Tag: World War II

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’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.