History of Rosie the Riveter

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Rosie the Riveter PosterRosie the Riveter has been a symbol of the strength and determination of women since she was first introduced in the early 1940s.  She and her slogan, “We Can Do It!”, was used during World War II in attempt to recruit women to work in the factories while the men were off to war.

The factories needed workers to build planes, trucks, weapons and equipment for the war effort.  The War Advertising Council stepped in with a “Women in War Jobs” advertising campaign.  The hope was that by showing the nation that women could work in factories, women all over the country would feel it was their patriotic responsibility to help with the war effort and get jobs outside of the home.  They needed a figure to spearhead this campaign, and so Rosie the Riveter was born.

Rosie made her first appearance on J. Howard Miller’s “We Can Do It!” poster created for Westinghouse in 1942.  It’s not clear whether Rosie’s image was modeled after a real woman.  Some say she was based on Michigan factory worker Geraldine Doyle.  Others say Rosie was modeled after Rose Will Monroe, a riveter at the Willow Run Aircraft Factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

The woman most associated with Rosie the Riveter’s spirit and determination is Rose Monroe.  A widow with two children, she worked very hard at her job riveting parts for B-29 and B-24 bombers for the U.S. Army Air Forces.  On a visit to the factory in she worked, actor Walter Pidgeon asked her to be in a film that would promote war bonds and encourage women to join the war effort by taking jobs in factories.

Also, the 1943 song “Rosie the Riveter” by Redd Evans and John Jacob described a woman that resembled Rose Monroe.  The song was very popular and with lines like: “That little frail can do/more than a male can do.” The song helped bolster women’s confidence that they could do the work in the factories.

Rosie Mustang Metal Sign

Rosie’s image could be seen everywhere – and still can. This tin sign is based on a Greg Hildebrandt painting. (Retro Planet)

Rosie the Riveter became a star and a national icon.  The “We Can Do It!” posters were placed in public places and were printed in magazines and newspapers. The May 29, 1943 issue of Saturday Evening Post featured a portrait of Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell.  There were also radio spots and newsreels in movie theaters urging women to help with the war effort.  Rosie was even featured on postage stamps.

The goal was to get more women into factory jobs, and it worked.

At the end of December 1941, there were almost 13 million women at work.  The Rosie the Riveter Campaign helped the number grow to 15 million in early 1943.  By 1944, there were 20 million women in the workforce, with 6 million working in factories.  Most of these women were married and had children.  The factories even offered child-care services so that more women would be able to work.

Most of the women working in the factories had never held a job outside of their home.  It was a huge change for them – and for the country – to have so many women at work.  For their hard efforts, they received significantly less money than the men who used to do the work.  Their average salary was $31.21 a week, as compared to the men’s salary of $54.65 a week.  Nevertheless, the women worked very hard, and were even recognized as being better than the men at certain tasks.

When World War II was over and many of the men returned home, the working women were discharged so the men could have their jobs back.  Many of the women were happy to have done their part for the war effort and gladly gave up their positions, but others were resentful.  They liked working in the factories, and felt it was not fair that after working so hard they must leave and go back to being housewives.

Although the war effort campaign ended when the men came home, Rosie the Riveter did not go away.  Instead, she became a symbol of determination and pride, showing that women were capable of working in a man’s world and doing a great job.  Rosie is an American icon who will remain a part of history and culture for years to come.


Last updated: Dec 08, 2008
Filed under: Retro Characters Tagged with: propaganda, Retro Characters, retro women, WWII