Rosie the Riveter - Real Person, Facts and Norman Rockwell

Rosie the Riveter - Real Person, Facts and Norman Rockwell



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Rosie the Riveter was the star of a campaign aimed at recruiting female workers for defense industries during World War II, and she became perhaps the most iconic image of working women. American women entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers during the war, as widespread male enlistment left gaping holes in the industrial labor force. Between 1940 and 1945, the female percentage of the U.S. workforce increased from 27 percent to nearly 37 percent, and by 1945 nearly one out of every four married women worked outside the home.

Rosies in the Workforce

While women during World War II worked in a variety of positions previously closed to them, the aviation industry saw the greatest increase in female workers.

More than 310,000 women worked in the U.S. aircraft industry in 1943, making up 65 percent of the industry’s total workforce (compared to just 1 percent in the pre-war years). The munitions industry also heavily recruited women workers, as illustrated by the U.S. government’s Rosie the Riveter propaganda campaign.

Based in small part on a real-life munitions worker, but primarily a fictitious character, the strong, bandanna-clad Rosie became one of the most successful recruitment tools in American history, and the most iconic image of working women in the World War II era.

In movies, newspapers, propaganda posters, photographs and articles, the Rosie the Riveter campaign stressed the patriotic need for women to enter the workforce. On May 29, 1943, The Saturday Evening Post published a cover image by the artist Norman Rockwell, portraying Rosie with a flag in the background and a copy of Adolf Hitler’s racist tract “Mein Kampf” under her feet.

Though Rockwell’s image may be a commonly known version of Rosie the Riveter, her prototype was actually created in 1942 by a Pittsburgh artist named J. Howard Miller, and was featured on a poster for Westinghouse Electric Corporation under the headline “We Can Do It!”

Early in 1943, a popular song debuted called “Rosie the Riveter,” written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb, and the name went down in history.

Who Was Rosie the Riveter?

The true identity of Rosie the Riveter has been the subject of considerable debate. For years, the inspiration for the woman in the Westinghouse poster was believed to be Geraldine Hoff Doyle of Michigan, who worked in a Navy machine shop during World War II.

Other sources claim that Rosie was actually Rose Will Monroe, who worked as a riveter at the Willow Run Bomber Plant near Detroit. Monroe also was featured in a promotional film for war bonds.

And Rosalind P. Walter from Long Island, New York, is known to be the Rosie from the popular song by Evans and Loeb. Walter was, in fact, a riveter on Corsair fighter planes.

But the most credible claim on Rosie’s legacy came from Naomi Parker Fraley, who was photographed working in the machine shop at the Naval Air Station in Alameda, California. In the 1942 photo, she is sporting a telltale polka-dotted bandana. Fraley passed away in January 2018.

READ MORE: ‘Black Rosies’: The Forgotten African American Heroines of the WWII Homefront

WACs

In addition to factory work and other home front jobs, some 350,000 women joined the Armed Services, serving at home and abroad. At the urging of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and women’s groups, and impressed by the British use of women in service, General George C. Marshall supported the idea of introducing a women’s service branch into the Army.

In May 1942, Congress instituted the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps, later upgraded to the Women’s Army Corps, which had full military status. Its members, known as WACs, worked in more than 200 non-combatant jobs stateside and in every theater of the war.

By 1945, there were more than 100,000 WACs and 6,000 female officers. In the Navy, members of Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) held the same status as naval reservists and provided support stateside. The Coast Guard and Marine Corps soon followed suit, though in smaller numbers.

WASPs

One of the lesser-known roles women played in the war effort was provided by the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs. These women, each of whom had already obtained their pilot’s license prior to service, became the first women to fly American military aircraft.

They ferried planes from factories to bases, transporting cargo and participating in simulation strafing and target missions, accumulating more than 60 million miles in flight distances and freeing thousands of male U.S. pilots for active duty in World War II.

More than 1,000 WASPs served, and 38 of them lost their lives during the war. Considered civil service employees and without official military status, these fallen WASPs were granted no military honors or benefits, and it wasn’t until 1977 that the WASPs received full military status.

Impact of Rosie the Riveter

The call for women to join the workforce during World War II was meant to be temporary and women were expected to leave their jobs after the war ended and men came home. The women who did stay in the workforce continued to be paid less than their male peers and were usually demoted. But after their selfless efforts during World War II, men could no longer claim superiority over women. Women had enjoyed and even thrived on a taste of financial and personal freedom—and many wanted more. The impact of World War II on women changed the workplace forever, and women’s roles continued to expand in the postwar era.

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Rosie the Riveter - Real Person, Facts and Norman Rockwell - HISTORY

Redd Evans, John Jacob Loeb, 1942

What is unusual about the accompaniment in this song? Voices imitate instruments. What "instruments" can you hear? Bass, trumpet, tuba, etc. What other vocal sounds can you hear? Rivet gun, imitation scat.

What is this song about? Women in defense jobs. What was Rosie making? Aircraft (fuselage) . What reasons are given for her working? Patriotic duty, protecting Charlie. Why doesn't it mention wages?

What does "she's making history" mean? What was historic about what Rosie was doing? Didn't women ever work outside the home before? Poor women worked in textile and garment industries, but not heavy industry.

What role did this song and the poster "We can do it" play in the mobilization effort in 1942? Made it acceptable for women to do men's work . What word is used to describe art forms meant to persuade? Propaganda. Where do you see propaganda today? Is propaganda necessarily bad? Why?

What happened to all the "Rosies" when the men returned? Most went home. Was this by choice? They were laid off and discriminated against strongly urged to go back home.

What did "Rosie the Riveter" symbolize during the war? T otal mobilization. What has she come to symbolize since the war? Women can do anything men can do.

"Rosie the Riveter" performed by the Four Vagabonds on Jive is Jumpin' RCA and Bluebird Vocal Groups, 1939-52 , London: Westside [WESA813], © 1998. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

The Four Vagabonds modeled themselves after the popular Mills Brothers, another African American vocal quartet. They were featured on several popular Midwest radio shows in the 1930s and 40s. This recording is an excellent example of their style of close four-part harmony and vocally imitating the sounds of instruments. In "Rosie the Riveter," they imitate trombones, bass, and even the sound of a rivet gun, but not the ukulele that accompanies the song.

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. Please consult this online source:

Sheet music cover for "Rosie the Riveter."

Redd Evans (1912󈞴) wrote another song related to the War: "He's 1-A in the Army and He's A-1 in My Heart" in 1941, while John Jacob Loeb (1910󈞲) is known primarily for this song. "Rosie the Riveter" was composed in 1942 and first released in February 1943. There was no real person by that name for which the song was composed, rather the title was selected because of its alliteration, according to John Jacob Loeb's widow (Colman, p. 15 ). The song was so successful that it inspired Norman Rockwell to paint his conception of "Rosie the Riveter" for the cover of the May 29, 1943, issue of The Saturday Evening Post . The model for the cover was 19-year old Mary Doyle, a telephone operator in Arlington, Vermont.

The song originally began with these words (left out in this recording):

In what jobs are women "making history" today? Write lyrics, to this tune or another, about this work.

Ask family and friends if anyone knows a "Rosie the Riveter." Interview her about her work.

"E" awards : Awards given for "effort" to encourage high production rates during the war.


See Amazing Photos of the Real 'Rosie the Riveter' Women of World War II

T he famous World War II propaganda image of ‘Rosie the Riveter’ may have been directly inspired by women like Norman Rockwell model Mary Doyle Keefe, who died in 2015, and actual riveter Rose Monroe. But Rosie’s enduring power was the result of her universality.

As America’s men were called away to fight in World War II, women filled their industrial jobs as never before. When the federal government launched a plan to streamline the entire American workforce for maximum efficiency in 1942, the White House said it “definitely includes woman power.”

These photos are just a few of the hundreds that were taken by photographers who worked for the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information in the years leading up to and during World War II. Their earlier work was focused on preserving a picture of American rural life as the nation struggled through the Depression&mdash some of the most iconic images of the Depression were taken under the auspices of the FSA&mdashbut by the time the U.S. joined the war, their new goal was to show the world what it looked like when the nation mobilized for war.

The unit lost its funding midway through the war, but the images its photographers had already managed to create help shape a picture of what it looks like when all hands&mdashregardless of gender&mdashpitch in for a larger cause. As the world marks International Women’s Day on Tuesday, an event that originated with women workers, they’re also a vivid and striking reminder of the importance of that history.


Rosie the Riveter - Real Person, Facts and Norman Rockwell - HISTORY

Black &lsquoRosies&rsquo of WWII opened doors for others

While it seems Americans may be fuzzy about their history, the iconic image of &ldquoRosie the Riveter&rdquo &mdash a tireless World War II assembly line worker &mdash seems firmly stamped on the nation&rsquos consciousness.

The &ldquoRosie&rdquo term was first used in 1942 to describe the nearly 20 million women who went to work in industry and took over jobs previously done by men. Much like the earlier World War, many men had mandatory military service, which led to a shortage of available laborers, thus the demand for women workers.

Black and minority women were also part of these corps of fabled &ldquoRosies.&rdquo An estimated 600,000 African-American women fled oppressive and often demeaning jobs as domestics and sharecroppers. They chose instead to help build airplanes, tanks and ships, fueling America&rsquos &ldquoarsenal of democracy.&rdquo

Philadelphia historian and filmmaker Gregory S. Cooke is in the midst of telling these unheralded stories in the documentary, &ldquoInvisible Warriors: African-American Women in World War II.&rdquo He has compiled dozens of audiovisual interviews (perhaps the largest such collection in the world) about African-American participation in World War II.

