Rosie the Riveter

What is the most iconic image of a working woman? Many of us will point at the poster shown below, with a fierce young woman raising her fist and the phrase “We can do it!” on top. Although the woman from this particular poster was never officially called “Rosie the Riveter”, this very artwork is heavily associated with the social campaign encouraging female workers to start a job in the defense industries. 

Times change – and so does the American society. There are fewer and fewer “tradwives” and the number of women who decided to pursue their careers and work outside the home is very high. However, let’s keep in mind that we’re talking about the 40s. It was during the war that American women entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers. In many cases the reasons were rather practical – there was a shortage of male workers in many areas due to their service in the army. Between 1940 and 1945, the female percentage of the US workforce jumped from 27% to nearly 37%. Statistics show that by 1945 around one of every four married women had a job outside the home. The greatest increase in female workers occurred in the aviation industry. Nevertheless, it must be stressed that the financial benefits lagged far behind their male counterparts. Women hardly ever earned more than 50% of male wages.

Rosie the Riveter became one of the most meaningful recruitment tools in the history of the United States.  She appeared in movies, newspapers, photographs, posters, and many more. The most iconic poster actually depicts a “prototype” created in 1942 by J. Howard Miller from Pittsburgh. The “actual” Rosie was published by “The Saturday Evening Post” on May 29, 1943. Her creator, Norman Rockwell, portrayed Rosie with a flag in the background, trampling a copy of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” under her feet. In 1943, a song “Rosie the Riveter” by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb was published – and thus her name went down in history.

Rosie’s true identity is unknown, although the most credible lead is that a woman named Naomi Parker Fraley became the inspiration. She was a machine shop worker at the Naval Air Station in Alameda, California. N. P. Fraley passed away in January 2018.