Teaching with Stamps: Primary resources for teaching America’s history and heritage.
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All the day long whether rain or shine
She’s a part of the assembly line.
She’s making history,
Working for victory.
Rosie the Riveter
Keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage,
Sitting up there on the fuselage.
That little frail can do
More than a male will do.
Rosie the Riveter
Excerpted from Rosie the Riveter by Paramount Music Corporation, 1943
World War II did much to advance the cause of women’s equality in the United States. After Japan bombed Peal Harbor and America went to war in 1941, mobilization of manpower for war drastically depleted the available male workforce at home. This came at a time when war production demands dramatically increased the need for skilled labor in US factories. Where to turn for warm bodies to fill assembly lines? Women.
Between 1940 and 1945, male labor force participation in this country decreased by 16.5% and women in the labor force increased by more than 6%. While women certainly filled the ranks of the employed before 1941, the majority of American women served in the traditional roles assigned them of wife, mother and homemaker. Factory work rarely figured into a woman’s world.
The demand for workers to fuel our war production industries spurred the US government to craft a recruitment campaign that appealed to the wives, mothers and homemakers of America. With the help of advertising agencies, publishers and broadcast media, the government launched a massive outreach effort to women via magazine covers, ads and posters.
One of the most famous of these campaigns was Rosie the Riveter. First introduced in a song written by Jacob Loeb and Redd Evans, Rosie the Riveter is a patriotic and diligent factory worker who toils hard for the national defense. The song became very popular and likely influenced the visual versions of this lady of labor. Norman Rockwell painted a strong muscular woman in overalls on her lunch break, with sandwich in hand, riveting gun in her lap, and the name Rosie inscribed on her lunchbox. With her name inscribed on her lunchbox, Rockwell’s Rosie graced the May 29, 1943 cover of the Saturday Evening Post. With a distribution of over three million, it was one of the most popular periodicals in the country at the time.
The most well know interpretation of Rosie is seen on a J. Howard Miller poster created for Westinghouse. Like many large factories during World War II, Westinghouse commissioned and displayed posters to encourage efficiency at work. Miller’s Rosie (although not known as such at the time) was a pretty bandana-wearing brunette who encouraged and empowered women to work with the caption “We Can Do It.” (Ironically a subsequent Miller poster in the same series cautioned “Ask Your Boss”, a clear illustration of how far female empowerment really went at the Westinghouse plant.)
Rosie’s recruits made major contributions to the war effort. As welders, munitions workers, ship builders, construction workers, riveters and even test pilots, working women during World War II did not shy from the dangers and intimidations of heavy industry. Their stories are fascinating to read.
Despite the fact that Miller’s Rosie was only seen at one plant for a few weeks, it earned itself quite a legacy. Along with Norman Rockwell’s Rosie, the images became icons for the Women’s Rights movement of the 1970’s and 80’s. In 1999, Miller’s Rosie earned herself a stamp in the US Postal Service’s Celebrate the Centuries stamp series. And on October 14, 2000, the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Park was dedicated in Richmond, California to honor the brave women who made such important contributions to the nation.
Image: credit www.veteranshour.com “Line up of some of women welders including the women’s welding champion of Ingalls [Shipbuilding Corp., Pascagoula, MS].” Spencer Beebe, 1943.”