University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter (1980): Image versus Reality

Toon, Wendy ORCID: (2009) The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter (1980): Image versus Reality. In: Women’s History Network, Midlands Region Conference, ‘Women and War: Activists and Observers’, 8 November 2008, University of Worcester. (Unpublished)

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“Rosie the Riveter” is the most abiding American image of female participation in World War II and has powerfully framed interpretations of the impact of the war on women. However, like the role of women in general, this image is in many ways paradoxical, and even misleading, for several key reasons. Firstly, most American women were not regularly in the workforce. Secondly, most women workers did not have industrial jobs. Thirdly, the great majority of wives did not work outside the home and finally, “Rosie” was always a younger woman and therefore not representative of all those women who were moved for various reasons to become “Soldiers Without Guns” (1941). Ultimately, the campaign and the experience of war work for the women themselves were partly successful.

Connie Field’s, seminal but rarely seen, The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter (1980) is an interesting testimony of American women’s experiences of work during World War II. The women who share their remembered, oral testimony are significant for their differences as much as their similarities. They represent different, regions, classes, locations (rural/urban) and significantly, races. Norman Rockwell’s vision of Rosie (Saturday Evening Post, 1943), plus Westinghouse’s iconic “We Can Do It!” (J. Howard Miller, 1942) have little to do with the reality of the situations in which these women found themselves. Their sense of disappointment postwar is palpable and moving. This paper will examine the relationship between the image of “Rosie” and the reality of American women’s experience as represented by Lola Weixel, Margaret Wright, Lyn Childs, Gladys Belcher and Wanita Allen in The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D731 World War II
E History America > E151 United States (General)
Divisions: College of Arts, Humanities and Education > School of Humanities
Depositing User: Wendy Toon
Date Deposited: 20 Jun 2022 15:35
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2022 08:47

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