Rosie the Riveter is an American icon. And she is finally getting her due. Or should I say getting their due? Rosie was not based on one woman, but on the hundreds of thousands of women who stepped up to replace the labor force lost to men fighting overseas during WWII.
In 1943, Norman Rockwell painted the first “Rosie” for The Saturday Evening Post. The most common jobs women filled were in aircraft and munitions. The name Rosie the Riveter came from the rivets used to assemble metal used in airplanes and tanks. She can be seen holding her riveting gun in Rockwell’s depiction.
Several stories popped up about “real” Rosies. Mary Doyle Keefe was the model used for the painting. She posed for Rockwell twice and made a handsome $10 for her trouble. Ironically, Keefe was never a riveter, but a telephone operator.
The image most of us think of when we hear Rosie’s name was painted by J. Howard Miller. He painted Rosie with the words, “We Can Do It” behind her for the Westinghouse War Production Coordinating Committee. The poster was meant to recruit women into the workforce. The poster was only used for a brief time and didn’t gain popularity until the later part of the 20th century, when Rosie became a symbol of feminism and women’s rights.
But feminism was not on the minds of the women who went to work between 1943-1945. They worked to support the war, their country, and their families. Many of them had no choice. With their husbands, fathers and sons overseas, the work needed to get done, and it was up to the women to financially support their families. There is no doubt, however, that the “riveters” of WWII changed the way women were viewed, especially in the workplace. It was the first time women were considered capable of doing “men’s work”.
So why has the image painted by Miller surpassed Rockwell’s in popularity? Very simple. Rockwell’s painting had a copyright and Miller’s did not.
On October 18, 2017, Rosie the Riveter will firmly take her place in history as she is inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. Several women worked at the Willow Run Bomber Plant in Michigan in the 1940’s. Most of the women who influenced the making of Rosie are gone now. But the impact they had on the country, the war, and women’s rights lives on.
Heidi A. Strobel. “Rosie the Riveter, Rose Will Monroe, and Rose Bonavita.” American National Biography Online Feb 2000. July 3 2017. http://www.anb.org/articles/20/20-01920.html
“Rosie the Riveter.” History 2012. Publisher A&E. July 3 2017. http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/rosie-the-riveter
Caitlin Schneider. “Meet the Real Rosie the Riveter.” Mental Floss May 2015. July 3 2017. http://mentalfloss.com/article/63646/meet-real-rosie-riveter
“Rosie the Riveter to be inducted into Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.” Detroit Free Press June 28 2017. July 3 2017 http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2017/06/28/rosie-riveter-michigan-womens-hall-fame/436948001/
Dave Collins. “Model for Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter painting dies at 92.” MSN April 22 2015. July 4 2017. http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/model-for-rockwells-rosie-the-riveter-painting-dies-at-92/ar-AAbwzsj