By Lois Schaefer
March 21, 2023, was National Rosie the Riveter Day, a day to celebrate and recognize the part American women played in America’s WWII victory. Rosie the Riveter is a cultural icon of World War II. She was based on a real person, but represented the millions of women who went to work in factories, lumber and steel mills, shipyards, and wherever needed during the war to support the war effort.
With 12 percent of the population in military service, and every able-bodied man needed to fight the war, the nation needed warm bodies to fill vacated jobs in production, transportation, munitions, mechanics, and construction, as well as many other types of jobs. Car factories needed help rolling out tanks, planes, and other war equipment instead of automobiles. Women were the obvious choice. To fill the need, the Office of War Information devised a new message: “The girl he left behind is still behind him.”
The now iconic “We Can Do It!” poster created by illustrator J. Howard Miller originated from a picture taken by a photographer of a young woman working in one of the many factories. The poster was one of a series of motivational posters to boost team spirit, factory production and safety.
Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company first commissioned Miller’s poster in 1942. ‘We Can Do It’ really just meant ’Work Harder, Ladies! The true identity of the young woman in that photo will remain a mystery, as years later both Geraldine Hoff Doyle and Naomi Parker Fraley claimed to be that girl.
Real life Rosies flooded the factories, quickly responding to Rosie the Riveter, who convinced them that they had a patriotic duty to enter the workforce. Roughly six million women took up new jobs between 1942 and 1945 to meet the needs of the troops. Nearly 19 million jobs were held by women during WWII.
Many women with children would pool with others to raise their families. They shared houses and apartments, cooking, cleaning, and babysitting.
Fern Anderson of Rugby, North Dakota was one of those Rosies. Although she was afraid of both heights and water, she worked for the Permanento shipyard in Richmond, California on a high-rise over the water. She helped build the Liberty ship SS Robert E. Peary, which was built in four days, 15 hours, and 26 minutes after the keel was laid down, assembling 250,000 individual parts. The ship gained fame during WWII for being built faster than any other such vessel. The record time was the result of a competition between shipyards. On average, it took 17 days to build a ship.
Rose Bonavita, daughter of Italian immigrants, worked as a riveter at the General Motors Eastern Aircraft Division in North Tarrytown, New York. She and her partner, Jennie Florio, set a production record by drilling 900 holes and driving 3300 rivets in the tail end of a Grumman TBF Avenger bomber during one six-hour overnight shift in June 1943.
Rosie the Riveter became more closely associated with another real woman, Rose Will Monroe, who was born in Pulaski County, Kentucky in 1920 and moved to Michigan during WWII. She worked as a riveter at the Willow Run Aircraft Factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan, building B-24 bombers for the US Army Air Forces. The films and posters she appeared in were used to encourage women to go to work in support of the war effort.
Our Rosie was first and foremost a dedicated patriot standing in while others risked their lives on the front. Her only stand was for victory. Rosie made history!
Editor’s note: Lois Schaefer is a Chairwoman of the Department of North Dakota VFW Auxiliary
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