Who is Rosie the Riveter?

It’s a riveting story. Seriously it is. You’ve likely seen this woman in posters but do you know her significance? What she represented, back in World War II and now? Today’s female spotlight is on Rosie the Riveter.

Rosie as a Symbol of Labor

We Can Do It! Labor Poster by Miller

By J. Howard Miller (1918–2004), artist employed by Westinghouse, poster used by the War Production Co-ordinating Committee – From scan of copy belonging to the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, retrieved from the website of the Virginia Historical Society., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5249733

Rosie is shown rolling up her sleeves and saying “We Can Do It!” in World War II posters. But this isn’t where she began, explains the U.S. Department of Labor. The song “Rosie the Riveter” was blaring across radio waves during the war as artist J. Howard Miller, who was commissioned by Westinghouse, created the iconic woman with the polka dot scarf on her head who flexed her bicep.

But this image crafted in 1942 was not intended by Miller to be “Rosie” and many Americans did not consider her to be Rosie either. This poster Miller was employed to create was meant to improve worker morale. The attribution of the name Rosie to it came later.

The popular Rosie name that we know today actually came from famed painter and illustrator Norman Rockwell. He created an image of a muscle-clad woman in overalls, goggles, and honorable pins on her shirt for the cover of the 1943 Saturday Evening Post’s Memorial Day issue. This woman was eating a sandwich and had a lunch pail at her side with the name “Rosie” on it. Her feet are on a copy of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” This cover would become a huge symbol of American go-for-it spirit and showed that not only men were working in the manufacturing industry.

This Rockwell cover proved such a success that newspapers across the U.S. began publishing stories of real-life “Rosies” who were leaving their homes to enter the workforce. The government even began a recruitment campaign for female workers and titled it “Rosie the Riveter.” Some historians contend that this was the American government’s most successful ad campaign to date.

Over the years, Rockwell’s Rosie image was replaced by Miller’s original Rosie and today it is the one that is most popular. The “We Can Do It!” blue bubble in the poster continues to encourage women in spirit all these years later. The image is on everything from t-shirts to coffee mugs.

Women in the Workforce during World War II

With so many American men enlisting in WWII, more and more women began to join the workforce. These numbers had not been seen before. The percentage of working women in the U.S. jumped from 27% to close to 37% between 1940 and 1945. They were encouraged by the government’s recruiting campaign featuring Rosie the Riveter.

Women in the World War II workforce

Meet Kathryn Shudak. She was one of the Rosie the Riveters, working at the Glenn L. Martin-Nebraska Bomber Plant in Nebraska from 1942-1945. (U.S. Air Force photo/Josh Plueger).

Women contributed in many industries, but the biggest increase in jobs held by females was noted in the aviation industry. By 1943, women held more than half of the total jobs (65%) in aviation. Unfortunately, although women were essential in the working wartime efforts, they earned only half of their male counterparts, if they even earned that much.

In the armed forces, about 350,000 women worked on the home front and overseas during World War II. By 1942, the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps was created, which would later become the Women’s Army Corps. Those in this group became known as WACs. There were also female officers and navy reservists who were part of WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services).

And don’t forget about the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). They were the first ladies to fly American military planes. They had to have their pilot’s license before being eligible to serve, and these pilots were responsible for transporting cargo, participating in simulations, and transferring planes to bases from factories. Over 1,000 WASPs contributed to WWII in total, and 38 of them died in their efforts. Many years later, in 1977, WASPs received complete military status.

Who Did Miller Model his ‘Rosie’ After?

Artist Miller created his image of Rosie in 1942 based on a real woman rather than solely his imagination. She was 17-year-old Geraldine Hoff Doyle. She was photographed on the job as a metal presser in Michigan’s defense factory by an unidentified wire journalist. Miller took this photo and made it into the Westinghouse “We Can Do It!” poster that would go on to become what many consider today to be the iconic Rosie the Riveter.

As for the woman on Rockwell’s cover on The Saturday Evening Post, this was Mary Doyle Keefe. Ironically, Keefe had no experience as a riveter. A telephone operator instead, she was a neighbor of Rockwell, and he asked to model for the painting.

Let's empower ourselves, ladies!

Women’s Self Empowerment Week is Jan. 5 to 9. Here is U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Gina Thursby, Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham Airmen Leadership School commandant. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jamal D. Sutter/Released).

Female Empowerment and Rosie the Riveter Today

Rosie the Riveter’s spirit lives on today. She is symbolic of stepping outside of the image of frailty that is often associated with women and instead shows a fighting spirit. She is inspirational and reminds us to be courageous!

As this post has indicated, Rosie the Riveter was not intended to be the feminist icon that it has grown to be today. Over the years, she has grown to be a cultural icon. The Feminist Movement took on the “We Can Do It!” message in the 1980s. She represents strength and power.

She may have begun as a nameless woman on a poster only associated with the workplace but Rosie the Riveter is far more than that today. She stands for women’s rights, even though that was not the original intention in the World War II poster. It makes sense though, considering she looks brave and inspires those who champion female rights.

~My thanks to GP Cox of Pacific Paratrooper for suggesting I write a post on Rosie the Riveter.~

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50 thoughts on “Who is Rosie the Riveter?

  1. Rosie the Riverter. So inspiring. It is true that women, like men, or “than men” can change their destiny and the future of their nation.

    Bravo to Rosie for setting the tune and to todays women for dancing to that tune.

    Thank you for sharing this post !

  2. Great post. It’s unsettling that these women were paid so little compared to men and after the war were expected to give up their jobs and go back to being housewives. Thank goodness times have changed and women continue to advance towards equality.

  3. Pretty cool to find out Rosie’s story. It’s too bad she was conceived and painted by and named by men. That’s how it goes: even in a campaign to recruit women, no one thought to hire a woman.

  4. A fascinating post, Christy and I’m so glad GP Cox encouraged you to write about Rosie the Rivetter! 😀 The figures of women in aviation during the war is staggering – it must have been so hard for many of them to leave the jobs afterwards – even if they were so under-payed! BTW on seeing the first photo I thought I’d ended up on Bernadette’s blog!

  5. that poster that you see here was based on a lady that worked in a rubber factory in Akron Ohio during WWII and became a icon used by the government. to promote the women work in the war effort.the city of Akron Ohio used the poster for the tunnel boring machine for a city project

  6. Brilliant article… really enjoyed it. Good ole Rosie!
    I have always had a massive problem with any society who wastes half its talent by denying equal opportunities because they only see the sex of a person and not their capabilities.
    One of my closest work friends took a degree in engineering and met a lot of resistance both in university and the job market (this is going back some 30 odd years).
    No one ever gave her credit for
    A: having one of the sharpest minds of any one I have ever known
    and
    B: having the balls to take all that crap from ignorant men including her tutors and still emerge as the top of her class, head and shoulders above the others in a traditionally male industry.
    She couldn’t get a job and ended up a systems analyst… one of the best I knew
    Thank God today’s world continues to change… at least in some parts!

  7. Yes:) true! Honest people are not accepted, because people are used to lies, but who cares. Just Live!! Keep your own Standard High! Let Others Be what they choose to be!

  8. Pingback: Who is Rosie the Riveter? — When Women Inspire | Actuaria's Blog

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