&ldquoPrior to World War II, most Black women were either domestics or they were sharecroppers with farmers in the South, and sometimes they did double duty as sharecroppers and then they worked in white folks&rsquo home as domestics,&rdquo explained Cooke. &ldquoIt is also worth noting that Black women were the last ones hired. There were white males who had deferments because their jobs were considered too important to let them go into the service. And then you had the next available and large source, which was white women. And then there were Black men, and at the very bottom, when there was no one else to hire, you had Black women. So, many Black women did not actually get their jobs until 1944, the last full year of WWII.&rdquo

It was mostly due to the tireless advocacy of mid-20th century civil rights workers, especially Mary McLeod Bethune&rsquos clout as a top-ranking African American in President Franklin Roosevelt administration. Bethune (who was also a great friend of then-first lady Eleanor Roosevelt) lobbied for African-American concerns and was instrumental in seeing that African Americans received help from the federal government.

&ldquoSo, between Mary McLeod Bethune, A. Philip Randolph and Eleanor Roosevelt, they created this pressure on the president to sign an act that said that any manufacturer that&rsquos getting government contracts for the war must hire people of color and women,&rdquo said Cooke. &ldquoAs a result of that pressure, the door was opened for these 600,000 women.&rdquo

Fast Facts about Women in the Wartime Industry

By 1944, 1 out of 5 defense workers was a woman who had recently been a student

By 1944 1 out of 3 defense workers were former full-time homemakers

World War II was the first time in U.S. history married women outnumbered single women workers. 1

The largest employers of women during World War II were airplane manufacturers such as Boeing Aircraft, Consolidated Aircraft Corporation, and Douglass Aircraft Company. Other major employers included Chrysler, Goodyear, and Ford.

Between 1940 and 1960 the number of working women doubled, rising from 15% of the workforce to 30%. Working mothers increased by 400%.

Most trade unions maintained separate seniority lists for men and women but by 1944 more than 3 million women made up 22% of all trade union membership in the U.S.

A survey taken immediately after WWII by the Bureau of Women Workers revealed 75% of women workers preferred to remain employed outside their homes 2

By 1955, more women worked in the labor force than during World War II

During the Great Depression, (1929-World War II) women were discouraged from working so the few jobs available could go to male breadwinners. In order to encourage women into the workforce, the federal government&rsquos War Manpower Commission, War Production Board, and defense industries launched a massive campaign centered around recruitment posters. The substantial need for war supplies coupled with the staggering number of men drafted into the war created mass vacancies in factories across the nation.

Economist Theresa Wolfson described the tension women felt in 1942 after the Bombing of Pearl Harbor:

&ldquoIt is not easy to forget the propaganda of two decades [during the Great Depression] even in the face of a national emergency such as a great war. Women themselves doubted their ability to do a man&rsquos job. Married women with families were loath to leave their homes society had made so little provision for the thousands of jobs that a homemaker must tackle. And when they finally come into the plants, the men resent them as potential scabs.&rdquo

To entice these women to join the work force, the image of &ldquoRosie the Riveter&rdquo was created. Painted by Norman Rockwell, Rosie the Riveter first appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in 1943. This interpretation of Rosie was firmly entrenched in the concept of women entering the workforce as their patriotic duty. Note that Rosie is stomping on a copy of Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler&rsquos 1925 autobiography and political manifesto. The message was clear: although men did the physical fighting on the frontlines, women were also doing their part to defeat the enemy.

To entice these women to join the work force, the image of &ldquoRosie the Riveter&rdquo was created. Painted by Norman Rockwell, Rosie the Riveter first appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in 1943. This interpretation of Rosie was firmly entrenched in the concept of women entering the workforce as their patriotic duty. Note that Rosie is stomping on a copy of Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler&rsquos 1925 autobiography and political manifesto. The message was clear: although men did the physical fighting on the frontlines, women were also doing their part to defeat the enemy.

The most prominent image of Rosie the Riveter popularized in American culture was the version featured on the &ldquoWe Can Do It!&rdquo posters created by the United States government.

This Rosie bears a striking likeness to Rockwell&rsquos Rosie, but she is less masculine. While Rockwell&rsquos Rosie has bulging arm muscles, this second Rosie poses with a flexed arm, hair gently tucked into a bandana, and perfectly applied makeup.This version of Rosie the Riveter employed by the United States government was popular because she appealed to the sense of patriotism and common goal of the Second World War while showing that women could retain their femininity and womanhood in their service. Every Rosie the Riveter image played to this prevailing sense of patriotism that abounded in America during World War II. The government and employers utilized patriotism as a primary motivator to recruit women for war work. Most American women had husbands, brothers, sons, and fiancés fighting on the frontlines of the war, so the women felt compelled to provide to make an equally significant contribution as citizens at home. 3 In many cases, women had to continue maintaining their households and caring for their children, while also taking a full-time job.

In August, 1942, African American newspapers like the New York Age, reported that Mare Island had at least 10 black women working at the navy yard. The same news report said that in May of that year, the first African American female welder had been hired to work in the war effort.

Lola Thomas, pictured, was a shipfitter at Mare Island Navy during the war years.


“Rosie The Riveter” 1941-1945


Norman Rockwell’s ‘Rosie The Riveter’ cover for the May 29, 1943 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, was the first visual image to incorporate the ‘Rosie’ name.

After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and the full involvement of the U.S. in World War II, the male work force was depleted to fill the ranks of the U.S. military. This came precisely at a time when America’s need for factory output and munitions soared.

The U.S. government, with the help of advertising agencies such as J. Walter Thompson, mounted extensive campaigns to encourage women to join the work force. Magazines and posters played a key role in the effort to recruit women for the wartime workforce.

Saturday Evening Post cover artist, Norman Rockwell, is generally credited with creating one of the popular “Rosie the Riveter” images used to encourage women to become wartime workers.

Rockwell’s “Rosie,” shown at right, appeared on the cover of the May 29th, 1943 edition of The Saturday Evening Post. The Post was then one of the nation’s most popular magazines, with a circulation of about 3 million copies each week. In addition to Rockwell’s Rosie, however, another image would become the more commonly known “Rosie the Riveter” image.


J. Howard Miller's 'We Can Do It!' poster, commissioned by Westinghouse and shown briefly in Feb 1942. Click for copy.

Westinghouse Posters

In 1942, Pittsburgh artist J. Howard Miller was hired by the Westinghouse Company’s War Production Coordinating Committee to create a series of posters to motivate employees for the war effort. One of these posters became the famous “We Can Do It!” image — an image that in later years would also become known by many as “Rosie the Riveter,” though that was not the intended purpose at its creation. In fact, at the time of the poster’s release the name “Rosie” was in no way associated with Miller’s image. The poster — one of 42 produced in Miller’s Westinghouse series — was used exclusively within Westinghouse and not initially seen much beyond several Westinghouse factories in Pennsylvania and the Midwest where it was displayed for two weeks in February 1943. It was only years later, after the Miller poster was rediscovered in 1982 – some 40 years later, in fact – that his rendering began to be associated with “Rosie The Riveter,” and more importantly, women’s liberation and other causes.

In terms of the origin of Miller’s “We Can Do It!” image, there have been some reports that an actual WWII woman worker may have been used as the source and/or inspiration – either from a photograph or as an in-person studio model. A 1942 wire service photo of one WWII female worker at Alameda Naval Air Base in California dressed in bandanna and work clothes has been suggested as a possible source, but one friend of Miller’s has noted that he rarely worked from photographs.

Both images, however — Rockwell’s and Miller’s — were used to help motivate the WWII workforce, but in Miller’s case, perhaps only at Westinghouse factories. But Rockwell’s “Rosie,” in particular, helped encourage female workers to fill WW II production jobs. Sheridan Harvey of the U.S. Library of Congress has noted: “Rosie’s appearance on the Memorial Day cover of the Saturday Evening Post implied that her work might help save soldiers’ lives.” And in later years, up to present times, both of these images – Miller’s and Rockwell’s – have become iconic symbols of women’s rights struggles and are occasionally adapted for other causes and political campaigns as well. But in any case, it was during the World War II years that “Rosie the Riveter” got her start.

“Rosie the Riveter”
Song Lyrics

While other girls attend their fav’rite
cocktail bar
Sipping Martinis, munching caviar
There’s a girl who’s really putting
them to shame
Rosie is her name

All the day long whether rain or shine
She’s a part of the assembly line
She’s making history,
working for victory
Rosie the Riveter
Keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage
Sitting up there on the fuselage
That little frail can do more than a
male will do
Rosie the Riveter

Rosie’s got a boyfriend, Charlie
Charlie, he’s a Marine
Rosie is protecting Charlie
Working overtime on the
riveting machine
When they gave her a production “E”
She was as proud as a girl could be
There’s something true about
Red, white, and blue about
Rosie the Riveter

Everyone stops to admire the scene
Rosie at work on the B-Nineteen
She’s never twittery, nervous or jittery
Rosie the Riveter
What if she’s smeared full of
oil and grease
Doing her bit for the old Lendlease
She keeps the gang around
They love to hang around
Rosie the Riveter

First, The Song

Rosie the Riveter appears to have come first in song, not in art. In 1942, a song titled “Rosie the Riveter” was written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb and was issued by Paramount Music Corporation of New York. The song was released in early 1943 and was played on the radio and broadcast nationally. It was also performed by various artists with popular band leaders of that day.

The song, it turns out, was inspired by a newspaper story about a 19-year old female riveter named Rosalind Palmer who worked at the Vought Aircraft Company in Stratford, Connecticut riveting the bodies of Corsair fighter planes. That Rosie – perhaps the first Rosie – was known as “Roz” by friends, and would become Rosalind P. Walter, a famous and long-time benefactor of PBS and WNET in New York. She was born into a prosperous North Shore Long Island family – her father, Carleton Palmer, was president and then chairman of E.R. Squibb and Sons, a drug company made prosperous by WWII penicillin (now part of Bristol Myers Squibb), and her mother, W. Bushnell, a professor of literature at Long Island University. Rosalind, a prep school student who might have gone off to college at Smith or Vassar, instead heeded the WWII call for female workers. Syndicated newspaper columnist, Igor Cassini, took up her story, writing about Rosalind the riveter in his “Cholly Knickerbocker” column. That story, in turn, inspired the songwriters Evans and Loeb – and since it was syndicated in many newspapers — possibly Rockwell too.

