Tag: Rosie the Riveter

“A New Era for Women” By Shanic M. Martinez

Close your eyes and picture the U.S. in the 1940s during WWII. Try to imagine the many assembly plants that were scattered throughout the nation. What kind of people do you picture building the fighter planes and bombers? Still wondering? The builders of these fighting machines were women. They were the mothers, sisters, wives, and girlfriends of the men that were oversees risking their lives for the sake of our beloved country. They were called “Rosies” after the 1940s song “Rosie the Riveter,” a song that details a women who is “making history” while “working for history (Rosie the Riveter Song).

The common belief at this time was that they were “young, white, and middle-class” (Honey 19). However, according to Professor of English and Women’s Studies at the University of Nebraska, Maureen Honey’s book titled Creating the Rosie the Riveter: Class, Gender, and Propaganda During WWII this belief is a common misconception. Studies have shown that most women were “working- class” women who “needed the money to achieve a reasonable standard of living. This finding is supported by the Regional Oral History Office at the UC Berkley Library who collected a myriad of female oral histories during WWII. The fascinating life of Mary K. Cohen is one oral history that tell the story of a young poor Jewish woman who traveled 2 ½ hours to an assembly factory in order to support her family and also her country.

Cohen was born in Chicago, Illinois on July 23, 1923. Her parents emigrated from the Ukraine to Chicago, and later moved to the Bronx due to issues surrounding her father’s job. Because her family’s financial issues, she was forced to have her first job at the age of eight plucking kosher chickens at 3 cents per chicken. At the age of 14, Cohen added to her work experience by babysitting a couple of children. It was in this job that she also received 36 hours’ worth of flying lessons. The fact that Cohen had many work experience before she even was an adult supports Honey’s finding that most women had “prewar experience in the labor force.” This finding debunks the myth that most “Rosies’” first job was working in the factory.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Cohen felt the need to “do something,” she wanted “to do something special” (Regional Oral History Office 11). She responded to an ad in the newspaper looking for workersn to build fighter planes. This job was so important to her that she can clearly recall her first day working in the factory. She remembers how she was instructed on how to use the drill and that the shifts became quite competitive. Cohen mentions that “it didn’t matter as far as the money.” I find this interesting seeing as how all of the $65 that she received was to help her family that were struggling (Regional Oral History Office 13). It appears that if she was paid more or less, it didn’t matter as the team’s sole concern was to get the planes out (Regional Oral History Office 12). It was not about the quantity of the money that motivated her, but the quantity of the planes that her team finished. For her, “it was a very patriotic feeling” (Regional Oral History Office 12).

One aspect of Cohen’s job during the war that she recalls was that was the first time that women wore pants (Regional Oral History Office 11).  Outside of assembly plant, women were still wearing skirts and dresses. As a result, Cohen received many disapproving stares from non-working women. One women even said “You still can dress like a lady. You’re not dressed like a lady.”  To which Cohen responded “Yeah, but we’re working on machines” The other lady “just walked away” (Regional Oral History Office 19).  I find the reaction from these non- “Rosies” interesting as they should be supporting what the “Rosies” are doing to help aid the war. These women are working grueling jobs building fighter planes day in and day out and people only chose to comment on the fabric that covers their legs. The wearing of pants was not a fashion statement, but a safety issue. Cohen points out how one wouldn’t a “dress to be caught into the drill or into the machinery” as that would lead to a “real problem” (Regional Oral History Office 19).  This is why the 1943 documentary by Ford Motor company “Women on the War Path” and the photographs issued by the Office of War Information (OWI) feature women with pants. These agencies want to show women that there is no safety hazard will drilling and riving. They also want to show that pants provided “Rosies” the ability to move around efficiently to create more war planes and thus help their country win the war.




How real is the “Rosie Myth?” by Deja Sloan

The popularized media image of our beloved wartime heroine Rosie the Riveter Se Puedeseems to be ingrained in our brains as a young, white, American woman, eager to help on the home-front while the boys are away. But how much of this iconic image corresponds to what the face of a “Rosie” actually looked like in the forties? Did all the women who stepped forward to work fit this cookie-cutter example of what a wartime heroine should be? Or did the lines blur to include women of different color, ages, or socioeconomic backgrounds?

