Monday, May 20, 2013

Beltempo: Rosie the Riveter in World War II


Strong, hard, tough and by all means beautiful; a pure representation of a woman’s body stuck in a man’s role. This image would stand apart from the Second World War era all in its own and this iconic symbol is known as Rosie the Riveter. The height of the war, from 1942 to 1944, marked the turning point for women and their roles in society. The social and economic aspects of life in this duration of women’s defense made great changes in the United States. Women’s roles in unions and relationships not only with men but with society sparked a shift in the gender construction. "We Can Do It!" this is not a complete sentence, just the slogan itself is not enough, you need to add more to it to make it a sentence Early in 1943, a popular song came out called "Rosie the Riveter,"1 shouts from the streets; women were coming out from their kitchens and into the workforce, many women were already working – not every woman was in the home – it was just that more women were moving into traditionally “masculine” jobs like defense factory work, shipbuilding, an experience all in its own. Middle class women shouldn’t work was a view taken by many men and people in society. As a division of class it showed how women always worked, like the lower classes and minorities who had to provide for their families. But now in this industrial war equipment era, women were needed to fulfill the void of men in battle and pursue this new lifestyle. We will explore feminist acts, labor unions and childcare and the many ways women came into their own in an effort to excel with men.

In 1941, the United States entered WWII and the wives, daughters and sisters left on the home front filled up the jobs that men had left. Before the war, it was commonly perceived that women were incompetent and unable to operate aircrafts, until an epic experience transpired known as the Women’s Air force Service Pilots. “Under the determined leadership of Jacqueline Cochran, Nancy Harkness Love, and General Henry "Hap" Arnold the WASP exceeded beyond all expectation.”2 These women were first put to the test to see if they would be able to operate an aircraft in an effort to release the men in their flying overseas responsibilities. Pilots may not be considered in the working class but these accomplishments should definitely not go unrecognized. There is a story of a girl who during this time was trained and qualified to become a jet flying innovator. “Ann Baumgartner was assigned to the Fighter Flight Test Branch at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. There she would make history as the only woman to test-fly experimental planes during the war and the first woman to fly a jet.”3
Aircrafts were not the only mechanisms that would skyrocket these women into progression, but the congregation of unions, as well. Although the presence of women wasn’t usual to the union’s protocol, their involvement was clearly cited. To their advantage, women were able to use to unions’ support against specific instances of discrimination. Union grievance procedures ultimately set the protection standard for women in the sense of their self-importance and rights to be part of something men had always practiced. Furthermore, the AFL and CIO were implemented before the war and for the purpose of protecting women post draft. Women members of these two umbrella unions would enjoy equal pay, social services, day care, and protective legislation. “In 1942, the AFL vowed to support equal pay and seniority rights for women as "a matter of justice." The CIO also fought for equal pay and supported a strike at Kelsey-Hayes Wheel Company in Detroit over the issue. During the war, the UEW signed 142 similar contracts, and the United Auto Workers signed fifty additional equal pay contracts. In 1943, the Transport Unions stated they would "tolerate no difference in men's and women's wages."4 When considering equality and rights to job creation for the United States, now women were apart of these groups in the working class. Although women could be part of these unions and others during the war, they seemed to be barred off pre and post war.
Women involved in other industry unions during World War II won better pay and more labor rights other than the military defense industry. “Your organization has been a great stabilizing and constructive force in the ladies garment industry and has successfully improved the condition of labor in this trade. It has been a pioneer in its enlightened policy of making public each year an itemized account of its income and disbursements,” said President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the women of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union5 From 1940 to 1944 3,000 new members joined the ILGWU and this larger union base agitated for and won important protections from sexual harassment, the right to vacation time, and improved working conditions.
As FDR’s wife and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt has been quoted as saying, “
A woman is like a tea bag, you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.6 This quote exemplifies women and their immediate response to having to come into their working roles during the World War II years. Women also served in the armed forces and the military through the Women’s Army Corps which employed more than 100,000 women by 1945. There were also factory and gun ammunition plants that were tough and brutal occupations for a woman where they had put them in dangerous and unpleasant situations. With true severity and inner strength the working class females completed these grueling tasks which are what these middle class women also had to adapt to. Finally, a true test of time was proven that women could now perform any job men can and sincerely broke the barrier of gender discrimination and criticism.
This socioeconomic shift, however, was considered temporary to many Americans. This was one reason that the issue of childcare became a concern for reformers, Ernest Bevin in the Ministry of Labor which originated in London executed rules and regulations to labor rationalization. “Like Bevin in the Ministry of Labor and the traditionalists of the Ministry of Health. Although the former appeared to win, as witnessed by the fact that 1,345 nurseries had been established by 1943 (compared with 14 existing in 1940), this did not represent a real victory for women workers.”7 Bevin’s views were adopted and spread to the United States in an effort to support positive support of working mothers. This is a serious matter because it took women having to immediately enter the work field for there to even be a thought that care givers other than the mother come into play. Also that since the government had amended this ruling; they can easily take it away once the war was over. Furthermore why comply with the needs of women if they are just seen as a fleeting arrangement in which most labor and unions were looked at as a joke. How can you have more rights and a permanent solution to the issues these women were facing if they were just getting replaced and kicked back into their homes soon thereafter?
Rosie the Riveter is the female icon of World War II. She is the home-front equivalent of G.I. Joe. She represents any woman defense worker. And for many women, she's an example of a strong, competent foremother.”8 According to Harvey Sheridan, all the “Rosie’s” that took over the workforce and made an impact on society, they are true heroes. Equality for women has always been an ongoing battle but the female generation of the WWII really proved themselves. The downside was that once the war was over most women lost their jobs and had to go back to the house wife role, a declaration was still made. Even though some maintained these jobs, most still barely earned half of the salary of a man in the same line of work. One thing was certain; the visual represented by Rosie the Riveter is still today an impressionable image that will not be forgotten. To end off with an excerpt from a monumental song to embody Rosie and all clearly all that she stood for 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 girl will do more than a male will do."9

1 A&E Television Networks LLC, "Rosie the Riveter." 1996. Accessed May 6, 2013.

2 Texas Woman's University, "Texas Woman's University." Last modified 02 05, 2013. Accessed May 6, 2013.

3 Carl, Ann B. A WASP among Eagles. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institute Press, 1999.

4 )Proceedings of the Sixty-Second Convention of the American Federation of Labor, Toronto, Canada (1942), 469

5 Labor, Archives. Leaflet of the International Ladies Garment Union. University of Texas at Arlington: Collection 167, 1944.

6 Roosevelt, Eleanor. Bookrags Media Network, "Brainy Quote." Last modified 2001. Accessed May 6, 2013.

7 Davis, Mary. "Women and World War II." master\., London Metropolitan University, Centre for trade union studies.

8 Harvey, Sheridan. The Library of Congress, "Rosie the Riveter: Real Women Workers in World War II." Last modified 20 July, 2010. Accessed May 6, 2013.

9 Evans, Redd, & Jacob Loeb, John. ""Rosie the Riveter"." Popular American Sheet Music Collection Recorded 1942. Paramount Music Corporation. compact disc

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