The song, meanwhile, became quite popular, particularly one version recorded by the Four Vagabonds, an African-American group — a version that caught on and rose on the Hit Parade. It seems likely that Saturday Evening Post artist Norman Rockwell heard this song, and possibly was influenced by it, especially since he wrote the name “Rosie” on the lunch box in his painting.

In the Post’s cover illustration, Rockwell’s Rosie is shown on her lunch break, eating a sandwich from her opened lunch pail as her riveting gun rests on her lap. A giant American flag waves behind her. Rosie appears content, gazing off into the distance. However, Rockwell portrays her with some important details, from the lace handkerchief visible in her right hand pocket, to her foot placed smack on the cover of Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf at the bottom of the painting. But there was also something else in Rockwell’s Rosie.

The “Isaiah Effect”

In early June 1943, after The Saturday Evening Post cover of Rosie had hit the newsstands and had been widely circulated, the Kansas City Star newspaper ran images of Rockwell’s Rosie alongside of Michelangelo’s Isaiah from his Sistine Chapel ceiling painting. The splash in the Star drew a lot more attention to Rockwell’s Rosie. Followers of Rockwell’s illustrations in those years knew well his penchant for touches of humor and satire.

In more recent years, reviewers of Rockwell’s Rosie have added their interpretations and observations. “Just as Isaiah was called by God to convert the wicked from their sinful ways and trample evildoers under foot,” wrote one Sotheby’s curator in a May 2002 review, “so Rockwell’s Rosie tramples Hitler under her all-American penny loafer.”

Rockwell had used a petite local woman as a model for his Rosie — Mary Doyle (Keefe), then a 19 year-old telephone operator — but he took liberties with her actual proportions to make his Rosie appear as a more powerful, Isaiah-like figure.

“Righteousness is described throughout Isaiah’s prophecy as God’s ‘strong right arm’,” continued the Sotheby’s reviewer, “a characterization that must surely have occurred to [Rockwell] as he portrayed Rosie’s muscular forearms.” Rockwell’s Rosie also has a halo floating just above the pushed-back visor on her head. Rockwell’s “Rosie” was later donated to the U.S. War Loan Drive and briefly went on a public tour. Rockwell had fun with his paintings, using some irreverent humor here and there, but also including the necessary serious messages and patriotic tone.

Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post Rosie was widely disseminated during the war. In addition to the magazine’s 3 million-plus circulation, Rockwell’s Rosie was also displayed in other publications, including The Art Digest of July 1, 1943. However, Rockwell’s image of Rosie might have enjoyed an even wider circulation had it not been for the actions of the magazine’s publisher, Curtis Publishing. In 1943, Curtis initially used the phrase “Rosie the Riveter” on posters it distributed to news dealers advertising the forthcoming Post issue with Rockwell’s painting on the cover. However, according to author Penny Colman, within a few days, Curtis sent telegrams to the news dealers ordering them to destroy the poster and return a notarized statement attesting to the fact that they had. Curtis issued its retraction because it feared being sued for copyright infringement of the recently released song “Rosie the Riveter.” Rockwell’s painting of Rosie was then donated to the U.S. Treasury Department’s War Loan Drive, and then went on a tour for public display in various cities across the country.


A ‘Wendy-the-Welder’ in 1940s’ shipbuilding at Richmond, CA.

Real Life Rosies

In June 1943, about two weeks after Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post cover appeared on newsstands, the press picked up the story of a woman worker named Rose Bonavita-Hickey. She and partner Jennie Florio, drilled 900 holes and placed a record 3,345 rivets in a torpedo-bombing Avenger aircraft at the former General Motors Eastern Aircraft Division in North Tarrytown, New York.

Hickey’s feat was recognized with a personal letter from President Roosevelt, and became identified as one of many real-life “Rosie the Riveters.” Other women workers doing riveting — as well as others generally who were filling heavy-industry “men’s” jobs all across the nation – e.g., “Wendy-the-welders,” etc. — also gained media attention during the war years.


WWII-era photo showing Dora Miles and Dorothy Johnson at Douglas Aircraft Co. plant in Long Beach, CA.

“The women worked in pairs. I was the riveter and this big, strong, white girl from a cotton farm in Arkansas worked as the bucker. The riveter used a gun to shoot rivets through the metal and fasten it together. The bucker used a bucking bar on the other side of the metal to smooth out the rivets. Bucking was harder than shooting rivets it required more muscle. Riveting required more skill.”

In early August 1943, Life magazine featured a full cover photograph of a woman steelworker, along with an inside photo-story spread of other “Rosie” steelworkers, some quite dramatic.

The photographs were taken by Margaret Bourke-White, the famous Life photojournalist who was the first female war correspondent and the first woman to be allowed to work in combat zones during World War II.


Life magazine cover photo of August 9, 1943 shows steel-worker Ann Zarik at work with her torch. Click for copy.

Bourke-White had spent much of WWII in the thick of things overseas, but also managed to do domestic stories such as the “Women in Steel” spread, which included at least a dozen photographs displayed in Life’s August 9, 1943 edition. These photos captured women at work in the American steel industry, including some taken at Tubular Alloy Steel Corp. of Gary, Indiana and Carnegie-Illinois Steel Company.

Some of the photos showed the women wielding torches and working on heavy plate and structural steel with sparks flying, with others working amid giant steel caldrons that carried the molten steel. A display of these and other Rosie photographs, culled from the Life magazine archive, can be seen at “The Many Faces of Rosie The Riveter, 1941-1945.”

Need More Women

The government, meanwhile, continued to call for more women in the workforce. They needed women to work in all kinds of jobs, not just those in munitions plants or military-related factory work. By September 1943, the Magazine War Guide was asking magazine publishers to participate in a “Women at Work Cover Promotion.” They wanted publishers and others to push all kinds of employment as vital “war jobs.” Everyday “civilian jobs” were vital, too, not just the factory jobs. The slogan for this promotion was: “The More Women at Work the Sooner We Win.”


Norman Rockwell’s portrayal of American ‘liberty girl’ in her ‘jack-of-all-trades’ mode, capable of doing many kinds of civilian jobs to help the War effort – September 4, 1943, Saturday Evening Post.

Rockwell and The Saturday Evening Post were only part of a much bigger campaign to move women into the workplace. Motion pictures, newspapers, radio, museums, employee publications, and in-store displays were all involved. Some 125 million advertisements were produced as posters and full-page magazine ads.


Fine print reads: ‘Uncle Sam Needs Stenographers. Get Civil Service Information at Your Post Office.’Click for copy.

Some promotional films were produced as well. Hollywood actor Walter Pidgeon, working for the government War Bond effort, made a short film promoting the war effort in which he recruited a real “Rosie the Riveter” worker named Rose Will Monroe whom he met while touring Ford Motor’s Willow Run aircraft factory. The short film was shown in theaters between featured films to encourage viewers to buy War Bonds.

Unrelated to the War Bond effort, a Hollywood movie called Rosie the Riveter was also made in 1944 it was a B-grade romantic wartime comedy made by Republic studios with Jane Frazee as Rosie Warren who worked in an airplane factory.


Female trainees at Middletown, PA, 1944. The Middletown Air Service Command stockpiled parts and overhauled military airplanes. During WWII, Middletown’s workforce grew from 500 to more than 18,000, nearly half of them women.

Women’s Work

The women who responded to “Rosie’s call” during the 1940s’ war years did all kinds of work. In 1942, the Kaiser shipyards opened in Richmond, California, becoming a major shipbuilding center for the war effort. A woman named Bethena Moore from Derrider, Louisina was one of thousands who came to work there. In Louisiana, she had been a laundry worker. A small woman of 110 pounds, Bethena was one of the workers who would climb down into the bowels of ships — sometimes four stories in depth — on a narrow steel ladder, tethered to a welding machine. She did the welds on the ships’ double-bottoms. “It was dark, scary,” she later recounted to a New York Times reporter in October 2000. “It felt sad, because there was a war on. You knew why you were doing it — the men overseas might not get back. There were lives involved. So the welding had to be perfect.”


Woman working inside the tail of a B-17 aircraft at Boeing production line in Seattle, WA, 1940s.
Women working at the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, 1940s.
Sante Fe Railroad ad singing the praises of its women workers.

In Michigan, at Ford Motor Co., more than 30 percent of Ford workers in 1943 in the machining and assembly departments were women. Women at Ford plants built jeeps, B-24 aircraft, and tractors. They also became test pilots for the B-24s. And they operated drill presses, welding tools, heavy casting machinery and riveting guns.

The Sante Fe Railroad also used women in war-time jobs. One of the company’s wartime ads explained in part: “…Right now, thousands of Santa Fe women are doing war-vital work to ‘keep-em-rolling’. Many of them are pitching into ‘unglamourous jobs’… greasing engines, operating turntables, wielding a shovel, cleaning roller bearings, working in blacksmith and sheet metal shops. They take pride in their work too!” A small inset box in the ad also read: “Another chapter in the story ‘Working for Victory on the Sante Fe’.”

Marilyn “Rosie” Monroe
June 1945


Marilyn Monroe, before she became a Hollywood star, appeared in a series of airplane factory photos in June 1945 that led to her becoming a model and film star.
Another of David Conover's photos of 19 year-old Norma Jean Dougherty.

Opening The Door


Mexican American women workers on the Southern Pacific Railroad during WW II.

