Who is Rosie the Riveter? When the World War II began in 1939 the majority of the male workforce entered the armed forces to fight for our country. This left a gaping hole in the American workforce that needed to be filled by someone. Unfortunately, for many women at the time entering the workforce was something to be ashamed of. If a woman was working it meant that she was not taking care of her family. Additionally, because people assumed that a woman would never work unless she had to, people would assume the family was suffering financially and look down on them. All of the shame that came with working deterred many women from every considering picking up the slack in the workforce. This is where Rosie the Riveter came into play.
During World War II, pro-war propaganda became popular. Posters were made encouraging men such as plumbers or other construction workers to enlist and buy bonds, and encouraging women to grow “Victory Gardens” to supplement their food supply. When it became obvious to employers that women were needed in order to keep up with high demands for supplies, the government sponsored the propaganda poster of a woman clad in work clothes, flexing her muscles and proclaiming “We can do it!” This was just one of many propaganda posters targeted at women, and some targeted at their husbands, which sought to encourage women to join the workforce. Whether or not the posters were effective is debatable, as, though millions of women held jobs during World War II, only a small percentage of those women joined the workforce during the war.
Even though most people associate “Rosie the Riveter” with the propaganda poster, drawn by J. Howard Miller, that is not where the name, or even the concept, came from. “Rosie the Riveter” was a name given to any woman in the workforce at the time, used as a sort of slang. It was then popularized by a song, which was recorded by several different artists and eventually used as the theme for a film of the same name. Norman Rockwell also took a swing at drawing Rosie, which graced the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. No matter who drew Rosie, or sang about her, the message of “Rosie the Riveter” was that any woman could work and that women should be proud to do it. Over the years many rumors spread about who “Rosie” was, and while there are many guesses to who she might be, the character is considered fictional.
Despite the powerful depiction of Rosie, the truth is that she was used to empower women only when it was convenient. Women who were employed or promoted during World War II were expected to leave the workforce when the men returned from war. There were no long-term job opportunities for women in the workforce. In fact, once the war was over, the government began printing new propaganda posters encouraging women to go back home and be with their families. Employing women was seen as an unfortunate necessity during wartime, not equal opportunity. That being said, Rosie continues to be a feminist icon and continues to empower women and let them know that they can indeed do it to this day.
Written by: Emily Rose Farrell