Rosie the Riveter: Women of WWII

Christine Gillette

One iconic image stirred a social movement in the 1940s that caused millions of women to join the work force and to prove to the country that they can do a man’s job, and that was Rosie the Riveter.

On March 22 history professors Robyn Fishman and Beth Kronbeck presented another Women’s History Month event in Kreider Hall that discussed the empowerment and suffrage Rosie the Riveter gave to women during the 1930s through World War II.

During the 1930s, the government made it hard for most women to do more than to be confined within their house walls and to perform the daily housewife routine.

With the Economy Act of 1932, a husband and wife could not work for the government at the same time and most of the time it was the wife who lost her job. Then the American Federation of Labor union came out with its official position that women should be excluded from the job market; if you were married you were to be at home.

However, after the Great Depression, women became the ones to bring home the bacon.

“The biggest image that we are most familiar with is men in the bread lines, what we don’t talk about is the women who picked up the slack,” Fishman said.

Through many clerical positions, scrap collection, picking through trash, exchanging between other women, doing laundry and making clothes women brought home the salary that men couldn’t. This factor upset the traditional social norms of what a husband and wife are supposed to do.

During World War II, all men aged 18 to 65 were to register with their local draft board and men between the ages of 18 to 45 were held accountable of military service if drafted. While all the men were off to war, the icon Rosie the Riveter was created and millions of women were employed in military factories to build ships, airplanes, weapons, and anything the military needed.

“Although, the original image of Rosie the Riveter was not as sexy as the one we see today,” Fishman said about the iconic image of a working woman in the factories.

Originally the photos and iconic graphics of Rosie the Riveter were of paid models, to show that women who worked were still “pretty.” With the new wave of women in the factories, men began to think that these “pretty” women working there were a distraction from getting work done. This was hardly the case. Fishman said that the women who worked at the Long Beach, Calif. aircraft factory were able to produce a ship a day and a plane every 15 minutes.

She said, as well, that Rosie the Riveter was more of a necessity than it was a change of mindset. What Rosie really did was give women more access to women and she created a social network for women during these hard times. What women needed during this hardship was empowerment and to work for an income gave women an opportunity to prove that there is more that a woman can do besides being a housewife.

Kronbeck and Fishman will present another Women’s History Month event called “Fly Girls: Women Who Fly Planes During World War II” tomorrow night in the Student Center at 6:30.