Although many of the jobs held by women during WWII were initially returned to men after the war ended, the workforce would never be the same again. Sybil Lewis, who worked as a Lockheed riveter during those years stated: “You came out to California, put on your pants, and took your lunch pail to a man’s job. This was the beginning of women’s feeling that they could do something more.” Inez Sauer, who worked as a Boeing tool clerk in the war years, put it this way:

“My mother warned me when I took the job that I would never be the same. She said, ‘You will never want to go back to being a housewife.’ At that time I didn’t think it would change a thing. But she was right, it definitely did. . . . at Boeing I found a freedom and an independence that I had never known. After the war I could never go back to playing bridge again, being a club woman . . . when I knew there were things you could use your mind for. The war changed my life completely. I guess you could say, at thirty-one, I finally grew up.”


Women at Douglas aircraft plant during WWII.

Women discovered a new sense of pride, dignity and independence in their work and their lives. Many realized their work was just as valuable as men’s, though for years, and to this day, an earnings disparity still exists. During the war years, however, a number of women workers joined unions, gaining major new benefits from labor representation. Black and Hispanic women also gained entry to major industrial plants, factory and other jobs throughout the country. But the fight for equal rights in the workplace and equal pay for women was just beginning, and would be fought over many years following WWII.


America’s working women were praised during the war, but when the war ended they were encouraged to return to homemaking. Click for poster.

The film’s views contrast with some of the popular legends and mythology surrounding the Rosies of WW II, including the fact that many Rosies were denied opportunities to continue working once the war ended. The film is regarded as one of the best accounts of women working in heavy industry in World War II, and also of home-front life during those years. In the film’s first year, some 1 million viewers saw it, a very high number for a documentary. It has also won various film festival prizes and was dubbed into six languages. In 1996, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.


Rosie stamp, circa 1999.
‘When America marched off to war, the women marched into the factories,’ says this 1984 movie promo. ‘From then on. nothing was ever the same again.’

Back in the real world, however, thousands of older Rosies who had actually worked in the wartime production frenzy, were getting up in years, and many were recalling their experiences in their wartime jobs. Some were having reunions, while others began communicating with one another. In 1998, the “American Rosie the Riveter Association” was formed in Warm Springs, Georgia and is today headquarterd in Birmingham, Alabama. By 2004 this organization had 1,400-members. In California, meanwhile, something else was afoot: a National Park (follows below the Rockwell sidebar).

Rockwell’s Rosie & Beyond
Rising Value

Over the years, Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter has generally yielded in popularity to the J. Howard Miller/Westinghouse “We Can Do It!” poster girl. Copyright restrictions on Rockwell’s Rosie in subsequent years meant it was less frequently reproduced. The Miller/Westinghouse poster image, on the other hand, was without such copyright limitations, and over the years, appeared in numerous forms — on coffee mugs, magnets, t-shirts, and mouse pads. Still, Rockwell’s original painting had some interesting travels. …By the 1990s, certainly, Rockwell’s body of work had received serious attention of historians and art critics alike… And in the art world, Rockwell’s Rosie enjoyed a considerable following. In the 1940s, after Rockwell’s painting was donated to the government War Bond effort, it went on public tour, as did other works of art during those years. Items on these tours were sometimes offered as prizes in raffles as a way to increase public interest and contributions for the war effort. Reportedly, at one of those events — believed to have been when the painting was displayed at the Strawbridge & Clothier store in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — Rockwell’s original Rosie was raffled off and won by a Mrs. P. R. Eichenberg of Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania. After that, the painting appears to have been acquired by the Chicago Pneumatic Tool Co. on E. 44th St. in New York city, where it was hung in a display window next to a placard explaining Rosie’s history. Also included in that window display were some riveting hammers identical to the one Rockwell’s painting placed in Rosie’s lap. After its window display, it appears that Rosie was held by Martha Parrish and James Reinish of New York.

“Rockwell’s pictures often honored the American spirit,” wrote Judy Larson and Maureen Hart Hennessey in their 1999 book, Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People. “Particularly during times of crisis, Rockwell created images that communicated patriotism and unquestioned allegiance to the United States.”

Others would write that his Rosie the Riveter was a testament to the indomitable strength of the American spirit during one of the nation’s most challenging times. “Rosie’s cool self confidence, sheer physical might, and unwavering support of her country,” said one, “parallel the strength, determination and patriotism of the American people.”

Sometime in the year 2000, the original Rockwell Rosie painting was sold to an anonymous collector for $2 million. By 2002, that collector decided to sell. In the meantime, Rockwell’s Rosie had been part of an all Norman Rockwell exhibition entitled “Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People,” which had run at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York from November 1999-February 2002. In 2002, Rockwell’s Rosie was sold at Sotheby’s for $4.95 million. Rockwell’s Rosie had illustrated the exhibit brochure’s back cover as well as interior pages. After the exhibition, it was then featured on the cover of Sotheby’s May 2002 American Paintings auction magazine. The auction was held on May 22, 2002. The bidding on Rockwell’s “Rosie the Riveter” painting began at $1.5 million and proceeded in $100,000 increments until it was sold for $4,959,500. The buyers were a husband-and-wife team — Kelly Elliott owner of the Elliott Yeary Gallery of Aspen, Colorado, and her husband, Jason Elliott, a partner in Ranger Endowments Management of Dallas, Texas.


Isabella Keiser, 7, checks out Rosie’s lunch pail. Photo, Leonardo Carrizo, Columbus Dispatch.

Rosie Memorial & Park


Rosie the Riveter Memorial looking out toward Richmond Marina & San Francisco Bay beyond. This site was formerly Kaiser Shipyard No. 2.
Rosie park poster.

“Preservation is not only for parks and wilderness areas,” said Congressman George Miller at the bill’s signing. “We are also committed to using our resources to preserve historic sites that help tell the story of America’s development, and the Rosie the Riveter Home Front National Historical Park will stand as a lasting tribute to these brave women who played such a crucial role in winning the war.” Today, the park includes a number of exhibits on the “homefront” and “Rosie-the-Riveter” contributions to the WWII-era production that took place in Richmond. Other exhibits for the park are also planned.


View toward Bay from hull sculpture looking down walkway. Engraved pavement sections are visible as well as “image ladders” with period photographs & shipyard memorabilia.

The memorial, which includes a sculpture of part of a ship’s hull under construction, evokes the ship building that went on there, with a granite walkway that stretches the length of a Liberty ship the to the water’s edge. The granite walkway includes etched words from women workers. The site also includes “image ladders” with photographs and memorabilia, and a timeline of events on the home front and individual memories of the period.

On the overlook platform at the memorial, in a prominent location, is the following quote for all to read: “You must tell your children, putting modesty aside, that without us, without women, there would have been no spring in 1945.”


Norman Rockwell with Mary Doyle Keefe, the model for the 1943 'Rosie-the-Riveter' Saturday Evening Post cover.

Additional history on the work of Norman Rockwell can be found at “Rockwell & Race, 1963-1968,” and more on Saturday Evening Post cover art is included at “Falter’s Art, Rising”(John Falter covers, 1940s-1960s) and “U.S. Post Office, 1950s-2011” featuring the work of Stevan Dohanos and other Post illustrators.

Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website.. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 28 February 2009
Last Update: 15 December 2020
Comments to: [email protected]

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Rosie The Riveter, 1941-1945,”
PopHistoryDig.com, February 28, 2009.

Sources, Links & Additional Information


March 1994 issue of Smithsonian magazine features a story on Rosie the Riveter 'the WWII poster icon.'
WW II worker I.D. badge, Redstone Arsenal.
Penny Colman's book, "Rosie the Riveter: Women Working on the Home Front in World War II,” 128 pp, for ages 10 and up. Click for copy.

Transcript of video presentation by Sheridan Harvey, “Rosie the Riveter: Real Women Workers in World War II,” Library of Congress, Washington., D.C., date of presentation not stated.

“Women’s Work,” Click! The Ongoing Feminist Revo-lution (web exhibit), ClioHistory.org/click/, 2015.

“Northrop Workers Show 35,000 Visitors How Planes Are Built, Los Angeles Times, December 28, 1942, p. A-1.

Norman Rockwell’s “Rosie The Riveter” illustration appears in, The Kansas City Star, June 6, 1943.

Jeannette Guiterrez, “Naomi Parker Fraley, The Original ‘We Can Do It!’ Gal,” Diary of A Rosie.com (site focused on saving Willow Run bomber plant & more), March 11, 2016.

“U.S.O. to Open Women War Workers’ Club,” Los Angeles Times, June 21, 1943, p.13.

Aline Law, “Women Do a Lot to Keep ‘Em Flying Tour of Plane Plant Reveals Proportion High,” Los Angeles Times, November 28, 1943, p. D-13.

“Rosie the Riveter Keeps Her Glamour in Shape Special Beauty Treatments at Douglas Plant Retain Girls’ Looks for After-War Home Life,” Los Angeles Times, October 1, 1944, p. 12.

Article on the Norman Rockwell “Rosie the Riveter” painting, Art Digest, April 15, 1945, p. 18.

“Riveter Rosie Asks Man’s Pay, Woman’s Rights,” Los Angeles Times, December 10, 1944, p. 13.

“Women War Workers Quit Plants in Droves,” Los Angeles Times, December 17, 1945, p. 1.

The Life and Times of Rosie The Riveter, a documentary film produced and directed by Connie Field, 1981.

C. Gerald Fraser, “Rosie’s Life after the War Was Not So Rosy,” New York Times, Saturday, May 2, 1981, p. 13.

Maureen Honey, Creating Rosie the Riveter, Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1984.

Sherna B. Gluck, Rosie the Riveter Revisited, Boston, Twayne Publishers, 1987.

Laura L. Dresser and Sherri A. Kossoudji, “The End of a Riveting Experience: Occupational Shifts at Ford After World War II,” American Economic Review, May 1992.

“Powers of Persuasion: Poster Art From World War II,” The National Archives, From an Exhibit in Washington, D.C., May 1994 – February 1995.

