By Samantha Spoto
Image courtesy of DonkeyHotey.
In honor of Women’s History Month and the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, New York City’s Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum invited patrons to celebrate feminist icon Rosie the Riveter.
Last weekend, the interactive and guided talk provided a concise history of the American heroine, a pioneer for women in the workforce.
The concept of the female icon originated from songwriters Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb. Their song “Rosie the Riveter” portrays the idol as a factory worker who helps contribute to the war effort and the Allies’ success. As the song states, Rosie makes history and works for victory as she produces ammunition and supplies for the soldiers at war.
The audience at the Intrepid talk learned how after Evans and Loeb wrote “Rosie the Riveter,” visual artists like J. Howard Miller and Norman Rockwell provided a face to the assembly line worker. Miller’s image of Rosie–commissioned by the Westinghouse War Production Coordinating Committee–features the well-known portrait of Rosie with the “We Can Do It!” slogan.
Westinghouse intended for this piece of propaganda to bolster worker morale among women in the workplace. However, a few short weeks after its completion, Miller’s portrait disappeared.
Although not intended to represent Rosie the Riveter, Miller’s illustration has come to symbolize her in popular culture since the piece’s resurgence in the 1980s. The recovery of his work also led to the finding of Geraldine Hoff Doyle, a metal presser on whom the portrait is believed to be based.
The lecture covered how the songs and images of Rosie the Riveter sparked a widespread and significant movement for women in the workforce, who were mostly bound to the household before the war. By 1944, around 20 million American women were active in the workplace. Rosie represents all the women who carried out the responsibilities often assigned to men.
Without the resolve and ethic of these women, the war may have resulted differently. Their collective participation also became a pivotal point of female presence in the workforce. To this day, Rosie the Riveter serves as a lasting relic for an important era in women’s history, as well as a persistent symbol for each year’s Women’s History Month.