Rosie the Riveter: History and Other Interesting Facts

Rosie the Riveter is considered as a symbol of feminine capableness and is an icon of World War II. For those of you who wish to know more, Historyplex gets you acquainted with the history of Rosie the Riveter along with some interesting facts.
Historyplex Staff
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 since the year 1940.


Rosie the Riveter, a cultural symbol in America, inspired many women to take up jobs in the munitions industry (producing war supply and munitions) during the World War II. This symbol is one of the greatest icons of the 20th century, and stands for women's economic power. As most men were fighting in the war, women started taking factory jobs to support them. 6 million women entered the workforce for the first time. The most important message that this movement gave to the world was that women could do a man's job. Women, thus, played a huge part in a male-dominated society, but unfortunately their pay was hardly equal to 50% of what the men earned.
History
Rosie Bonavitas
Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb first used the term 'Rosie the Riveter' in a song, in the year 1942. It was recorded by the popular swing band leader James Kern "Kay" Kyser. The song was about "Rosie", an assembly line worker. Rosie Bonavitas, who was working for Convair in San Diego, California, was the inspiration behind the song. She was working as a riveter and building an F4U marine gull-winged fighter airplane. She left the job after this work, and became a local philanthropist.
Geraldine Hoff Doyle
Geraldine Hoff Doyle was the model for the "We Can Do It!" poster by artist J. Howard Miller. After graduating from high school, she started working as a metal presser in a Michigan factory. She was clicked there by an unknown journalist. Miller transformed it into a poster for the Westinghouse Electric Company. However, it wasn't much popular during the war. The North American feminist movement adopted it as a symbol of female empowerment, after which it became very popular. In fact, it has been mistakenly associated with Rosie the Riveter.
Rosie Will Monroe
The Rosie that perfectly fit the description was Rosie Will Monroe. She worked as a riveter and build B-24 bombers for the U.S. Army Air Forces. Canadian actor Walter Pidgeon discovered her in the factory, and shot some footage for sale of war bonds with her. They made many other promotional films, and hence, she is most prominently identified as Rosie. She was a carpenter's daughter, and knew how to use tools since a young age. She founded her construction company Rose Builders after the war. Monroe obtained a pilot's license at the age of 50, and fulfilled her dream of flying. But unfortunately, a crash due to an engine failure ended her flying career in 1978.
Posters
We Can Do It!
Although, the "We Can Do It!" poster is considered as the actual Rosie the Riveter poster, initially it was just published by Westinghouse Company as a war effort. Rosie is shown wearing a red bandana and blue coveralls in it. This poster was created by artist J. Howard Miller, and became more popular after the war in the 1980s. The original intention of the poster was to boost employee morale. It has been mistakenly called "Rosie the Riveter" poster.
Saturday Evening Post
This poster was widely distributed on Memorial Day, May 29, 1943. It was painted for the cover of the Post. Rosie is shown as eating her lunch in it, with a rivet gun on her lap. She is brawny and has a copy of Mein Kampf (the book by Adolf Hitler) beneath her feet. But, what makes the poster interesting is the perfect arrangement of her red curls, her painted nails, and lipstick. These details show her femininity. The American flag in the background shows her patriotism. The model for this poster was a 19-year-old, Mary Doyle, although she is shown much bigger and sturdier in the poster. The poster became less popular eventually due to very strict copyright issues.
Impact
  • There were barely 1% women in the U.S. aircraft industry before the war. But, in 1943, more than 310,000 women worked in the U.S. aircraft industry. They made almost 65% of the industry's total workforce.
  • The Women's Auxiliary Army Corps was established by the Congress in May 1942. It got full military status later, as it was upgraded to the Women's Army Corps.
  • The members were known as WACs. More than 100,000 WACs and 6,000 female officers worked in over 200 combat operations by 1945.
  • The members of Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) provided stateside support in the Navy. The Coast Guard and Marine Corps also had female volunteers, albeit in smaller numbers.
  • The Women's Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, also played a major role in war efforts. They became the first women to fly an American military aircraft.
  • They freed thousands of male US pilots and ferried planes from factories to bases. They helped in the transportation of cargo and recorded more than 60 million miles in flight distances.
  • More than 1,000 WASPs served, and 38 of them lost their lives during the war. Unfortunately, they were granted no military honors or benefits until 1977.
Interesting Facts
  • Geraldine Doyle, the real-life model of the "We Can Do It!" poster, did not know about it until 1984, when she saw it in the Modern Maturity magazine.
  • A drama film 'Rosie the Riveter' was released in the year 1944.
  • The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter was a documentary film released in 1980 to describe the journey of women into men's jobs.
  • There is restaurant named after Rosie as a tribute to the ship Carnival Valor.

The most important message that Rosie gave the world was that women can do the so-called "manly" work as efficiently as men can do. It also changed the social norms, as the work was looked upon with dignity. There was more acceptance from the husbands and families too. Although some women got back to their domestic chores after the war, there were many who still continued to work.