The ‘Rosie’ phenomenon came about after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941 and the Americans entered into WW2. The Government realised the only way to replace the fighting men was to recruit as many women as possible. Government sources issued continual appeals with ads and articles in magazines and papers to get women into work previously done by men. More than six million women helped build planes, bombs, tanks and other weapons that would help to win WW2.
These women came from all walks of life, many of those already working switched to higher paying defence jobs while for many the war presented them with their first opportunity to work outside the home. They worked in the shipyards, factories, steel mills, unloaded freight and much more. Child care centers emerged all over the country and women who had previously stayed at home with children were able to work and contribute to the war effort. Magazines and papers were encouraged to promote and emphasize not just defence and factory work but all sorts of employment opportunities for women.
Rosie the Riveter was first mentioned in a song written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb which was released in early 1943. It quickly caught on across America with lyrics that described exactly the type of role the Government hoped women would fill during the war, “She’s part of an assembly line, she’s making history, working for victory, Rosie the Riveter”. The Hollywood film star Walter Pidgeon met Rose Will Monroe while touring the Ford Motor Company and on his recommendation she starred as herself in a government war film. A very popular and well respected illustrator of the time, Norman Rockwell, then created a ‘Rosie’ image to appear on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in May 1943. His image of ‘Rosie’ was a large women wearing overalls and goggles, she wore a leather arm band and flexed her bicep while sitting with a large riveting tool in her lap. The American flag formed the background and her feet rested on Hitler’s Mein Kampf, emphasizing her patriotism, the slogan “We can do it” was printed boldly beside her. The image was a huge success, the Post circulation almost doubled and America fell in love with “Rosie the Riveter”.
Soon after, stories appeared in the press about a real life ‘Rosie’ named Rose Hicker, she worked at the Eastern Aircraft Company in Tarrytown, New York, she and her work partner had driven a record number of rivets into the wing of a Gruman ‘Avenger’ bomber. ‘Rosie’s’ unique and groundbreaking image grew to be one of the most popular of the war and both real and legendary ‘Rosie’s’ were depicted in the press, appeared in Broadway plays and movies and had their achievements celebrated in songs. Rockwell’s image of ‘Rosie’ was the most popular of it’s era however another version of ‘Rosie’ by artist J. Howard Miller is the one most people today are familiar with. This version shows a jaunty girl flexing her bicep and wearing a red polka dot scarf and was virtually unknown until the 1980s. The poster was intended for private use by the Westinghouse Electric Company, it is now one of the top 10 most requested images from the National Archives.