Penny Colman, Rosie the Riveter: Women Working on the Home Front in World War II, Crown Books, 1995.

Dr. Kaylene Hughes, “Women at War: Redstone’s WWII Female Production Soldiers,” paper originally written by Dr. Kaylene Hughes, Senior Historian, U.S. Army Missile Command Historical Office, for presentation to the U.S. Army Historians Conference, June 1994. The paper was adapted to book-format by Dr. Hughes in early 1995.

Tony Marcano, “Famed Riveter In War Effort, Rose Monroe Dies at 77,” New York Times, June 2, 1997.

National Public Radio (NPR), “Rosie the Riveter” [Re: Rose Monroe’s death], All Things Considered, June 2, 1997.

Megan Garrett, “Folk Hero Rosie The Riveter and Women’s Labor,” Lewis & Clark College, Portland, Oregon, April 23, 1998.

U.S. Army Ordnance Corps. “Rosie the Riveter: More Than a Poster Girl,” October 1, 1998.

Joanne Klement, “Stamp Will Honor `Rosie the Riveter,” Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, November 10, 1998.

M. Paul Holsinger, “Rosie The Riveter,” War and American Popular Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, 1998.

Judy Larson and Maureen Hart Hennessey, Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People, New York, 1999.

Maureen Honey, Creating Rosie the Riveter: Class, Gender, and Propaganda During World War II, University of Missouri Press, 1999.

Shirley Ann Wilson Moore, To Place Our Deeds: The African American Community in Richmond, California 1910-1963, University of California Press, January 2000.

Patricia Leigh Brown, ‘Rosie the Riveter’ Honored in California Memorial,” New York Times, October 22, 2000.

“Rosie Gets Her National Park as Clinton Signs Miller’s Bill,” RosieTheRiveter.org., Wash., DC, October 25, 2000.

Carol Vogel, “Inside Art: And Rosie’s Still Riveting,” New York Times, April 5, 2002.

James Barron, “The Model for ‘Rosie,’ Without Rivets or Brawn,” New York Times, May 19, 2002.

Dara Mitchell, “Riveting Rosie,” Sotheby’s Auction Preview, American Paintings, 1334 York Avenue, New York, May 22, 2002.

James Barron, “Boldface Names: An Admirer Lands ‘Rosie’,” New York Times, May 23, 2002.

Penny Colman, Letter to the Editor, “It’s Just ‘Rosie’,” New York Times, May 24, 2002.

Jeffry Scott, “Efforts To Recognize ‘Rosie the Riveters’ Picks Up Momentum,” The Atlanta Journal-Con-stitution, December 7, 2004.

“Women in War Jobs – Rosie the Riveter (1942-1945),” Ad Council.org.

National Park Service Website, Rosie The Riveter / WWII Homefront National Park.

Aerial view of featured sites at Rosie The Riveter National Park.

“Yank, the Army Weekly,” Wikipedia.org.

James J. Kimble and Lester C. Olson, “Visual Rhetoric Representing Rosie the Riveter: Myth and Miscon-ception in J. Howard Miller’s ‘We Can Do It!’ Poster,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs, Vol. 9, No. 4, Winter 2006, pp. 533-569.

“Rosie The Riveter: Wars and Battles, World War II Home Front,” U-S-History.com.

National Public Radio (NPR), “My Mother’s Story: Dot the Welder,” by Joyce Butler, on Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo senior producer for StoryCorps Sarah Kramer, December 15, 2006.

An excellent collection of “Rosie worker” photographs, culled from the Life magazine archive, is displayed at “The Many Faces of Rosie The Riveter, 1941-1945.”

Margaret Bourke-White, “Women in Steel” (photo-graphs), Life, August 9, 1943.

Carol Vogel, “A Billionaire’s Eye for Art Shapes Her Singular Museum,” New York Times, June 16, 2011.

Roger Hurlburt, “Monroe An Exhibit Of The Early Days Of Marilyn Monroe — Before She Became A Legend — Brings The Star`s History In Focus,” SunSentinel.com (Florida) January 6, 1991.

“USA Edition, YANK USA 1945,” WarTimePress.com, (re: note on Marilyn Monroe).

Julie Zauzmer, “Rosie The Riveter, 70 Years Later: Women Who Stepped Into Nontraditional Jobs During World War II Remember Their Work With Pride,” Washington Post, Aug. 11, 2014, p. B-1.

Joseph Berger, “Rosalind P. Walter, the First ‘Rosie the Riveter,’ Is Dead at 95,” New York Times, March 5, 2020.
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Was Rosie the Riveter Ever Truly a Feminist Icon?

In 2014, Beyoncé posed as Rosie the Riveter, the iconic WWII-era character that encouraged women to get out of the house and go to work in factories and shipyards across the nation. The Internet immediately fell in love with the image, as it is wont to do with anything Queen Bey does. Yet the Internet also likes to offer a fair amount of criticism, and this time it came in the form of an essay by Rebecca Winson, published via The Guardian.

In it, Winson points out that the Rosie we are most familiar with was painted by a man, J Howard Miller, as propaganda. She writes:

“His propaganda conveniently ignored the fact that women would have been expected to carry on with the housework once they got in, and then, after a war spent being paid nearly 50% less than their male colleagues, would be sacked. When we dress up as her, we’re dressing up as an airbrushed fib. Of course, some argue that this re-appropriation is dissent, but even if you believe that there’s still something problematic with the riveter symbol.”

She went on to say that Rosie, since the 1940s, has stood alone. There has never been a modernized symbol of the working-class woman to replace her. “Isn’t it time we found a new Rosie, a realistic representation of what it’s like to be a woman and work today?” Winson asks.

Interestingly, the Rosie we know was never explicitly named Rosie at all. It’s a meandering journey as to how this woman—with her scarlet polka dot scarf and her rolled up sleeve—became the face we most commonly associate with this character.

WWII began in 1939, with the United States entering the conflict following the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. As American men headed off to war, women headed to work, as they had during WWI. New women employees, as well as those who were already working other types of jobs, took on factory roles typically filled by men. From 1940 to 1945, women went from making up 27% to 37% of the work force.

The American government supported this action through propaganda, which came in the form of posters, films, and songs. In 1942, lyricist Redd Evans and composer John Jacob Loeb wrote the song “Rosie the Riveter.” Several artists recorded it, and it featured lyrics such as “All the day long, whether rain or shine/She’s a part of the assembly line/She’s making history, working for victory/Rosie, the riveter.

In May of 1943, a Norman Rockwell illustration appeared on the front cover of the Saturday Evening Post. The image featured a woman worker, with the name Rosie scrawled on her lunchbox. She held a riveting gun in her arms and crushed a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf beneath her shoe. He based his illustration on a woman named Mary Doyle Keefe, a willowy, 17-year-old phone operator who was not nearly as muscular as Rockwell painted her.

J Howard Miller’s Rosie, however, was never explicitly given the name Rosie, contrary to popular belief. She was one of several illustrations commissioned by Westinghouse Electric in 1942 to boost employee morale. She was likely based on one of two real women, neither of whom were named Rosie: Geraldine Doyle or Naomi Parker. Doyle was a 17-year-old girl working in a metal pressing factory in Michigan however, she only worked for a few weeks in that factory before taking a job at a soda fountain. Doyle, who died in 2010 at the age of 86, was unaware that she had (perhaps) inspired the poster until the ’80s. Though Doyle has been widely credited as the woman in the photo, other evidence indicates she was not. Rather, the photo might actually be Naomi Parker. Parker would have been 20 at the time and was working with her sister as a mechanic at a naval base in Alameda, California. Seton Hall University’s Professor James J. Kimble located the original photo, and the tag on the back provides Parker’s name, alongside the California city.

Several other Rosies also add to the mythos. Rose Bonavita was a riveter in New York, while Rosalind P. Walter was a Long Island riveter who is said to have inspired the song. Rose Will Monroe worked at the Willow Run Aircraft Factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and starred in promotional films as Rosie the Riveter.

Together, all of these women form the composite character we have in our minds today. However, Rosie wasn’t even the first of her kind. Canada entered WWII in 1939, and in 1941, it introduced Ronnie, the Bren Gun Girl. She was based on real-life worker Veronica Foster—a much simpler origin story.

As to whether Rosie is or ever was a feminist icon seems to be in the eye of the beholder, and many people think she’s a false one—born out of war-time propaganda, more symbolic of patriotism than women’s empowerment. This belief is born out of the fact that when the war was over, women went back home. Rosie fell out of favor, and the propaganda machine turned to domesticity. The baby boom happened. Riveters became homemakers.

Though some have re-appropriated Rosie’s image for more modern causes, Teresa English of The Humanities Index suggests abandoning the character. She writes:

“The 1950s are a dark time in women’s history, and it began with propaganda and tools such as Rosie the Riveter. Feminists should reject the use of ‘We Can Do It!’ as it ignores a pivotal time in America’s history and minimizes the impact of propaganda. Feminists would do well to recall George Santayana’s words: ‘those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’”


The Real Story Behind The Beloved Rosie the Riveter Poster from 1943

The history behind this iconic piece of art might surprise you!

One of the most well-known images from the World War II era, the yellow-backed Rosie the Riveter poster has been beloved by young and old for generations. But, the emblematic and moving image has a storied past which we seldom hear. The poster has now come to symbolize the war effort on the home front and the first foray into work outside the home for many American women. The familiar red and yellow Rosie the Riveter image was so appealing that its themes have been copied for countless advertisements and posters. Find out more about the “We can do it!” poster below.

The iconic poster was the creation of J. Howard Miller, commissioned in 1943 for Westinghouse and the War Production Board to boost morale within the Westinghouse factories that produced steel, glass, and supplies for the military during the war. The motivational poster wasn’t actually seen by many people at the time as it only hung in factories for a few weeks. The poster was brought back to light in the 󈨔s, particularly after the 1980 documentary The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter.

