The image most iconically associated with Rosie is J. Howard Miller's famous poster for Westinghouse, entitled We Can Do It!, which was modeled on Michigan factory worker Geraldine Doyle in 1942.
But the woman in the painting bore no name. In fact, this picture was not meant to represent Rosie the Riveter at all. Penny Colman writes that "Since the 1970s, this poster has been mistakenly labeled Rosie the Riveter and has been reprinted on posters, magazine covers, and many other items." It wasn't until several years later that the connection was made between the name "Rosie" and the image.
Rosie the Riveter is a cultural icon of the United States, representing the six million women who entered the workforce for the first time during World War II. These women took the places of the male workers who were absent fighting in the Pacific and European theaters. The character is now considered a feminist icon in the US, and a herald of women's economic power to come. Rosie and her slogan "We Can Do It!" were featured on posters, magazines, and more.
Painted for the cover of the May 29, 1943 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, Norman Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter gave visual form to this phenomenon and became an iconic image of American popular culture. Rockwell portrayed Rosie as a monumental figure clad in overalls and a work-shirt with the sleeves rolled up to reveal her powerful, muscular arms. Seated against the backdrop of a rippling American flag, she is shown pausing for lunch, with a riveting machine and a tin lunch box balanced on her substantial lap, her visor and goggles pushed back on her head and a ham sandwich clasped in her hand. Despite her massive bulk, sturdy work clothes and the smudges on her arms and cheeks, Rosie's painted fingernails, lipstick and the tidy arrangement of her bright red curls wittily convey her underlying femininity. Pausing between bites, she gazes into the distance with a detached air of supreme self-assurance, while casually crushing a tattered copy of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf under her feet.
During the war years, women became streetcar conductors, taxicab drivers, business managers, commercial airline checkers, aerodynamic engineers, and railroad workers. Women operated machinery, streetcars, buses, cranes, and tractors. They unloaded freight, built dirigibles and gliders, worked in lumber mills and steel mills, and made munitions. In essence, women occupied almost every aspect of industry.
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. (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%.) Conditions were sometimes very poor and pay was not always equal—the average man working in a wartime plant was paid $54.65 per week, while women were paid $31.21 per week. 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.
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.
The War Advertising Council's Women in War Jobs campaign is the most successful advertising recruitment campaign in American history. Rosie the Riveter, helped to recruit more than two million women into the workforce. Her image graced postage stamps, the cover of Smithsonian magazine and before long Rosie the Riveter became a nickname for women working in wartime industries.
The underlying theme was that the social change required to bring women into the workforce was a patriotic responsibility for women, and an opportunity for employers to support the war economy. Those ads led to a tremendous change in the relationship between women and the workplace. As a result, employment outside of the home became socially acceptable and even desirable.
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