifices of going to war and being a working mom. The Iraq war combat veteran and mother of two is using Women's History Month to make a renewed push for her legislation to establish a memorial in the nation's capital to honor the nearly 18 million women who worked on the home front during World War II. 

"We know all about the 'Rosie the Riveters' but I think most people are surprised when they hear we haven't honored them," Duckworth told CBS News in an exclusive interview. 

The Illinois Democrat sent a letter Friday to West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who chairs the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources urging him to "swiftly move" the bill. She re-introduced the bipartisan legislation last May, known as the Women Who Worked On The Home Front World War II Memorial Act.

"These women — many of whom had no expectation of working outside the home — answered the call during a global crisis to work as pilots, engineers, taxi drivers, letter carriers, code breakers, manufacturers and more," the letter states. "It is time we recognize the decisive role they played." 

Duckworth acknowledged it as a "fitting bill" during Women's History Month, adding: "There is not a more appropriate time than now to codify the authorization to create a commemorative work in honor of these brave women."  

The idea for the memorial came from Raya Kenney, who was a fifth-grade student when she first designed a model of the monument for a school assignment inspired by the movie, "A League of their Own." Kenney, now 20, has been advocating for the memorial since then.

"It was the first time that I had seen women taking a role that a man had held previously, and that a woman had never held," Kenney told CBS Evening News in 2020

Kenney has continued to lobby Congress and has been meeting with senators to build support. She worked with D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton on companion legislation in the House. It passed overwhelmingly in the chamber last December by a vote of 425-1. 

"I'm really excited that Senator Duckworth is working on our behalf," Kenney said Thursday. "We're trying to get on the calendar. That's our next step." 

Both women hope the committee will take up the measure soon which could pave the path for a full vote in the Senate. If approved, it would authorize Kenney's foundation, Women Who Worked on the Home Front, to begin work on the project. That would include raising funds and looking for a space for the memorial. 

"There's always been a sense of urgency with this project since these women are getting older every day that passes," Kenney said. "Especially reading about the Rosies who are no longer with us every single day because we want as many of them to see this erected as possible,"

The percentage of women in the workforce increased from 27% to nearly 37% between 1941 and 1945, bolstering the U.S. economy during the war. Duckworth calls the lack of a memorial honoring the working women of World War II a "glaring omission." 

"With my two girls, my four-year-old and my seven-year-old, I want them to know about that," said Duckworth. "I want them to celebrate these women who stepped forward."

By:  Nikole Killion