By Lani Gering
Rosie the Riveter Is In the Harbor!
Rosie the Riveter – by artist Ivan Schwartz – is the latest addition to the sculptures that are popping up all up and down American Way here in the Harbor. She joins J. Seward Johnson’s “Forever Marilyn” sculpture of Marilyn Monroe and other notables including “The Awakening” that graces the beach at the edge of the water. I thought it would be fun to write about this new work of art since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and while we celebrate survivors as well as those who have succumbed to this terrible disease, I think it’s important to acknowledge strong women of all walks. “Rosie” was a strong woman who made history during World War II.
I gathered a bit of history on the real “Rosie’ from a fun history site – historynet.com – and came up with the following:
“Rosie The Riveter – A gorgeous seventeen-year old became the 1940’s-incentive of the later famous Rosie the Riveter. Her name was Geraldine Hoff Doyle and she worked at an Ann Arbor, Michigan plant that manufactured metal. It was her picture on the huge posters displayed all over America. Later, Norman Rockwell’s interpretation of Rosie was part of the Saturday Evening Post in 1943. The best known image of Rosie is probably the Westinghouse poster that shows Rosie with a red and white polka-dotted bandana on a yellow background with her shout-out “We Can Do It!” is above her head.
Rosie the Riveter represents the power women wield when necessary. While their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers were doing the physical part of fighting a war, the women would do their part on the home front. At a time when no one has heard of Women’s Lib, these women fulfilled the jobs normally held by men. The aircraft and ammunition factories had the largest female employee increase overall.
The idea of having a “Rosie the Riveter” as a household name was intended to boost morale to keep production rate up rather than a call on women to do men’s jobs. However, once the idea of women working in factories came to life, it was hard to stop. After the men returned from war and metal products were not as much in demand, families had gotten used to this income. It also afforded women little more freedom than they had before the stereotypical mold was shattered.
In 1942, 17-year-old Geraldine Doyle spent two uneventful weeks as a metal worker near Detroit. Though her fervent desire to become a cellist prompted her to quit when she learned the job might permanently damage her hands, four decades later Doyle became one of the most enduring icons of the war—and the face of feminism.
During her brief stint pressing metal, a United Press photographer snapped photos of Doyle and her fellow workers; her arched eyebrows and full lips stood out when artist J. Howard Miller sought inspiration for a series of war-effort posters contracted by Westinghouse Electric.
Like Doyle, the “We Can Do It!” poster only appeared in a factory for two weeks—and never resurfaced again during the war. But just as images like that one called women to action for the war effort, in the 1980s women’s rights advocates brought them out of the archives to encourage women in the workforce, and it was then the “Rosie the Riveter” moniker was hung on Doyle’s image. Doyle’s “Rosie” will forever epitomize the 18 million women who took on men’s jobs during World War II.”
As you can see, Rosie was an icon celebrating the very first women to enter the male workforce. While it was an awful reason to be thrown into the working world of men, it was probably the start of the Women’s Liberation movement that came into full swing many years later with the introduction of journalist Gloria Steinem. Both my mother and grandmother were working women in the late 1930’s and 1940’s.
I hope that this piece prompts you come to the Harbor and check out Rosie. She is in grand company with the other famous figures that adorn American Way!