Rosie the Riveter: A History Lesson

The most disturbing that happened this week is that two people that I truly respect had no idea who Rosie the Riveter is. One, my boyfriend, couldn’t identify her by sight or by name. The other, my best friend, didn’t recognize te name. I had to explain her whole existence to her. Terrible. I had the sinking feeling that my friend would not be willing to describe herself as a feminist. As Rebecca West once said, “I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.” Is feminism really still a dirty word? I know many perceive it as such, but it doesn’t make me any less sad.

The reason these conversations started is I was considering being Rosie the Riveter for Halloween. Now I have two conflicting emotions:

  1. I shouldn’t be Rosie because no one knows who she is.
  2. I should be Rosie because no one knows who she is.

If you have any questions about who Rosie the Riveter is, wikipedia it. Educate yourself for Christ’s sake.

Just kidding, I’ll sum it up. She’s a cultural icon who represents the female workers during World War II, many of whom were factory workers. Check out these lines from a song about Rosie:

All the day long,
Whether rain or shine
She’s part of the assembly line.
She’s making history,
Working for victory
Rosie the Riveter

So she’s a pretty impressive lady. She’s a hard worker, doing her part for the war effort and for women. She’s tough, proud and is part of something larger than herself. The original Rosie the Riveter was conceived by Norman Rockwell.

Rosie the Riveter first appeared in 1943

Later a war propaganda poster was mistaken for Rosie the Riveter and has since been mass adopted as such.

We Can Do It! poster now known as Rosie the Riveter

Both these images show strong women. These women aren’t dainty. They’re borderline beefy! But at the same time, each retains a feminine air. These images are, in my mind, characters in the American story- the way Uncle Sam is. Uncle Sam is a cartoon that represents the American government. These women are cartoon images that represent the strength of American women.

It disturbs me that modern day citizens may have forgotten these once popular icons. They are still necessary as we build the strength and confidence of women of today’s society. As the Aussies say “Lest We Forget”.


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