The woman in the poster was a likeness of Geraldine Hoff Doyle or Naomi Parker-Fraley depending on who you ask. But, the nickname was inspired by three female workers all named named Rosie who each received publicity about their wartime jobs. Rose Will Monroe, Rosalind P. Walter, and Rose Bonavita all worked in wartime factories and their public personas made a cache of the name Rosie, though not all of them were riveters.

The phrase “Rosie the Riveter” also inspired the term “Wendy Welder,” which never gained quite as much popularity with the public.

We know the image as Rosie the Riveter today, but if you’re like us you’ve always wondered why she is assumed to be a riveter when there’s no machinery in the image. The muddling of facts happened partially because the image was popularized long after the events of the war were over.

The term Rosie the Riveter was more aptly applied to a Norman Rockwell piece which depicted a buff, scruffy woman taking a break from her riveting job, rivet gun in her lap, and eating a precariously balanced sandwich. The name Rosie is written on her metal lunchbox.

The magazine covers and ads and recruitment posters were in addition to a tireless door-to-door campaign to get women into the factories where labor was so sorely needed. And, Miller’s poster, as wonderful as it is, was never really a part of that. Rockwell’s Rosie, however, certainly was and as part of a collection, even toured the country to raise money for war bonds.

Incidentally, the polka dot bandana is a reference to the cannon ball motif bandanas issued to the Women Ordinance Workers during the 󈧬s. The W.O.W. pattern isn’t exactly polka dots, but Miller’s creative license made the image more relatable as not all female workers were in the W.O.W.

However, it’s also possible that if Miller based his poster on a photo of Naomi Parker-Fraley her polka dot bandana was truly the inspiration. Either way, the polka dot bandana (or something like it) came to symbolize the factory women of the war effort.

The real Rosies played such an important part in the war that their importance cannot be overstated. The poster that had little audience when it was first printed has now become the seminal image of women’s roles in the war effort.


Rediscovering And Repurposing Rosie The Riveter

Twitter/ege CANNES’A GİDİYOR

The original poster that Miller did for Westinghouse found its way into the National Archives, where it sat with other wartime posters for 40 years until, in 1982, it was unearthed by Washington Post Magazine as part of a retrospective on war propaganda.

The image immediately struck a chord with feminist activists and publishers, who saw in the figure a blend of feminine and aggressive characteristics that sat well with their ideology.

Ironically, where the 1942 poster had only incidentally used a female subject for a gender-neutral message that was aimed at male and female workers alike, the reborn image was seized on explicitly for the sex of its subject and spread far and wide.

In 1994, the image made the cover of Smithsonian magazine, and with the rise of the internet, all bets were off. Online image boards and graphic arts websites act as high-speed meme generators, allowing uploaders to swiftly download an original image, modify it on their own computers, and then re-upload the image with slight (or drastic) changes that will either encourage the image’s spread or inhibit it.

Socially and politically motivated artists have made thousands of variants of Rosie the Riveter, some expressing a political message, others hawking products, still others intended as satire or farce.

In the 20 or so years since its emergence online, it’s fair to say that the image of an attractive, fiercely determined female worker rolling up her sleeve for a hard day’s butt-kicking has become one of the most-viewed images of all time — even if its original purpose was to discourage union solidarity.

After learning about Rosie the Riverter, step back into World War II with these photos of the real-life Rosie the Riveters who helped power the American war effort. Then, meet the most bad ass women of World War II.


Rosie the Riveter: The World War II Inspiration That Made History

An iconic symbol helped America win the war and opened up a new, postwar world for women.

The iconic image of a woman in overalls, her hair tied up in a bandana, and flexing her bicep below the headline, “We Can Do It,” is one of the most recognizable images from World War II. It can even be considered the precursor to the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Working women have certainly reshaped American society in the past 70 years. But how did it all start?

The Ad Council called the Rosie the Riveter campaign “the most successful advertising recruitment campaign in American history…. This powerful symbol recruited two million women into the workforce to support the war economy. The underlying theme was that the social change required to bring women into the workforce was a patriotic responsibility for women and employers. Those ads made a tremendous change in the relationship between women and the workplace. Employment outside of the home became socially acceptable and even desirable.”

A New Role For Women

There is no doubt that American women played a significant role in World War II—from joining the uniformed services (WAACs, WAVEs, SPARs, and others) to handling jobs in factories and other heavy industries that previously had been a male-only province.

Prior to December 7, 1941, a number of American manufacturers were producing war matériel for the U.S. armed forces and also for America’s allies through the Lend-Lease program. After the United States entered the war, industry swung into high gear, with nearly every manufacturing company receiving government contracts to produce everything from aircraft to ammunition, rifles to rations, ships to soap, pillows to parachutes. With millions of men volunteering or being drafted into service, a huge shortage of workers quickly developed in the nation’s manufacturing facilities.

A National Park Service brochure says, “At first, companies did not think that there would be a labor shortage so they did not take the idea of hiring women seriously. Eventually, women were needed because companies were signing large, lucrative contracts with the government just as all the men were leaving for the service.”

Women, of course, had always worked— on farms, raising families, and as secretaries, teachers, and waitresses. But, with the United States just crawling out from under the Great Depression, most people were dead set against women working in factories and other manufacturing plants because they feared women would take jobs away from unemployed men.

But America’s thrust into the war meant that the old traditions had to be cast aside. While workers were suddenly in short supply, everyone assumed that women working in the war industries would only be temporary and the situation would soon return to normal once victory was attained. However, early efforts to attract women to the workforce were tepid.

The Birth of Rosie the Riveter

The government launched a propaganda campaign to sell the importance of the women performing war work. They promoted the fictional character of Rosie the Riveter, but it came about in an unusual way.

Howard Miller, a graphic designer in Pittsburgh, was hired to create a series of posters for the Westinghouse Company’s War Production Co-Ordinating Committee that would be displayed at the factory for two weeks and then replaced by another series.

Working from a photo of 17-year-old Geraldine Doyle, Miller designed a poster depicting the ideal woman worker: loyal, efficient, patriotic, and feminine. The headline said, “We Can Do It.” But this image was never considered to be Rosie the Riveter.

The first reference to this fictional character is believed to have come from a song, “Rosie the Riveter,” written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb, that became popular in 1942 and furthered the efforts to attract women to industry. The lyrics went:

She’s part of the assembly line.

This was followed by Norman Rockwell’s now-famous cover illustration for the Saturday Evening Post of May 29, 1943, showing a muscular woman in work clothes taking a lunch break with a rivet gun in her lap, and was the first widely publicized pictorial representation of the new Rosie the Riveter. This led to many other “Rosie” images.

The National Park Service brochure continues, “The media found Rose Hicker of Eastern Aircraft Company in Tarrytown, New York, and pictured her with her partner as they drove in a record number of rivets into the wing of a Grumman Avenger bomber on June 8, 1943…. In many other locations and situations around the country, ‘Rosies’ were found and used in the propaganda effort.”

Who Answered the Call?

According to the NPS, “Women responded to the call to work differently depending on age, race, class, marital status, and number of children. Half of the women who took war jobs were minority and lower class women who were already in the workforce. They switched from lower paying, traditionally female jobs to higher paying factory jobs. But even more women were needed, so companies recruited women just graduating from high school.

“Eventually it became evident that married women were needed even though no one wanted them to work, especially if they had young children. It was hard to recruit married women because even if they wanted to work, many of their husbands did not want them to. Initially, women with children under 14 were encouraged to stay home to care for their families. The government feared that a rise in working mothers would lead to a rise in juvenile delinquency. Eventually, the demands of the labor market were so severe that even women with children under six years old took jobs.”

Patriotism was a major influence, but it was the economic incentives that convinced many women to enter the work force. At the start of the war, 12 million women (one quarter of the workforce) were already working outside the home by the end of the war, the number was up to 20 million (one third of the workforce).

Historians point out that conditions were sometimes harsh and pay often unequal, with women making just $31.50 a week while the average man’s pay in a wartime plant was $54.65 per week. It was still more than most women could make in traditional roles.

University of California at Santa Barbara professor Leila J. Rupp, in her study of World War II, wrote, “For the first time, the working woman dominated the public image. Women were riveting housewives in slacks, not mothers, domestic beings, or civilizers.”

Jobs Outside of Industry

While the posters and songs and magazine covers mostly portrayed women breaking the sex-stereotypical image of male industrial workers (such as welders and riveters), the majority of working women filled non-factory positions, such as in the service sector, left vacant by men called to the front.

The NPS brochure says, “Most women worked in tedious and poorly paid jobs in order to free men to take better paying jobs or to join the service. The only area that there was a true mixing of the sexes was in semi-skilled and unskilled blue-collar work in factories.

“Traditionally female clerical positions were able to maintain their numbers and recruit new women. These jobs were attractive because the hours were shorter, were white-collar, had better job security, had competitive wages, and were less physically strenuous and dirty. The demand for clerical workers was so great that it exceeded the supply.”

Married women often had to work a “double shift.” Unlike men, once their factory or shop or office job was done for the day, women often found there was still work to be done at home—cooking, housekeeping, and caring for children.

Liz Olen Minton’s Many Jobs

“Rosies” held a wide variety of jobs. Liz Olen Minton had no training, but she dehydrated potatoes and worked in an aircraft plant during World War II. In 1943, while still a teenager, Minton worked at the Simplot dehydration plant in Caldwell, Idaho. She recalls that the assembly line was a long belt with women lining both sides. A hopper contained potatoes after they had been through the peeler. Minton doesn’t remember the work being especially hard since they stood on wooden pallets or off the concrete floor.

