A Salute to “Rosies” Past and Present

Emergency Management Once Removed

May 3, 2024

By Jim Mullen

It never hurts to look back on our history, if for no other reason than to avoid repeating it!

The Center of Excellence for Resilience Management acknowledgement of  “women in leadership” recalled my encounter in 1974-75  with an authentic “Rosie the Riveter” – the name applied to the 6 million women who stepped up to do heavy duty factory jobs while men went off to fight in WW II. Without disparaging the selfless contributions of soldiers, for a long time the nation seemed to forget the contributions of those women keeping our factories and our wartime production facilities functioning. They helped win the war, too.

I met a  real life “Rosie” as an ombudsman for the Governor’s Office of Illinois. Cecilia Wort,  a senior citizens’ advocate in Brown County, Illinois, lived in Mt. Sterling, the county seat. Brown County wasn’t politically powerful  – population barely 8,000  – but its Senior Citizens Center was a base of forceful advocacy for  vocational rehabilitation funding, meals programs, public assistance, and other forms of available assistance in a time when government programs were often misdirected to benefit larger, more ”connected”  communities.

Cecilia was not intimidated by state or federal  officials, men or women, who failed to adequately serve the residents of Brown County, Illinois. While she did not work alone- her Brown County colleague, Patrick Maloney, a retired ward captain in Mayor Daley’s Chicago handled the political interactions, Cecilia did the detail work, bringing apparent government policy violations to our attention. Patrick wasn’t always fully versed in the details of an issue (he did mentor me, age 27, on political matters), whereas Cecilia knew every aspect of the citizen issues referred to me and my staff; she doggedly followed up with us to make certain we resolved every problem, great or small.

Cecilia, proud of her WWII role, said that “things changed” when the men returned after the war, supplanting Cecilia and her coworkers. She noted that her all- woman team had set production records that the returning veterans  who reclaimed their old jobs after the war “never” matched.

Cecilia and Patrick, both in their late 70’s, were a great team. Brown County benefitted from their energy, their ability to work together, and most importantly their recognition of the strengths EACH brought to the issues they confronted on behalf of their fellow citizens. They were equals in an enterprise of service. With all due deference to Patrick, Cecilia was clearly the brains of the operation!

Imagine if in the intervening years since WWII we’d made more effective use of the brains, the passion, and the leadership of “the other half of our population!

It’s not too late Looking back for inspiration, and wisdom, does not mean as some would suggest that there is any justification to return to a post WWII  America (or even 1864, if you’re on Arizona’s state Supreme Court!).  To meet the challenges ahead, we’ll  need everybody.  2024, like 1942, is an “all hands” moment, too.

Subscribe to the Blog Feed
HINT: The RSS feed works in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari but a free extension is needed if browsing in Google Chrome.

Jim has spent 3 decades in emergency management, including 12 years at the local level as director of the City of Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management and 8 and a half years as Washington State’s Emergency Management Division Director. Jim retired from state service in March 2013. Jim also served as President of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) from January 2011 to October 2012. He is currently sole proprietor of “EM Northwest Consulting” based in Seattle.

Information on this Blog is provided with the understanding that the authors and publishers are not engaged in rendering professional advice or services. As such, it should not be used as a substitute for consultation with an professional adviser. Opinions expressed here represent the viewpoints of individuals authoring the blog and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Center of Excellence.