The popularized media image of our beloved wartime heroine Rosie the Riveter seems 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.