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Rosie the Riveter: Everything You Need to Know About the WWII Icon Who Inspired America

Including whether or not she's based on a real person

We can do it!” It’s the phrase that gave women across the United States of America the courage and strength to enter the workplace and help their country out in World War II — despite the fact that it had never been done before. And the iconic inspirational image accompanying that phrase is that of Rosie the Riveter — made famous on millions of posters — but who was that timeless lady? Fasten your tool belt and get ready to learn more about Rosie the Riveter.

Who was Rosie the Riveter?

Rosie the Riveter, based on the image on the poster, was a woman in a jean jumpsuit and a white polka dot headband that told women, “We can do it!” But she was much more than that as well.

She was “invented” during World War II and used as a propaganda tool to encourage women across the country to join the U.S. aircraft industry to help make supplies for the men fighting overseas.

She also opened the door for women of color to enter the workforce without backlash, representing the first time that Blacks, Asians, Hispanics and Whites worked together, which reportedly played a role in the breaking down of social barriers.

What did Rosie the Riveter do?

UNITED STATES - CIRCA 1942:  Women workers install fixtures and assemblies to a tail fuselage section of a B-17 bomber at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant, Long Beach, Calif
UNITED STATES – CIRCA 1942: Women workers install fixtures and assemblies to a tail fuselage section of a B-17 bomber at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant, Long Beach, Calif Buyenlarge/Getty Images

The shift to needing women in the workforce rather than at home came after most of the men were away fighting on the front lines. However — and one can’t really be surprised to hear this — women were paid half of what male workers would have made despite them making up 65% of the industry’s workforce at the time.

Rosie was also the reason the percentage of women in the workforce went from 27% to 37% between 1940 and 1945.

Rosie the Riveter' encourages American women to show their strength and go to work for the war effort by J. Howard Miller in circa 1940
The full Rosie the Riveter posterDonaldson Collection / Contributor/Getty

Her message to women in the workforce also led Congress to institute the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps in May 1942, which would later become the Women’s Army Corps.

This move caught the attention of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and General George C. Marshall, who supported the introduction of a women’s branch into the armed forces.

Was Rosie based on a real person?

One of the biggest debates is if Rosie the Riveter was based on a real person. Some believe she was fully fictitious, but based on the typical women who worked in the factories at that time.

Two women reconditioning used spark plugs in a large Midwest airplane plant (1943)
Two women reconditioning used spark plugs in a large Midwest airplane plant (1943) Buyenlarge / Contributor/Getty

Others think she was based on Geraldine Hoff Doyle, a Navy machine shop worker from Michigan, while another popular theory is that Rosie was based on Rose Will Monroe, a riveter at the Willow Run Bomber Plant near Detroit.

Two women working in the U.S. aircraft factory (1943)
Two women working in a U.S. aircraft factory (1943) Buyenlarge / Contributor/Getty

However, the most plausible theory is that she was based on Naomi Parker Fraley, a factory worker who was photographed in 1942 at the Naval Air Station in Alameda, California, in a red and white polka dot headband.

Glamor and safety don't mix, according to Lieut. Cmdr. R.R. Darron of the Alameda U.S. Naval Air Station. Naomi Parker, Ada Parker, and Frances Johnson, (left to right)
Glamor and safety don’t mix, according to Lieut. Cmdr. R.R. Darron of the Alameda U.S. Naval Air Station. Naomi Parker, Ada Parker, and Frances Johnson, (left to right) Getty Images: Bettmann

None of these rumors were ever confirmed.

Rosie the Riveter’s long-lasting legacy

Before one can discuss Rosie’s legacy, it should be noted that the phrase “Rosie the Riveter” was originally introduced in a 1942 song of the same name written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb that was recorded by a variety of artists.

Additionally, the “character” inspired the 1944 musical film Rosie the Riveter, which starred Jane Frazee as Rosalind “Rosie” Warren. Set in California during wartime, the premise has “Rosie” and factory workers Charlie Doran, Kelly Kennedy and Vera Watson who meet each other for the first time when answering a room-to-let ad.

Beyond that, not only is Rosie the Riveter’s iconic image still one of the biggest and most recognizable pieces of propaganda around the world, but it also stands as a representation of how much power women have worldwide.

A group of marchers with signs that say "Nevertheless. She Persisted" with Rosie the Riveter and next to an American flag during the Woman's March in the borough of Manhattan in NY on January 19, 2019, USA. The rally took place 2 years after the inauguration of President Donald Trump thousands gather to protest equal rights at the 2019 Women's March. (
The 2019 Women’s MarchIra L. Black - Corbis / Contributor/Getty

After her debut during the Second World War, Rosie continued to open doors for women in the workplace and made men across America realize that they could no longer keep women from working. But even with that shift, a lot of women stopped working after the war, and the one’s that didn’t were still paid a lot less than their male counterparts.


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