Rosie the Riveter is a well-known cultural icon of World War II representing the women who worked in factories and shipyards during that war, many of them producing munitions and other war supplies. These women sometimes took on entirely new jobs when replacing male workers who had joined the military. The imagery of Rosie the Riveter is a symbol of American feminism in the industrial workplace.
The idea of Rosie the Riveter originated in a song written in 1942 by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb. Later in 1944, the story Rosie the Riveter became a Hollywood movie. Images of women workers became widespread in the media as government posters and commercial advertising were heavily used by the government to encourage women to volunteer for wartime service in factories.
Women quickly responded to Rosie the Riveter, who convinced them that they had a patriotic duty to enter the workforce. Some claim that she forever opened the workforce for women, but others dispute that, noting many women were discharged after the war and their jobs were given to returning servicemen. These critics claim that when peace returned, few women returned to their wartime positions and instead resumed domestic vocations or transferred into occupations such as clerical and service work.
For some, World War II represented a major turning point for women as they eagerly supported the war effort, but other historians emphasize that the changes were temporary and that immediately after the war was over, women were expected to return to traditional roles of wives and mothers. Another viewpoint emphasized how the significance of the changes brought about by the war provided the foundation for the contemporary woman's movement. Leila J. Rupp in her study of World War II wrote ‘For the first time, the working woman dominated the public image. Women were riveting housewives in slacks, not mother, domestic beings, or civilizers’.
After the war, as the US shifted to a time of peace, women were quickly laid off from their factory jobs. The ‘Rosies’ and the generations that followed them knew that working in the factories was still a possibility for women; even though they did not re-enter the job market in large proportions again until the 1970s. By then factory employment was in decline all over the country.
Nearly 19 million women held jobs during World War II. Many of them working in lower-paying jobs or returning to work after being laid off during the depression. Only three million new female workers joined the workforce during this period. Although most women took on male-dominated trades during World War II, they were still expected to return to their everyday housework once men returned from the war.
Lacking any sense of diplomacy or consideration of women's feelings one particularly ill-advised government advertisement asked women: ‘Can you use an electric mixer? If so you can you learn to operate a drill?’ Propaganda was also directed at husbands, many of whom were unwilling to support their desire to continue industrial working, preferring them at home in the role of wife and carer. Many of the women who took jobs during World War II were mothers. These women with children at home pooled together in their efforts to raise their families. Assembling into groups they shared such chores as cooking, cleaning and washing clothes. Many who had young children shared apartments and houses so they could save time, money, utilities and food. They worked different shifts so they could take turns babysitting. Taking on a job during World War II made people question if they should urge the women to keep acting as full-time mothers or to support those getting jobs to support the country in a time of need. In 1944, when victory seemed assured for the United States, government-sponsored propaganda changed and urged women back to working in the home. However, some women continued working in the factories. The overall percentage of women working fell from 36 percent to 28 percent in 1947.
In recent years, Pink paid tribute to Rosie by dressing as her for a portion of the music video for the song ‘Raise Your Glass’ and singer Beyoncé Knowles paid tribute to Rosie in July 2014, dressing as the icon and posing in front of a ‘We Can do it!’ sign garnering over 1.15 million likes.