“I was the ‘hopper girl,’” Minton relates. “When they needed more potatoes, they would start the belt and I would let the potatoes roll out.” The women used a curved blade to remove “eyes” or blemishes. After a slicer cubed the spuds, they were spread on trays, stacked six feet high, rolled into ovens, and dehydrated. The packages were then sent to the mess halls overseas.

Minton and her sister met their future husbands and married while working at Simplot both their husbands were shipped overseas. She says her father thought that, since both sons-in-law were in the service, the family should do more defense work, so they moved to Redondo, California. There she went to work in the Douglas aircraft factory in Torrance helping to make aircraft bomb-bay doors. She ended up bucking rivets on the Douglas A-26. “My partner worked on the outside and I worked on the inside,” Minton recalls.


Rosie the Riveter - Real Person, Facts and Norman Rockwell - HISTORY

By Borden Black

The iconic image of a woman in overalls, her hair tied up in a bandana, and flexing her bicep below the headline, “We Can Do It,” is one of the most recognizable images from World War II. It can even be considered the precursor to the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Working women have certainly reshaped American society in the past 70 years. But how did it all start?
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The Ad Council called the Rosie the Riveter campaign “the most successful advertising recruitment campaign in American history…. This powerful symbol recruited two million women into the workforce to support the war economy. The underlying theme was that the social change required to bring women into the workforce was a patriotic responsibility for women and employers. Those ads made a tremendous change in the relationship between women and the workplace. Employment outside of the home became socially acceptable and even desirable.”

A New Role For Women

There is no doubt that American women played a significant role in World War II—from joining the uniformed services (WAACs, WAVEs, SPARs, and others) to handling jobs in factories and other heavy industries that previously had been a male-only province.

Prior to December 7, 1941, a number of American manufacturers were producing war matériel for the U.S. armed forces and also for America’s allies through the Lend-Lease program. After the United States entered the war, industry swung into high gear, with nearly every manufacturing company receiving government contracts to produce everything from aircraft to ammunition, rifles to rations, ships to soap, pillows to parachutes. With millions of men volunteering or being drafted into service, a huge shortage of workers quickly developed in the nation’s manufacturing facilities.

A National Park Service brochure says, “At first, companies did not think that there would be a labor shortage so they did not take the idea of hiring women seriously. Eventually, women were needed because companies were signing large, lucrative contracts with the government just as all the men were leaving for the service.”

J. Howard Miller’s famous image created for the Westinghouse Company is still popular today on T- shirts, coffee mugs, and posters. The model was 17- year-old Geraldine Doyle.

Women, of course, had always worked— on farms, raising families, and as secretaries, teachers, and waitresses. But, with the United States just crawling out from under the Great Depression, most people were dead set against women working in factories and other manufacturing plants because they feared women would take jobs away from unemployed men.

But America’s thrust into the war meant that the old traditions had to be cast aside. While workers were suddenly in short supply, everyone assumed that women working in the war industries would only be temporary and the situation would soon return to normal once victory was attained. However, early efforts to attract women to the workforce were tepid.

The Birth of Rosie the Riveter

The government launched a propaganda campaign to sell the importance of the women performing war work. They promoted the fictional character of Rosie the Riveter, but it came about in an unusual way.

Howard Miller, a graphic designer in Pittsburgh, was hired to create a series of posters for the Westinghouse Company’s War Production Co-Ordinating Committee that would be displayed at the factory for two weeks and then replaced by another series.

Working from a photo of 17-year-old Geraldine Doyle, Miller designed a poster depicting the ideal woman worker: loyal, efficient, patriotic, and feminine. The headline said, “We Can Do It.” But this image was never considered to be Rosie the Riveter.

The first reference to this fictional character is believed to have come from a song, “Rosie the Riveter,” written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb, that became popular in 1942 and furthered the efforts to attract women to industry. The lyrics went:

She’s part of the assembly line.

This was followed by Norman Rockwell’s now-famous cover illustration for the Saturday Evening Post of May 29, 1943, showing a muscular woman in work clothes taking a lunch break with a rivet gun in her lap, and was the first widely publicized pictorial representation of the new Rosie the Riveter. This led to many other “Rosie” images.

Norman Rockwell’s painting of Rosie the Riveter appeared on the May 29, 1943, issue of the Saturday Evening Post.

The National Park Service brochure continues, “The media found Rose Hicker of Eastern Aircraft Company in Tarrytown, New York, and pictured her with her partner as they drove in a record number of rivets into the wing of a Grumman Avenger bomber on June 8, 1943…. In many other locations and situations around the country, ‘Rosies’ were found and used in the propaganda effort.”

Who Answered the Call?

According to the NPS, “Women responded to the call to work differently depending on age, race, class, marital status, and number of children. Half of the women who took war jobs were minority and lower class women who were already in the workforce. They switched from lower paying, traditionally female jobs to higher paying factory jobs. But even more women were needed, so companies recruited women just graduating from high school.

“Eventually it became evident that married women were needed even though no one wanted them to work, especially if they had young children. It was hard to recruit married women because even if they wanted to work, many of their husbands did not want them to. Initially, women with children under 14 were encouraged to stay home to care for their families. The government feared that a rise in working mothers would lead to a rise in juvenile delinquency. Eventually, the demands of the labor market were so severe that even women with children under six years old took jobs.”

Patriotism was a major influence, but it was the economic incentives that convinced many women to enter the work force. At the start of the war, 12 million women (one quarter of the workforce) were already working outside the home by the end of the war, the number was up to 20 million (one third of the workforce).

Historians point out that conditions were sometimes harsh and pay often unequal, with women making just $31.50 a week while the average man’s pay in a wartime plant was $54.65 per week. It was still more than most women could make in traditional roles.

University of California at Santa Barbara professor Leila J. Rupp, in her study of World War II, wrote, “For the first time, the working woman dominated the public image. Women were riveting housewives in slacks, not mothers, domestic beings, or civilizers.”

Jobs Outside of Industry

While the posters and songs and magazine covers mostly portrayed women breaking the sex-stereotypical image of male industrial workers (such as welders and riveters), the majority of working women filled non-factory positions, such as in the service sector, left vacant by men called to the front.

The NPS brochure says, “Most women worked in tedious and poorly paid jobs in order to free men to take better paying jobs or to join the service. The only area that there was a true mixing of the sexes was in semi-skilled and unskilled blue-collar work in factories.

A group of women build a CG-4A glider wing at the Villaume Box and Lumber Company in St. Paul, Minnesota.

“Traditionally female clerical positions were able to maintain their numbers and recruit new women. These jobs were attractive because the hours were shorter, were white-collar, had better job security, had competitive wages, and were less physically strenuous and dirty. The demand for clerical workers was so great that it exceeded the supply.”

Married women often had to work a “double shift.” Unlike men, once their factory or shop or office job was done for the day, women often found there was still work to be done at home—cooking, housekeeping, and caring for children.

Liz Olen Minton’s Many Jobs

“Rosies” held a wide variety of jobs. Liz Olen Minton had no training, but she dehydrated potatoes and worked in an aircraft plant during World War II. In 1943, while still a teenager, Minton worked at the Simplot dehydration plant in Caldwell, Idaho. She recalls that the assembly line was a long belt with women lining both sides. A hopper contained potatoes after they had been through the peeler. Minton doesn’t remember the work being especially hard since they stood on wooden pallets or off the concrete floor.

“I was the ‘hopper girl,’” Minton relates. “When they needed more potatoes, they would start the belt and I would let the potatoes roll out.” The women used a curved blade to remove “eyes” or blemishes. After a slicer cubed the spuds, they were spread on trays, stacked six feet high, rolled into ovens, and dehydrated. The packages were then sent to the mess halls overseas.

An African American woman is photographed working in an aircraft factory. Wartime job opportunities did much to improve the status of minorities.

Minton and her sister met their future husbands and married while working at Simplot both their husbands were shipped overseas. She says her father thought that, since both sons-in-law were in the service, the family should do more defense work, so they moved to Redondo, California. There she went to work in the Douglas aircraft factory in Torrance helping to make aircraft bomb-bay doors. She ended up bucking rivets on the Douglas A-26. “My partner worked on the outside and I worked on the inside,” Minton recalls.

After they finished a door and it was being inspected, she chatted with the other girls and got to know a few of them. Other than that, Minton didn’t have much of a social life. “I would get up, get ready for work, go to work, put in a day’s work, and come home,” she remembers. “I lived with Mom and Dad. I would help Mom, eat dinner, write a letter to Ray, read the Bible, and go to bed. The key was winning the war and helping the war effort.”

She says the highlight those days was getting a letter. She wrote her husband every night while he was gone, and he did his best to write every day as well. “We got acquainted through the mail,” she explains.

Minton believes that women held their own in the workplace. “It was a job that had to be done, and there was not a man there to do it. Once given the chance, we proved to be as strong as the men.”

June Tinker in the NYA

However, there was still resistance to women working in traditionally male-only jobs. The NPS brochure says, “The biggest problem was changing men’s attitudes. Male employees and male-controlled unions were suspicious of women. Companies saw women’s needs and desires on the job as secondary to men’s, so they were not taken seriously or given much attention. In addition, employers denied women positions of power, excluding them from the decision-making process of the company. Women wanted to be treated like the male workers and not given special consideration just because they were women.”

In the prewar years, the National Youth Administration (NYA) provided work and education for Americans 16 to 24 years old. June Midkiff Tinker trained at the Charleston NYA as an acetylene torch welder and also learned typing and general office work. After three or four months of training, she went to Patterson Field in Fairfield, Ohio (today Wright-Patterson Air Force Base), to work in an aircraft factory.

“My two brothers joined the Marines when the war started, and my older sister and I wanted to do our part,” she explains, adding, “We had grown up in the Depression. It was living from hand to mouth. It was a chance to make money and help in the war effort.”

Photographer Alfred Palmer captured another African American “Rosie” operating a power tool while working on an A-31 Vengeance dive bomber at Vultee Aircraft’s Nashville, Tennessee, plant.