My investigation begins with the oral history accounts of Angelina Alexandre. A Mexican-American woman born in California, 1919, Alexandre was in her mid 20s around WWII and the birth of the image of Rosie was born. When asked about her recollection of the war, she remembers when her brothers went into service, and when her nephews went to work because of the shortage of men. As far as being as eager as Rosie to work, however, Alexandre was more so coaxed into working for Ford industries by a next-door neighbor who worked at a shipyard at the time of war, and suggested that Alexandre get a job as well. With two myths debunked so early into the investigation (all the Rosies being white & their eagerness to work), it seems that the image of our wartime heroine is a false representation, however, the ‘average Rosie’ did overlap with the image of Rosie the riveter in multiple ways. Alexandre recalls being “too busy with [her] children” to hear about the attack on Pearl Harbor when it happened.  Her recollection corresponds with the film “Women on the Warpath” (produced by Ford Motor Company) that we watched in class which portrayed women as being distracted by “womanly” duties and oblivious to the devastation – and danger of the war.

Alexandre also mentioned the labor union she was a member of during her work service at the time of war, Autoworkers of America. She enjoyed it, and the men in it alongside her. She had morning and lunch breaks, and spent them in the cafeterias onsite, which she described as “Very good.”  She did her work, and when it came time to be paid, she hopped in line with all the other workers for an envelope of cash.

When asked about the treatment of Japanese Americans during the war, much like the riveting propaganda at the time, Alexandre did not enter the camps they were being held in, or ‘acknowledge’ them much during this time.  As far as the not-so-publicized characteristics of our heroine Riveter, Alexandre also followed the pattern of hiring a “Mammy” to help take over domestic work over a period of 18 months while she helped with the war effort. Alexandre also recalls the time when the boys returned with an expectation of their old jobs back. Alexandre, however, was not as easily laid off as some Rosies.  She managed to find work until her retirement. In conclusion, my investigation of Alexandre shows that it takes a closer look to see who Rosie really was.  She was not always the perfect icon. At the time of the war, workers were desperately needed and companies had an ideal image of exactly who they wanted their workers to be.   But in times of desperation, these ideals had to allow flexibility for Rosie’s persona, resulting in millions of “average” Rosies, who made up a workforce that riveted just as strongly.

Rosie the Riveter- Just Your Average Advertising Story by Brittany N. Cozzens

To me, the more and more I read on Maureen Honey’s “Creation of the Myth” on Rosie the Riveter, the more I began to question Rosie as a true American Icon and more of an American Farce. Defining an American Icon in the beginning of the semester we learned that an iconic image is “wholly exceptional and has levels of widespread recognizability; moved beyond its original purpose; is in fact original and moved to a point of celebrity; and has the attraction of a cult following”. While I think that most may agree that Rosie possesses these types of characteristics, I believe she does so in the sense that she was specifically made TO BECOME an icon, which to me breaks the #1 rule of iconicity- she isn’t original or authentic.  Rosie the Riveter, in my opinion, was just a successful advertising campaign.

In “Creation of the Myth,” we obtain a very detailed understanding of how Rosie came to be. During WWII, we see that the Office of War Information (OWI), the Bureau of Campaigns, and War Advertising Council (WAC) work to create a “Women in the War” campaign in 1944 that encourages women to enter the work force in an array of different jobs. A man instrumental in pushing government officials to this idea was Chester La Roche, the chair of the WAC. Now, La Roche isn’t your typical Don Draper; his intent was to get the rest of the government on board to wage psychological warfare via all media outlets and “threaten the public with the loss of loss of political freedoms”. (I know sounds American right? ) He truly believed that if the government didn’t use these types of methods that the American public wouldn’t cooperate.  From here we then see the launch of a nation wide advertising campaign set with a manipulative manual War Guide for Advertisers that outlines where and how to advertise.  In 1942 the campaign took off and La Roche’s plan of utilizing all media outlets really set sail with the addition of Magazine Bureau. Propaganda in magazines was present in the photos, the storylines, and articles on women in different industries and basically the whole magazine. Fiction writers were a huge addition into the OWI campaign efforts in order to make “war work sound attractive to women readers.” For years, media industries worked solely to convince women in every way that working during the war was a glamorous and fun thing to do through these magazines.

