Table of Contents
Who is Rosie the Riveter?
- Rosie the Riveter was a symbolic representation of the women who worked in factories and shipyards of the United States of America during World War II.
- During the world wars, many countries organized propaganda campaigns to encourage women to participate in the war effort.
- The propaganda campaign led in America for this purpose was called Rosie the Riveter.
- The war required heavy conscription of men across the country and their jobs in the manufacture of munitions and war supplies needed to be filled.
- Even though the women in the United States held sex-typed jobs before the outbreak of the war, Rosie the Riveter campaign encouraged many of them to join the workforce in jobs that were previously only held by men.
- About 19 million women performed jobs in America and 3 million more joined during the war.
- They began working with heavy construction machinery and they also worked in the steel and lumber industries.
- The pay offered to the women for the same role was half of what a man was given, however, the women enjoyed their financial freedom and autonomy during the war.
- When the men returned from the war, the women were expected to go back to their traditional roles of primary caregivers for children or clerical positions in offices.
- However, women soon realized their potential as equal to men and demanded far more rights than they had before.
- Rosie the Riveter became a cultural icon for American Feminism and is used till now to represent women’s economic advantage.
- Rosie the Riveter is often depicted as a woman dressed in factory clothes with a red and white bandana wrapped around her hair.
- She became popular in 1942 when Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb wrote a song about a resilient assembly line worker called Rosie.
- The industrial labor force in the USA suffered heavily after the outbreak of the second world war.
- Men across the country were called on to serve their military duty in the long and intense war fought among world powers.
- When the men left for war the only way to fill the vacuum was to hire women from all sections of society to help in running the industries and supplying the needs of the soldiers.
- At this time, women were considered to be domestic and not worthy of working in men’s jobs.
- The women were mostly employed in low paying jobs or engaged in seasonal work. Many of them had been removed from work during the Great Depression.
- The American society did not value women as equal to men prior to the war and often recommended that the true place for a woman is at home with the children.
- Though many women found employment in traditionally female-oriented jobs such as clerical positions or in the service industry, very few worked in factories with heavy machinery.
- The war changed this perception and women were increasingly called upon to take up jobs in the construction, aviation, and steel industry.
- Rosie the Riveter was a character created to encourage women to join the workforce in positions that were uncommon for women to take.
- The image of a woman dressed in factory clothes riveting with a heavy drill became a cultural icon that motivated many women to show up to work at a time of need.
- The campaign mainly propagated the idea of a woman contributing her physical strength to the war effort while the men were on the battlefield.
- The government printed out posters of Rosie the Riveter to call upon women to serve their wartime duties.
- Many commercial advertisers also used the image to fill the positions that desperately needed manpower to continue their functions.
- The image of Rosie the Riveter was accompanied by the words ‘We Can Do It’ which represented women’s participation in the workforce and their independence.
- During the second world war, the United States government invested a lot of time and effort in winning the hearts and minds of the American public.
- The industry of propaganda had become almost as important as the industry for bullets and planes.
- The United States even created an Office of War Information in 1942 to ensure that all government messages are accurately scripted and distributed among the public.
- The government recruited intellectuals, artists, filmmakers, and advertisers to work on the propaganda initiative.
- The factory floor of propaganda was engaged in producing posters, films, pamphlets, news reels, radio shows, etc. to ensure that every American citizen was completely behind the war effort.
- Posters were an especially powerful tool for the American propagandists and were distributed in all public places such as schools, churches, post offices, train stations, factories, and even grocery stores.
- The propagandists employed many psychological tricks such as guilt and fear to motivate people to be patriotic and loyal to the government.
- Though many propaganda initiatives were encouraging, most initiatives scared, scolded, and even warned Americans about the consequences if they did not align themselves with the government.
- The propaganda motivated the public to help the government by saving food and practicing a healthy lifestyle.
- It also encouraged people to not indulge in vices such as alcohol and to not speak about critical details concerning their work or the soldiers.
- They encouraged people to buy bonds from the government to contribute to the war fund and save hospital resources by not getting into accidents.
- Some of these propaganda initiatives became very successful such as ‘Loose Lips might Sink Ships’ and ‘Rosie the Riveter’.
- The poster for Rosie the Riveter was made by J. Howard Miller and a song was written to further expand the reach/
- It was called ‘Rosie the Riveter’ who was ‘Making History Working for Victory’.
- It was primarily meant for increasing the morale among the workers at Westinghouse Electric.
- Westinghouse’s War Production Coordinating Committee had sponsored the idea of Rosie the Riveter to encourage women’s participation in their helmet liner manufacturing unit.
Impact of the Rosie the Riveter
- Rosie the Riveter brought about a revolution in the way women perceived themselves.
- During this time in American history, women had very few rights and men often dictated how women should behave in society.
- The image of a woman performing a man’s job liberated many women and they participated in great numbers.
- More than 8 million women joined the American workforce from 1940 to 1944 which was a 57% increase.
