Rosie the Riveter is a cultural icon of the United States, representing the women who had to replace men at manufacturing job positions during the World War II. American women had to produce munitions and war supplies, take part in the building of bombers, ships, tanks and take difficult jobs traditionally taken by men.
Rosie the Riveter is seen to have started a social movement which raised the number of working women in the United States to 20 million by 1944, a 57% rise compared to 1940, according to the Encyclopedia of American Economic History. The cultural icon also encouraged the empowerment of women. Contrary to the widespread image of a woman working at a production site, many women helped police officers, taxicab drivers and government workers by taking over their duties.
The term was used for the first time in a song by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb in 1942. Rosalind P. Walter is considered to be the individual who inspired the song. She worked on the building of a carrier-capable fighter aircraft. After the war, Walter was a philanthropist and a board member of the WNET public television station in New York. Rose Will Monroe was the second woman who was closely associated with the icon. Born in 1920, she worked as a riveter building bombers for the U.S. Army Air Forces. Monroe also piloted a plane when she was in her 50's.
Rosie the Riveter became one of the most popular icons of the war period and her image, recognized in posters and movies, inspired women to take jobs in support of the war effort. The U.S. government used wartime propaganda to attract women to production jobs left vacant as men went to war. The image was popularized by the media and the work of Rosie the Riveter was romanticized. "Do the work he left behind." or "We can do it!" were among the most enduring slogans after thousands of men had to join the armed forces following the attack at Pearl Harbor.
In 1942, Pittsburgh artist J. Howard Miller created the "We can do it!" poster, an order by the Westinghouse Company's War Production Coordinating Committee. Miller saw Rosie with her hair up in a red and white polka-dot bandanna flexing her biceps and showing her muscle. Miller's poster has proved one of the most popular images dating from the World War II period and the U.S. popular culture post it on everything from coffee cups and facial tissue wrappers to mouse pads and aprons. There are at least 15 versions of the original poster.
In 1943, weekly magazine, Saturday Evening Post made another image of Rosie the Riveter well-recognized. They published a poster by Norman Rockwell showing a strong woman named Rosie, who was taking her lunch, having a gun on her lap and stepping over a copy of Hitler's Mein Kampf. Rockwell has painted 322 covers over 46 years for Saturday Evening Post, but Rosie has become one of his most enduring images due to the fact she captured a moment in American history that would transform the role of women in the United States.
Over six million women were inspired by Rosie the Riveter during the war and three million volunteered with the Red Cross, according to Encyclopedia of U.S. History. The women, however, were rapidly dismissed from work as their men returned from war and employers preferred to hire them again. Thus, job opportunities sharply decreased for women shortly after the end of the war and Rosie the Riveter started to be associated with a new image – the efforts of the women which were no longer appreciated after the war. The image, thus, started to be associated with the post-war feminist movement.
The image of Rosie the Riveter endured after the war as well. Based on the original Rosie character, in the 1960s actress Jane Withers performed Josephine the Plumber in a popular series of television commercials for a cleansing powder. The commercials were also shown in the 1970s. More modern appearances of Rosie could be seen in an armed woman of a video game called BioShock or in DC comics where a character is named Rosie the Riveter where she also carries a rivet gun. Another video game, called Fallout 3 shows billboards with the image of Rosie making atomic bombs and drinking Nuka-Cola. Music performer Beyonce Knowles used the idea in her video from 2010 Why Don't You Love Me? while country music singer Emma Jacob put the image of Rosie the Riveter on the cover of her album Strong Like Me.