When government and fiction align is when we should start to realize there is a problem.  La Roche and the WAC probably created one of histories most strategic, elaborate, and effective advertising campaigns. And Rosie was all a part of that manipulative plan.

As an advertising student, I see Rosie the Riveter as successful art direction. I don’t see her as an American Icon because she is based off of a propaganda media blast in order for the government to control citizens. America is supposed to be land of the free and home of the brave, where citizens work hard because they want to not because they are manipulated to. Everything about this ad campaign points to a dictatorship of citizens through media rather than a democracy. To me, she is no truer than those tabloids you see about celebrities in the grocery store. Yes, her image was made famous but not in an honest or American way. She doesn’t truly represent the feminist women either because she was enacted as a plan to control women psychologically. Iconicity lends itself to being formed through a societal need, but Rosie was created to be an icon in order to sell the government’s product (the workforce) during that time.

Rosie’s: Rebuilding but Not Disturbing by Annie Persico

Let’s set the tone: Imagine a person walking up to your white picket fence and promptly smashing it with a sledge hammer. The American Dream, yours and countless others, was just smashed into pieces. Americans experienced this on the Eve of Revolution, in the economic Depression, and in the Dust Bowl, but they picked up the pieces and survived.

In essence, that is what America felt on a global level when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

As previously blogged, survival is Rosie's riveting during WWIIthe essence of achieving, and in World War II’s case upholding, the American Dream.  Your ability as a person or collectively as a country to overcome and succeed allows you to achieve that Dream; when it’s smashed, there is nothing to do but try to survive again. American culture, based on the survival efforts of man was thrown upside down when all of our men were sent to the front lines. Who would help the country pick up the broken pieces of its white picket fence?

Enter: Rosie the Riveter.

Women all over the country (my grandmother included,) put on pants, tied up their pin curls, picked up their drills and fought for the survival that would enable us to rebuild our white picket fences one rivet at a time.

Women, like Mary Cohen, were encouraged by the Office of War Information’s magazine campaigns run by Dorothy Dorcas and the Magazine Bureau (Honey) to take up the jobs of men to fulfill their patriotic duty to their country and help the country survive in its time of need. The propaganda campaigns of the OWI achieved the goal of their “psychological” war in drawing women into taking up the duty of survival previously left to men. No doubt the achievement of these women, their dedication and patriotism to our country is commendable; but how do women like Mary Cohen survive in our male dominated historical narrative? How do these women’s stories become a huge part of World War II’s historical narrative?

Mary Cohen commuted two hours every day, 5 days a week to rivet in New Jersey in 1942. After fulfilling what she felt was her American duty to help support the men over-seas and “rebuild the fence,” she joined the United States Army and worked on airplanes in Tucson. She later married, had children, and worked for the State of California to help place veterans in jobs. In one of her stories she tells of giving up her seat on a plane to a young man returning home from Iraq. Clearly Cohen represents the ideal woman of American society that history has presented us; patriotic, willing to serve her country, a mother and wife, a supportive role model. Her profile fit into the narrative of World War II without disturbing the accomplishments of man- She “[could] do it!”  She, like all Rosie’s, achieved iconic status because of a supporting role- much like Betsy Ross did for the American Revolution.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich makes the argument that Betsy Ross persists as a historical figure because she fits the dominant historical narrative. Mary Cohen wanted to fly planes, but her choice to support and rivet, like all Rosies is what makes Rosie an Icon. The fact that Mary Cohen, an embodiment of Rosie, never got into the plane and bombed, and the fact that she willingly took the role of support that the government needed to rebuild its “fence,” her understanding that survival and upholding the American Dream was only hers for a brief period of time, is what allows Rosie to remain an icon of World War II and the larger American historical narrative.