By J.G. Noll
A young, white, attractive woman wearing a red bandanna, flexes her muscles with the words We can do it! floating above her head. Rosie the Riveter has become a rallying cry for women’s empowerment for the last seventy-plus years.
But she’s a much more diverse figure than the iconic painting suggests. Women of all ages, races, backgrounds, and origins were a driving force in the Allies’ success during WWII. Previously relegated to the household, Rosies put on pants and picked up blowtorches, paint brushes, and welder’s masks. Without the women of America, tanks wouldn’t have rolled across Europe, planes wouldn’t have taken off from aircraft carriers in the Pacific, and the gears of the American economy would have ground to a halt.
Here’s what the real Rosies looked like during WWII:
1. World War II wasn’t the first war that led to a sharp increase of women in what had been considered men’s jobs. Their hard work and participation in manufacturing were required in WWI, too.
2. For many women, a factory job was the first full-time position they had ever held outside of the home.
3. The government targeted housewives to work previously male-dominated jobs to support the war effort.
4. At the same time, they also encouraged husbands to be supportive of women in the workforce, since so many were averse to the idea.
5. More than three million women entered the workforce during WWII. More than six million women worked jobs associated with the war effort during that time.
6. Many Rosies found themselves ostracized by the men they worked next to.
7. In spite of the racial discrimination of the day, Rosies of all ethnicities worked shoulder-to-shoulder, side-by-side due to the intensity of the war effort and the shortage of labor.
(Photo: Library of Congress)
8. The name “Rosie the Riveter” came from a song released in 1942.
9. According to the song, Rosie was a Marine girlfriend waiting for her boyfriend to come home from the war.
10. A movie, Rosie the Riveter, was released in 1944.
11. The influx of women into the workforce during WWII is credited with helping to the stigma surrounding women in the workforce.
12. During WWII, the aircraft industry’s workers were 65 percent female. Before WWII, it was 1 percent.
13. Across the world, women took up jobs that men had left to fight WWII. From Russia to Germany to Britain to Canada to the US, women worked to help further their country’s progress.
14. While “Rosie the Riveter” was the name given to American female workers, it wasn’t a unique idea. Canada had “Ronnie the Bren Gun Girl.”
15. Britain also depicted women working and supporting the war effort in propaganda posters.
16. Rosies made only half of what their male counterparts did while doing the same work under the same conditions for the same duration.
17. We often think of Rosies as working strictly manufacturing jobs; however, the majority of women supporting the war effort during WWII worked non-factory jobs.
18. The famous “We Can Do It!” poster is not the only depiction of Rosies during WWII, although it is the most famous. It was originally created by Westinghouse as encouragement for employees. It was never meant for consumption outside of the company.
19. In 1943, The Saturday Evening Post featured a more muscular, less dramatic version of a Rosie on her lunch break. It was illustrated by Normal Rockwell.
20. The increase of female workers during WWII led to improvements in the workforce like health and safety regulations and on-site child care.
21. Elinor Otto built airplanes for 50 years after WWII, retired at 95, and was known as “The Last Rosie the Riveter.”
22. The Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historic Site pays homage to the women (and men) who worked in manufacturing on the home front.
23. On Rosie Fridays at the national historic site, you can attend talks given by women who worked in manufacturing during WWII.
24. At the end of WWII, Rosies were encouraged (and sometimes pushed) to leave the workforce so the men coming home would have jobs.
25. In the years after WWII, Rosies have been depicted in the arts. Pink and Beyonce both have dressed as the iconic woman.
26. “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 be something more.” – Sybil Lewis, an original Rosie
J.G. Noll is the Editor of Military One Click and a veteran’s spouse. She can be reached at [email protected]