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Rosie the Riveter: Working Women and World War II

The female icon of World War II, "Rosie the Riveter" depicted women workers during World War II. This research guide serves as an introduction to primary and secondary resources on this subject both at the Library of Congress and on the Web.

Introduction

The character of "Rosie the Riveter" first began as a song inspired by war worker Rosalind P. Walter. After high school, 19 year old Rosalind began working as a riveter on Corsair fighter planes at the Vought Aircraft Company in Stratford, Connecticut. After a newspaper article featuring Rosalind’s work was published, songwriters Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb were inspired to write the song “Rosie the Riveter.” With the release of this song, the concept of Rosie the Riveter became a part of public consciousness.

It should be noted that while Rosalind may have been the first, there were many other “real life Rosies” throughout the war. Rosie the Riveter came to be a symbol of all women working in the war industries during World War II. After the release of the song inspired by Rosalind, the image of Rosie the Riveter became further cemented in the public imagination in large part due to the circulation of illustrations and propaganda. On May 29, 1943, the Norman Rockwell Rosie illustration was published on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. Today, perhaps the most famous of all the Rosie imagery is “We Can Do It,” created by J. Howard Miller and published by Westinghouse. Surprisingly, “We Can Do It” was not widely circulated during the war years, and there is no evidence to suggest that it was ever seen outside of the Westinghouse factory floors. The popularity of “We Can Do It” is largely attributed to its inclusion in a 1982 Washington Post Magazine article, “Poster Art for Patriotism’s Sake,” about the poster collections at the National Archives.

There are two primary images that are associated with the character of Rosie the Riveter:

The Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division holds hundreds of images relating to American women workers in World War II. Selected images, like the ones shown below, were issued by the U.S. government or by commercial sources during World War II, and often to encourage women to join the work force or to highlight other aspects of the war effort.