Rosie the Riveter

Rosie the Riveter

Rosie the Riveter is a cultural icon of World War II.  Rosie representing the women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II. Many of whom produced munitions and war supplies.

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 These women sometimes took entirely new jobs replacing the male workers who joined the military.

Rosie the Riveter is used as a symbol of American feminism and women’s economic power. Similar images of women war workers appeared in other countries such as Britain and Australia.

Images of women workers were widespread in the media as government posters.

Commercial advertising was heavily used by the government to encourage women to volunteer for wartime service in factories. Rosie the Riveter became the subject and title of a song and a Hollywood movie during WWII.

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 Because world wars were total wars which required governments to utilize their entire populations for the purpose of defeating their enemies.
Millions of women were encouraged to work in the industry and take over jobs previously done by men.
During World War I, women across the United States were employed in jobs previously done by men.
World War II was similar to World War I in that massive conscription of men led to a shortage of available workers and therefore a demand for labor which could only be fully filled by employing women.

Nearly 19 million women

Nearly 19 million women held jobs during World War II. Many of these women were already working in a lower paying job. Or were returning to the workforce after being laid off during the depression.

Only three million new female workers entered the workforce during the time of the war. 

Although most women took on male-dominated trades during World War II. They were expected to return to their everyday housework once men returned from the war.

Government campaigns targeting women were addressed solely at housewives. Likely because already-employed women would move to the higher-paid “essential” jobs on their own.

Or perhaps because it was assumed that most would be housewives. One government advertisement asked women: “Can you use an electric mixer? If so, you can learn to operate a drill.” 

Photograph of an African American woman working on a battleship.

Propaganda was also directed at their husbands, many of whom were unwilling to support such jobs.  Many of the women who took jobs during World War II were mothers. These women with children at home pooled together in their efforts to raise their families. They assembled into groups and shared such chores as cooking, cleaning and washing clothes.

Many who did have young children shared apartments and houses so they could save time, money, utilities and food. If they both worked, they worked different shifts so they could take turns babysitting.

Taking on a job during World War II made people unsure if they should urge women to keep acting as full-time mothers. Or support them getting jobs to support the country in this time of need.

Being able to support the soldiers by making all different products made the women feel very accomplished and proud of their work. Over 6 million women got war jobs, African American, Hispanic, White, and Asian women worked side by side.

In the book, A Mouthful of Rivets Vi Kirstine Vrooman shares about the time when she decided to take action and become a riveter. She got a job building B-17s on an assembly line, she shares just how exciting it was saying, ‘The biggest thrill — I can’t tell you — was when the B-17s rolled off the assembly line. You can’t believe the feeling we had. We did it!”  Once women accepted the challenge of the workforce they continued to make strong advances towards equal rights.Photograph of four white women pilots from the Women's Airforce Service Pilots division.

In 1944

When victory seemed assured for the United States, government-sponsored propaganda changed by urging women back to work in the home. Later, many women returned to traditional work such as clerical or administrative positions, despite their reluctance to re-enter the lower-paying fields.

 However, some of these women continued working in factories. The overall percentage of women working fell from 36% to 28% in 1947.

The song

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 The term “Rosie the Riveter” was first used in 1942 in a song of the same name written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb.
The song was recorded by numerous artists, including the popular big band leader Kay Kyser.
And it became a national hit  The song portrays “Rosie” as a tireless assembly line worker. Who earned a “Production E” doing her part to help the American war effort.
The name is said to be a nickname for Rosie Bonavita who was working for Convair in San Diego, California.
The idea of Rosie resembled Veronica Foster, a real person who in 1941 was Canada’s poster girl for women in the war effort in “Ronnie, the Bren Gun Girl.”

 

The individual who was the inspiration for the song was Rosalind P. Walter, who “came from old money and worked on the night shift building the F4U Corsair fighter.”

Later in life, Walter was a philanthropist, a board member of the WNET public television station in New York and an early and long-time supporter of the Charlie Rose interview show.

Rosie the Riveter

Rosie the Riveter became most closely associated with another real woman, Rose Will Monroe. Who was born in Pulaski County, Kentucky in 1920 and moved to Michigan during World War II.

She worked as a riveter at the Willow Run Aircraft Factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan. She was building B-24 bombers for the U.S. Army Air Forces. Monroe was asked to star in a promotional film about the war effort at home.

The song “Rosie the Riveter” was popular at the time and Monroe happened to best fit the description of the worker depicted in the song. “Rosie” went on to become perhaps the most widely recognized icon of that era.

The films and posters she appeared in were used to encourage women to go to work in support of the war effort. At the age of 50, Monroe realized her dream of flying when she obtained a pilot’s license.

In 1978, she crashed into her small propeller plane when the engine failed during takeoff. The accident resulted in the loss of one kidney and the sight in her left eye and ended her flying career

. She died from kidney failure on May 31, 1997, in Clarksville, Indiana where she was a resident, at the age of 77.

A drama film, Rosie the Riveter, was released in 1944, borrowing from the Rosie theme.

Impact and post-war

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 According to the Encyclopedia of American Economic History, “Rosie the Riveter” inspired a social movement.
That increased the number of working American women from 12 million to 20 million by 1944, a 57% increase from 1940.
  
By 1944 only 1.7 million unmarried men between the ages of 20 and 34 worked in the defense industry, while 4.1 million unmarried women between those ages did so.
  Although the image of “Rosie the Riveter” reflected the industrial work of welders and riveters during World War II, the majority of working women filled non-factory positions in every sector of the economy.
What unified the experiences of these women was that they proved to themselves (and the country) that they could do a “man’s job” and could do it well.
 In 1942, just between the months of January and July, the estimates of the proportion of jobs that would be “acceptable” for women was raised by employers from 29 to 85%.
African American women were some of those most affected by the need for women workers.  It has been said that it was the process of whites working with blacks during the time that encouraged a breaking down of social barriers and a healthy recognition of diversity.

 

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Women quickly responded to Rosie the Riveter, who convinced them that they had a patriotic duty to enter the workforce.

Some claim that she forever opened the workforce for women, but others dispute that point, noting that many women were discharged after the war and their jobs were given to returning servicemen.

 These critics claim that when peace returned, few women returned to their wartime positions and instead resumed domestic vocations or transferred into sex-typed occupations such as clerical and service work.

 For some, World War II represented a major turning point for women as they eagerly supported the war effort, while other historians emphasize that the changes were temporary and that immediately after the war was over, women were expected to return to traditional roles of wives and mothers. And finally, a third group has emphasized how the long-range significance of the changes brought about by the war provided the foundation for the contemporary woman’s movement.

 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 mother, domestic beings, or civilizers.”

After the war, the “Rosies” and the generations that followed them knew that working in the factories was, in fact, a possibility for women. Even though they did not reenter the job market in such large proportions again until the 1970s. By that time factory employment was in decline all over the country.

Naples Museum Of Military History

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