Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Auclair: Rosie the Riveter
April 10, 2013
For centuries, women living in the United States were restricted in what actions they could perform in the public sphere, including working.1 Often confined to their roles as wives, daughters, or mothers, women’s political voice in government and American society did not hold as much weight as men’s. With the World War II era, however, gender roles underwent a considerable transformation.1 A defense industry emerged in the United States to meet the demand for military supplies and food production.2As millions of men entered military service, women were left to fill their duties in industrial factories and the U.S. defense industry. The use of posters and many other forms of propaganda were used to recruit women for these previously “masculine” jobs. A very iconic figure at this time was Rosie the Riveter, who was a fictional character in which helped to encourage women into the workforce during this time period.
World War II was considered one of the most destructive wars in history, killing millions of people, and affecting over 50 countries. The war began when Germany launched a vicious attack on Poland on September 1, 1939.3 The United States’ decision to enter the war was unexpected. In earlier years, after World War I, America agreed to stay neutral, following a numerous amount of Neutrality Acts, to keep the United States involvement out of the wars of other countries.4 Once the Allied powers intervened in the war North American continent was obligated to join, recruiting thousands of their military personnel and service men to war.5 Since the decision to join the war was so sudden, had to mass-produce a number of military weapons, machinery, and tools to appropriately prepare for war.6 With men leaving factories and entering the war, women were required to replace men in these positions. By the time the war began, there were at least two million women working in factories, despite how the men and government felt.7 Women created organizations, such as Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES); that were designed to help out the men involved in the war.8
In order to get women to work in these factories temporarily for the men entering the service, the government chose to promote propaganda campaigns to support these women workers. Posters, slogans, and iconic women figures were created to encourage women to work. “Rosie the Riveter” was one of the most famous forms of propaganda created during this time period to represent these women.9 She was a fabricated individual, who looked and represented what a women should be like as a factory worker. She was portrayed as a strong patriotic woman who supported her country in times of need. Although many women were hesitant to take the jobs of men because they were never considered to work as the men did over these years. The character Rosie the Riveter became an inspiration to women all over, and her famous slogan “We Can Do It” implied that women were just as capable of handling “men’s” jobs. 10
Rosie the Riveter became a success, not only was she on posters and billboards everywhere but there was now songs and movies after her, promoting the nationalism of women workers.11 The song “Rosie the Riveter” was played everywhere and was the top most requested song during this time period. It was even appeared in two movies, Follow the Band and Rosie the Riveter. 12The song started off explaining what the typical women would be doing, while this Rosie was working hard in the factory, supporting the war efforts. “Rosie’s got a boyfriend, Charlie, Charlie, he’s a Marine, and Rosie is protecting Charlie, working overtime on the riveting machine.” 13 The song goes on to prove how Rosie was the ideal women worker, working for these factories while the men are out risking their lives for the country. The purpose of the song was to prove how hard working these women really are and show their efforts and contributions they are making to support the country. They had to sacrifice their home life and leaving their children for hours on end, to work for these companies. Women that mothered children under the age of 14 were normally not considered for the job because their children were too young to care for themselves. 14 “Officials discovered that women could perform the duties of eight of every 10 jobs normally done by men.” 15 They were just as capable of completely the jobs as the men and for the longest time they would never be considered for jobs they were performing.
Over 6 million women contributed to the workforce during the war. During this inflation of job opportunities, more women were needed to for fill all the positions; therefore they took women fresh out of high school to work for them.16 Many of these jobs the women worked for were very challenging for them, especially not having much experience with manual labor. The machinery they operated was severe and dangerous.17 Some of the machinery consisted of driving tractors, operating cranes, buses, and streetcars. They went from never working in their lives to working in factories, shipyards, lumber mills, steel mills, etc. Not only did these women work in factories, but they also worked all kinds of jobs such as blue, white, and pink-collar jobs. Some examples of blue collared jobs that women took on were, police officers, taxi cab drivers, and nurses. 18 Over 3 million women took position on the Red Cross, actively volunteering as nurses to the wounded soldiers. The most common kind of jobs for the women was dominantly pink collar that required more manual labor and harder work. These were the welders, mechanics, electricians, etc. There were more pink collared jobs available to the women than the blue and white collar. A white collar job that a women could work as was a lawyer, journalists, or members of a musical group, but it was competitive and hard to get those kinds of jobs.
With all the hard work and dedication, all good things come to an end. When the war ended, the women were forced to leave their jobs and return to their normal lives. The memory of Rosie the riveter vanished as time went on, although the contributions, work ethic, and achievements were never forgotten. They are written in history and lived through the memories of those who were apart of such great success.
1 National Park Service, Rosie the Riveter: Women Working During World War II, http://www.nps.gov/pwro/collection/website/home.htm
2 National Park Service, Rosie the Riveter
4 Online Highways, United States History: World War II
5 Online Highways, United States History: World War II
6 Online Highways, United States History: World War II
7 Penny Colman, Rosie the Riveter(New York: Crown Publishers, 1995), 17
8 National Park Service, Rosie the Riveter
9 National Park Service, Rosie the Riveter
10 National Park Service, Rosie the Riveter
11 Penny Colman, Rosie the Riveter(New York: Crown Publishers, 1995), 15
12 Penny Colman, Rosie the Riveter
13 University of Mary Washington, Rosie the Riveter, http://rosietheriveter.umw.edu/rosie-the-riveter-song/
14 National Park Service, Rosie the Riveter
15 Online Highways, United States History: World War II
16 Penny Colman, Rosie the Riveter
17 Penny Colman, Rosie the Riveter(New York: Crown Publishers, 1995), 16
18 Penny Colman, Rosie the Riveter(New York: Crown Publishers, 1995), 18