Rosie the Riveter

The Library of Congress has a flickr site, with a bunch of color photos from the 1930’s and 1940’s. You can view them at 1930’s-40’s in color. While browsing around I ran across some photos from the factories that were full of female employees during the war. The ladies of industry were nick named “Rosie the riveter” If you have never heard of Rosie the Riveter, I have included below some history about the ladies of industry. (content from Wikipedia)

Rosie the Riveter is a cultural icon of the United States, representing the American women who worked in war factories during World War II, many of whom worked in the manufacturing plants that produced munitions and materiel. These women sometimes took entirely new jobs replacing the male workers who were in the military. The character is considered a feminist icon in the US.

Although real-life Rosie the Riveters took on male dominated trades during WWII, women were expected to return to their everyday housework once men returned from the war. Most women opted to do this. Later many women chose to return to traditional work such as clerical or administration positions.

Man and woman riveting team working on the cockpit shell of a C-47 aircraft at the plant of North American Aviation. Office of War Information photo by Alfred T. Palmer, 1942.

Rosie the Riveter was most closely associated with a 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, building B-29 and B-24 bombers for the U.S. Army Air Forces. Monroe achieved her dream of piloting a plane at the age of 50 and her love of flying resulted in an accident that contributed to her death 19 years later. 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.

According to the Encyclopedia of American Economic History, the “Rosie the Riveter” movement increased the number of working American women to 20 million by 1944, a 57% increase from 1940. 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 along blacks during the time that encouraged a breaking down of social barriers and a healthy recognition of diversity.  African-Americans were able to lay the groundwork for the postwar civil rights revolution by equating segregation with Nazi white supremacist ideology.

Conditions were sometimes harsh and pay was not always equal—the average man working in a wartime plant was paid $54.65 per week, while women were paid about $31.50. Nonetheless, women quickly responded to Rosie the Riveter, who convinced them they had a patriotic duty to enter the workforce. Some claim that she forever opened up the work force for women, but others dispute that point, noting that many women were discharged after the war and their jobs given to returning servicemen. 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 1970’s. By that time factory employment was in decline all over the country.

On October 14, 2000, the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park was opened in Richmond, California, site of four Kaiser shipyards, where thousands of “Rosies” from around the country worked (although ships at the Kaiser yards were not riveted, but rather welded). Over 200 former Rosies attended the ceremony.

Here is a video all about the Rosies:

Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post cover featuring Rosie the Riveter

The image most iconically associated with Rosie is J. Howard Miller’s famous poster for Westinghouse, titled We Can Do It!, which was modeled on the middle Michigan factory worker Geraldine Doyle in 1942.

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My Dads mother, my grandmother, was one. She worked in the local military plane manufacturing facility. I do not have any photos of when she worked there that I know of, but I do have some photos of some of the women that were on the home front helping us win WWII. Here are the photos that show the women hard at work:

Thanks for reading,

Skrach

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Published in: on March 3, 2010 at 11:20 PM  Comments (1)  
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