The original Rosie died last month, but a woman’s work is never done.
A factory photograph of Naomi Parker Fraley, who died in January, was reportedly the model for Rosie the Riveter, an image as popular today as it was in World War II. (Beyoncé even copped a Rosie pose in 2014.)
The woman with the bandana and determined expression, sleeves rolled up and arm flexed, appeared under the heading “We Can Do It,” The poster was created for Westinghouse in 1942, as part of a campaign to boost worker morale. Today the image remains a cultural icon, symbolizing women’s strength, contribution and economic clout.
American women did their duty – and supported families – by moving into factory jobs and work the government deemed “essential” during both World War II (just as they did in World War I).
At the end of the Second World War, the government launched a PR campaign to urge women to return to being homemakers. Many companies fired their female employees. Those who remained in the workforce moved back into lower paying positions, such as clerical positions.
The Rosies went home to do their bit for the Baby Boom.
For decades, female characters in movies, TV and advertising worked in traditional roles, if at all. They were portrayed as secretaries, teachers, nurses, nuns and waitresses. An occasional movie star or business owner popped up in storylines, but the misery of her lonely life inevitably humbled her to embrace a more “womanly” life as wife and mother before the credits rolled.
The image of women remained firmly domestic from the 1950s through the 1970s. In the mid-80s, Barbie was first outfitted as an executive. By the ‘90s, we saw mainstream depictions of “working women” with big hair, big shoulder pads, striding off to jobs that were no longer strictly secretarial. Gradually, the media began to glamorize single women and acknowledge the pressures on working moms.
Today, images of women astronauts, first responders and technicians are no longer stunts. The simply reflect reality.
The latest U.S. Department of Labor statistics report that more than 66 million American women are in the workforce. More than 40% work in management or professional positions. In the past five years, women have outnumbered men in U.S. law schools and medical schools. Thanks in part to the push for STEM education, women are also catching up in the sciences and engineering.
In the song, Rosie the Riveter, she is “making history, working for victory.” Today, women are still making history, working for respect and pay equity. Happy International Women’s Day!
If you would like to see other classic images of women in the workforce and vintage war time photos click below.