Rosie the Riveter: We Can Do It!

Rosie the Riveter, by J. Howard Miller | This poster represents a powerful image of women during World War II | Courtesy of Flickr Images

From 1941 to 1945, during World War II, many woman were needed in the workplace because millions of men had joined the armed forces to fight in the European and the Pacific theaters of the war. In the Depression years just before this, women had been encouraged to stay at home, and let the men take the reduced number of manufacturing jobs available.1 With the onset of the war and the dramatically increased demand for manufactured wartime products, factories across the country opened their doors to women workers by the millions. In fact, there was a concerted effort to enlist women into the work force. In 1942, artist J. Howard Miller created the popular image of a woman named “Rosie the Riveter.” This poster was initially named, “We Can Do It!” and was made for the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company. Rosie was represented wearing makeup, a polka dot headband, and a rolled up sleeve shirt that portrayed strength and independence in women.2

This image shows what the average women did for work during WWII | Courtesy of Wikipedia

Rosie the Riveter was a fictional character that many woman in the workforce identified with. The initial purpose of her image was to influence women to see themselves as capable of doing work previously thought to be men’s work. Her image combined beauty and strength, which is why many woman saw her as a role model. Even though Rosie the Riveter was a fictional character, her image was actually based on a photograph of a woman named Geraldine Doyle, who was a Michigan factory worker.3

There were some jobs that women took on that required training. Because of this, their wages were higher due to the fact that their jobs were more challenging and engaging compared to jobs that they may have had before. During the war, eighteen million women referred to themselves as being “Rosies.” Out of these eighteen million Rosies, six million had the opportunity to work for the first time. These women understood that the U.S. military and economy needed them; however, what motivated them to work was their own patriotism.4

In 1942, before Miller’s poster was created, Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb wrote a song called, “Rosie the Riveter.” This hit song had lyrics that acknowledged and recognized the work that women did during the war:

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 frail can do
more than a male will do
Rosie the Riveter.5

The song became associated with the existing images of Rosie the Riveter, which was a perfect blend of patriotism and beauty and strength in women.6

Unfortunately, after the war, the jobs and wages that Rosies had adapted to their lifestyles came to an end for the majority of them. Some went back to working “less challenging” jobs, and some became stay-at-home mothers. Because of this, birth rates increased, which led to the baby boom that lasted from 1946 through 1964. Even though many women went back to their previous lifestyles, they claimed to have left the workforce more confident and had more self-worth, knowing that they had proved to society that they were capable of doing men’s work.7

World War II changed the lifestyles of women significantly. Going from housewives to working in different industries allowed women to prove to society that this type of work was not just for men. There may have been no intention for women to prove themselves what they are capable of; however, women did leave their jobs after the war feeling better about themselves. Rosie the Riveter remains an iconic figure in American history, representing not only beauty in women, but also strength, courage, and confidence.

  1.  Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender, 2007, s.v. “Rosie the Riveter,” by Susan L. Solomon.
  2. America in the World, 1776 to the Present: A Supplement to the Dictionary of American History, 2016, s.v. “Rosie the Riveter,” by Nichola D. Gutgold.
  3.  Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender, 2007, s.v. “Rosie the Riveter,” by Susan L. Solomon.
  4.  Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender, 2007, s.v. “Rosie the Riveter,” by Susan L. Solomon.
  5. Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb, “Rosie the Riveter,” (New York: Paramount Music Corporation, 1942); The Four Vagabonds, “Rosie the Riveter,” recorded RCA Manufacturing Co., 1943.
  6. America in the World, 1776 to the Present: A Supplement to the Dictionary of American History, 2016, s.v. “Rosie the Riveter,” by Nichola D. Gutgold.
  7.  Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender, 2007, s.v. “Rosie the Riveter,” by Susan L. Solomon.

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89 Responses

  1. I would always see a poster of Rosie the Riveter in my art class at school. Reading the story behind her makes me realize how important her statement is and the impact she has had in women since World War II. She is especially empowering in the women’s march, as well. I’m happy that she’s a piece of history all women and young girls can be inspired by.

  2. Growing up understanding what this famous poster resembled I had always felt a connection with Rosie the Riveter. Realizing that she was just a fictional character it blew my mind how powerful she really is. Rosie inspired so many women to get build the courage to work outside the house. I really enjoyed this article and reading about the many great things Rosie the Riveter has done to this day.

  3. Having attended an all-girls school Rosie the Riveter was introduced to me at a young age and was definitely used as a symbol to represent women as strong, bold, and independent. It is good that while men were at war women were able to help keep the production up as well as having a chance to prove themselves. I like the fact that although most women returned to their traditional roles, they had better confidence and self-worth, knowing what they are capable of.

  4. I have seen Rosie the Riveter in posters and Halloween costumes throughout my life, but I never bothered to research what it was. The line “Her image combined beauty and strength,” has to be my favorite one that I have read so far on any article. I enjoyed listening to the song and looking at the pictures that went along with the article, a very informative read!

  5. Even though this woman wasn’t real, the symbol she displayed was so empowering and really made a statement to give women that extra push and really tell them, “hey you got this” because of the many men in World War II. The Great Depression was a really downfall that lead to many success for our country. I did learn a lot as I didn’t know Rosie wasn’t real but a symbol. The video that was attached was very cool and helped me grasp the concept and understand more.

  6. I love Rosie the Riveter! I come from a family of mostly women and we are all strong and independent. I was raised on the values that Rosie stood for symbolically and i feel proud of how women took charge during World War II. They proved to themselves and to men that they can do just fine on their own. I enjoyed the article and it also showed me that there was a song written for her, which i had never heard of!

  7. I think World War II has not only proved to the world that women are able to work in all areas, but also to make women know their strengths and their ability to work hard, to take women today as an example. Some women can work and at the same time take care of their children and meet their needs.In my opinion it is a great power that the women have.

  8. Rose the Riveter is a truly iconic character from World War II. I did not know that there was a song based on her, which was really interesting! It’s also great that, due to the need for women to take over “men’s jobs,” eighteen million women were working in the U.S. during World War II. That’s a very large number considering that most women in the early 20th century were expected to stay at home or take less intense jobs. Although it is disappointing that most Rosies gave up their careers after World War II ended, I’m glad having factory jobs still had an impact on their lives, giving them more confidence and courage.

  9. My high school, since I came from an all girls school always taught us about influential women and one of them was Rosie the Riveter. Although she was a fictional character, she gave women the sense of feeling free to get out of their jobs at the home and being able to work a real job. It is crazy on how even though people let women do these jobs and appreciated them more, they still thought they were not good enough or the same as men. I really liked this article and it is nice to know that Rosie still is taught and inspired by women of all ages today.

  10. Like many others I have heard and seen many poster with Rosie the Riveter on them.Though she was a fictional character I feel that she allowed women to be free in a sense that they weren’t expected to only do house work but were allowed to actually work. I find it interesting that even though at times like this the country let women work and appreciate what they did and told them they were doing a good job that many people still believe that women can’t do as good of a job as men, or can’t do the same job that they do. But at this time women were allowed to do a “mans job” and were successful at it but nowadays aren’t. Overall its a really great article and i’m glad I finally got to know where the idea came from and glad that it still inspires women all over today.

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