Rosie the Riveter

Rosie the Riveter was an allegorical cultural icon of World War II, representing the women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II, many of whom produced munitions and war supplies. These women sometimes took entirely new jobs replacing the male workers who joined the military. Rosie the Riveter is used as a symbol of American feminism and women’s economic advantage.

A female Lockheed employee working on the fuselage of a P-38 Lightning in California in 1944
A female Lockheed employee working on the fuselage of a P-38 Lightning in California in 1944

Ever-escalating demand for wartime labor opened factory doors to women of all backgrounds. Housewives who had never worked outside the home and single girls fresh out of high school were sent into newly created training courses to learn the basics of riveting—often the first job offered women— welding, and other jobs. Daycare centers were built adjacent to many factories so mothers with small children could pitch in and help with the war effort. Lockheed opened plants manufacturing aircraft parts in Santa Barbara, Bakersfield, and Fresno in part to attract smaller town and suburban women workers who weren’t accustomed to traveling into the city.

"We Can Do It!" by J. Howard Miller, was made as an inspirational image to boost worker morale

Jobs at Lockheed and Martin gave a generation of women a newfound sense of accomplishment. They were doing their part to defend the country, and they were proving their worth in the workplace. Sybil Lewis, an African-American riveter for Lockheed in Los Angeles, explained the importance of this sea change in employment: “You came out to California, put on your pants, and took your lunch pail to a man’s job. This was the beginning of women’s feeling that they could be something more.”

A "Rosie" putting rivets on an Vultee A-31 Vengeance in Nashville, Tennessee in 1943.

Just six months after that first group of women walked into the Nebraska plant, more than 2,000 women were working in Martin plants in Omaha and Baltimore. By the fall of 1942, the aircraft industry as a whole had added 63,000 women to its roster, mostly in aircraft assembly plants. By November 1943, aircraft industry employment peaked at 2.1 million workers, with more than 486,000 women accounting for an astounding 37 percent of the industry labor force.

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