Tinker and her sister roomed with two other girls in a family’s home. She remembers fondly that one of the women would bring them hot chocolate and Ritz crackers every Sunday. “It was the nicest thing anyone could do for us. She treated us like her girls.”

Tinker’s job called for measuring and cutting sheet metal. Planes would come in with the side torn out or burned, and a riveter on the outside and bucker on the inside would weld new metal in place. Tinker worked the line and learned how to rivet on the job. She found the hardest part was having to work the night shift. “I wasn’t used to staying up at night. I usually went to bed at 8 o’clock,” she recalls.

“I Enjoyed Life No Matter How Hard it Was”

Until the World War II era, women wore skirts and dresses outside the home, but safety rules in the factories meant covering their hair, and pants and overalls became the norm. When she did dress up, Tinker said that silk stockings were unavailable (silk went into the manufacture of parachutes), so she would put makeup on her legs and draw a seam up the back. Comparing her fashion style then and now, Tinker laughs, “I live in jeans now.”

Conditions in the plant were hard, and it was hot, but Tinker says that it was easier than at home because she had plenty to eat and money to send to the family. “When you are young, you don’t think about complaining about things.”

A woman works on an aircraft engine at the North American Aviation factory in Inglewood, California.

Despite the night-shift hours, she remembers they did have some fun, dancing at the USO and dating soldiers. “I enjoyed life no matter how hard it was.” She went on to wed a military man and believes that marriage and her time in the plant expanded her horizons.

Tinker’s career didn’t end after the war. She became a bookkeeper and accountant. “I was the type of person who was very industrious. I would have done something. I know now we opened the door for all these women today who work.”

“We Didn’t Let Anyone Waste Anything”

Jean Liparoto remembers that the war years were rough, but she says no one complained. She was married and had a son in 1942 but still went to work in a Monroe, Michigan, war plant.

The factory, which made automobile parts before the war, was converted into the manufacture of 40mm shells. Liparoto worked the line inspecting the shells to make sure they weighed the right amount. The shells rolled down the line in hot oil. “The fumes from the oil got into your clothing and hair,” she recalls. She wore gloves but no mask and says you couldn’t get the oil smell out of your clothes. “People knew where you worked.”

She doesn’t remember men on the line but says the men showed the women what to do and checked on them.

Now 92, Liparoto feels people have become spoiled. “We did a lot of combining trips because gas was rationed. We didn’t let anyone waste anything, and we shared.”

Working on the Family Farm

When her brothers went off to war, Darlene Gottfried had to help with the family farm in Kansas. She was only 14, but there were pigs and chickens to feed and cows to milk. She says there were no male field hands to hire so her father cut back on some of the wheat farming, but during the harvest season she learned to run the combine. “You had a wheel to raise or lower the cutters when you came to a ditch,” she recalls.

Jean Liparoto, seen far right in a wartime family photo, worked on 40mm shells at Monroe Auto Equipment in Monroe, Michigan. Her late husband Phil was a World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam veteran. She was also very involved with the USO in Columbus, Georgia, during World war II .

The family had a garden and a gigantic strawberry patch but no irrigation, so they had to water by hand to keep the plants alive. The winters were particularly rough because it snowed so much. “Dad put a rope from the windmill to the house so when you worked in the fields or milked in the barn, [you could use] the rope to get from the house to the barn without getting lost.” The family often would be marooned for weeks on the farm when the roads were covered with snow.

The high point was when the family got letters from the front. “We didn’t hear from them real often…. There was very little communication.”

There wasn’t much in the way of entertainment, either. Gottfried relates they would have mud fights. “When it rained, we had a lot of mud so we would get branches from a tree, take the leaves off, roll up mud balls, and shoot at each other.”

“We Sang Gospel. That’s What Kept You Going.”

Although Juanice Still didn’t have a college diploma, she was called to southern Georgia to teach in a one-room country school when the regular teacher went off to war. “It was 1943 and I was scheduled and registered to go to college, but the superintendent called and said a school in the county didn’t have a teacher and asked if I could get the roll until they could hire someone,” she relates. They never did find anyone.

Three grades—third, fourth, and fifth—were taught in one room that was heated by a big stove. The boys would go out and cut wood to keep the fire going. Still remembers that the office in charge of rationing gave her enough gas to get her ‘32 Chevrolet to the schoolhouse, but she would have to cut off the engine and coast downhill to save gas. Her husband was assigned to work in a canning plant.

A female worker in an ordnance plant poses with stacks of 500-pound bombs.

Still says that during the war there wasn’t much to do. “You worked, you went home and kept house and your garden so you would have something to eat.” For socializing and recreation they went to church on Sunday there would be an all-day sing somewhere. “We sang gospel music. That’s what kept you going. That’s where you saw your friends,” she remembers.

It took 10 years, but Still says she got her college degree by taking one course at a time at night and then went on to get her Master’s degree. Her wartime job became her full-time profession, and she continued teaching for 18 years.

An Auditor at Fort Benning

Even before the war Eva Daniel Ulrich was something of an oddity in the working world. She graduated from college in 1941 with a BS in business administration and accounting, one of only three women at Georgia Southern University (GSCW) to do so at the time. The young graduate took the civil service exam and became an auditor, which took her to Fort Benning outside Columbus, Georgia, for a job at Lawson Army Airfield.

While she was waiting for the construction of the airfield to be completed, Daniel worked on payroll at the old hospital building on post. She remembers coming to work one morning to find a fence had been built around her desk. “The soldiers would come in and sit on my desk while discussing (their problems),” she relates. “The sergeant put a fence around my desk so they wouldn’t do that.”

In the spring of 1942, the airfield opened and she was one of six sent to keep up with inventory. The men worked for her and would spend their lunch break watching airborne practice jumps. She also saw planes crash, which kept her from flying for many years.

It was at Fort Benning where she met her husband Richard Ulrich. “He asked me to marry him first time he saw me,” she recalls. He worked on Sand Hill and would get home first. “He said ‘I didn’t get married to come home to an empty house,’” she remembers. She didn’t want to give up the salary, but when he promised to give her all the money he made, Eva agreed to quit. Her days stayed busy after she gave birth to a daughter.

Women install fixtures and assemblies in the fuselage section of a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant in Long Beach, Cali- fornia. This photo is one of a series taken in 1942 by Alfred T. Palmer. With wartime industries severely impacted by the loss of male workers to the armed services, women stepped forward to fill the gaps—and forever changed American society.

Despite her new baby and household duties, when her husband was sent to Europe in 1943, Eva rejoined the workforce with Metropolitan Life Insurance, taking the place of a man who joined the Navy. “I would go around and collect insurance money,” she explains. “I would just walk in (a client’s home) and pick it up.” It was a job that had always been done by a man, but the company found she had one of the best collection rates because of her friendly manner and work ethic.

When her husband returned in 1946, she told the company she couldn’t continue working. “It was a wonderful experience,” she says of those days. “I haven’t ever been intimidated by men in the work place. My father and mother always encouraged me so much and told me I could do anything I wanted to do.”

Engaged Through “V-Mail”

Twenty-year-old Frances Tunnell Carter was a riveter on B-29s in a plant in Birmingham, Alabama. Formerly a kindergarten teacher from Mississippi, she says she had never even seen an airplane up close and had no training when she went to work on them, but that didn’t faze her. She recalls that most of the people on the assembly line were women. They worked in pairs—a riveter and a bucker in 10 non-air-conditioned bays. Although the work was hot and hard, Tunnel says the women didn’t mind. “We were helping on the home front and not taking the risk the boys were taking on the front. They are the real heroes.”

A riveting team working on the cockpit shell of a C- 47 transport plane at the North American Aviation plant in Inglewood, California.

Tunnell met future husband John Carter during the war and presented him with a gift of an ashtray she had riveted. It fell apart. “If that’s the way airplanes are put together,” he remembers telling her, “if I get up in one, the safest thing I can do is jump out.” He joined the paratroopers.

The pair got engaged through “V-mail” and later married. After the war, Frances decided she could do more than return to teaching elementary school. Both Carters returned to college on the GI Bill and received their Ph.Ds.

The American Rosie the Riveter Association

After the war, America’s industrial resurgence faded as government contracts were cancelled and resulted in layoffs it was widely feared that the economy would slip back to Depression levels. Although many women wanted to remain in the work force, employers laid them off in droves and told them to return either to lower paying, traditionally female jobs or to more domestic roles.

However, having been given a taste of a totally new kind of life where their contributions were celebrated and monetarily rewarded, many women decided that cooking and cleaning and caring for children were not enough. They persevered and forged a new life for themselves—and for their country.

The contribution of women to the war effort has not been forgotten. It was while teaching at Samford University in Birmingham that Frances Tunnell Carter, Ph.D., attended a meeting of women who had worked during World War II. She decided they needed an organization, so in 2003 she founded and became the first president of the American Rosie the Riveter Association (ARRA).

American Rosie the Riveter Association founder Dr. Frances Tunnell Carter and her husband, John Carter, a former paratrooper, pose with a Rosie the Riveter poster.

She says she started the group to “honor the contribution of women workers on the home front during World War II and to promote patriotism and responsibility among all Americans.”

There are currently more than 2,000 members of the ARRA nationwide. Women whose work from 1941-1945 was designed to contribute to the war effort (including women who did volunteer work) and their female descendants are eligible for active membership. Spouses and male relatives may become auxiliary members by attending an official local or national meeting.

Several films have brought the wartime role of working women to the silver screen and television. The first, made in 1944, was simply titled Rosie the Riveter. More recently was The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter, a 1980 documentary. The popular Swing Shift, starring Goldie Hawn as an aircraft factory employee, along with Kurt Russell and Ed Harris, was released in 1984.


Watch the video: The Story behind Rosie the Riveter