- Many of these new joiners had children, therefore, the women came up with innovative solutions to participate in the war effort as well as provide care to their children.
- Women decided to pool their resources and sometimes even lived together to save on rent, food, and utilities.
- They shared tasks such as washing clothes, cooking, and cleaning and took turns babysitting the children.
- The propaganda encouraged women of all colors to join the assembly line and contribute to the war effort.
- African American women, white women, Hispanic women, Asian women, etc. worked together which helped societal integration and broke previously held prejudices.
- Many women reported that working as a riveter gave them autonomy and freedom which they had not experienced before.
- When they saw the B-17s rolling off the assembly line they felt victory and a true sense of achievement.
- In 1944, the number of unmarried women working in the defense industry between the ages of 20 to 34 was greater than unmarried men in the same age group.
- There were about 4.1 million unmarried women on the factory floor compared to only 1.7 million unmarried men.
- The images of the women welding and riveting inspired many women to join the workforce and prove to the nation and themselves that they were equal to men.
- There was a sharp increase in the number of jobs that were thought to be acceptable for women during this period.
- In 1942 it was reported that such jobs went from 29% to about 85% between the months of January and July.
- Rosie the Riveter is considered to be the driving force behind the participation of women during World War II. The symbol liberated many women from their traditional duties.
- Some people disagree with this idea because women were asked to leave the factories as soon as the men came back from the war.
War Efforts and Rewards
- Apart from working in the factories, women during this time also participated in the Armed Forces of the United States and travelled to other countries.
- Nearly 350,000 women served in the women’s army units such as the Coast Guard, Marine Corps and, Women’s Airforce Service Pilots.
- First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt played a critical role in urging American women to join the service.
- She motivated the women of her country to contribute to the war effort after witnessing the British women step up to the task.
- General George Marshall was also behind the idea of introducing women in the various branches of defense.
- The Women’s Army Corps was instituted by the Congress and it received full military status in 1942.
- The members of the Women’s Army Corps held over 200 non-combatant positions in the country as well as other places of war.
- The membership of the Women’s Army Corps reached 100,000 with over 6000 women officers.
- The job of the Women in the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots or WASPs was to bring the planes from the factories to the military bases, transport cargoes, conduct simulation strafing and target missions.
- These women had acquired their pilot licenses before they were called for service and were among the first to ever fly the American military aircraft.
- They made it possible for the male U.S. pilots to join active duty in WWII by taking on their jobs.
- As a result, the women were able to accumulate over 60 million miles in flight distances which had never happened before.
- There were over 1000 women who served as WASPs and about 38 of them died during the course of their service.
- To overcome the issue of absenteeism in defense production due to childcare the Lanham Act of 1940 was passed.
- It provided grants for childcare services especially in the areas where defense production was a major industry.
- At the insistence of Eleanor Roosevelt, President Franklin Roosevelt passed the Community Facilities Act which provided childcare centers sponsored by the U.S. government.
- Even though the women reported satisfaction in their jobs and wanted to continue participating in the nation’s economy, they were forced to leave the factories as soon as the men came back from service.
- The women were not paid the same wages as men. Their pay was almost half of what the man was paid for the exact same job.
- There was also discrimination based on race, color, and nationality. The Japanese women suffered the most.
- Nonetheless, the achievements of the women during the war allowed women to experience both financial as well as personal freedom, and Rosie the Riveter became the symbol for women empowerment.
- Various women did not receive their dues immediately but continued campaigns by Feminists helped in recognizing the significant impact of women in the WWII effort.
- The Women Airforce Service Pilots did not receive any honors for their service until March 2010. They were given the Congressional Gold Medal for their service as veterans almost 70 years after they were disbanded.
- Rosie the Riveter is the most known cultural icon in the United States and continues to represent women’s struggles and achievements.
- Several movies and documentaries have been made since WWII to show the impact the campaign had on the lives of the women.
- We do not know the exact identity of the Rosie that inspired the campaign but some say it could be Rosita Bonavita who was a worker at Convair in California.
- Some others suggest that Rosalind Walter who was one of the builders of the F4U Corsair Fighter could be the inspiration behind the campaign.
- It could also be Rose Monroe who worked as a riveter in the Willow Run aircraft factory.
- Similar campaigns were initiated in other nations, for example, in Canada they released the image of ‘Ronnie, the Bren Gun Girl’ which had similar success while in Britain, the image of Ruby Loftus screwing a Breech-Ring became extremely popular.
Rosie the Riveter Song
All the day long, whether rain or shine
She’s a part of the assembly line
She’s making history,
working for victory–
Rosie, brrrrrr, the riveter.
Keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage
Sitting up there on the fuselage.
That little frail can do
more than a male can do–
Rosie, brrrrrr, the riveter.
Rosie’s got a boyfriend, Charlie.
Charlie, he’s a Marine.
Rosie is protecting Charlie,
workin’ 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, brrrr, the riveter.