Rosie the Riveter

by Brother Osiris and Sister Usha

Divinely Female

All the day long,

Whether rain or shine,

She's a part of the assembly line.

She's making history,

Working for victory,

Rosie the Riveter.

Keeps a sharp lookout for sabatoge,

Sitting up there on the fuselage.

That little girl will do more than a male will do.

Rosie's got a boyfriend, Charlie.

Charlie, he's a Marine.

Rosie is protecting Charlie,

Working overtime on the riveting machine.

When they gave her a production "E,"

She was as proud as she could be.

There's something true about,

Red, white, and blue about,

Rosie the Riveter.

[above lyrics by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb, 1942]

During World War II, the vast majority of young American men joined the military, marching off to help defeat Hitler and the Japanese. This created a serious labor shortage in American factories. The country turned to the only available supply of alternative labor: women. Millions of American women took jobs in factories, performing physical labor that up until that time had been regarded as the sole domain of men.

One such woman was named Rose Will Monroe (1920-1997). She worked as a riveter, helping to construct military airplanes in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Some movie producers asked her if they could show her work in a movie. A song from the movie became hugely popular. The government, seeking to encourage women across the country to participate in the war effort, adopted her as a symbol. Posters were distributed showing a pretty young woman in industrial clothing flexing her arm muscles and proclaiming "We can do it!" Many people were unaware that Rose Monroe was in fact a real person.

The effect of all of this on American culture was immense and permanent. After the end of the war, most of the women returned to the home, concentrating on the task of raising children, but the erroneous belief that women were capable of nothing else had been shattered. Within a few decades, women had entered a wide variety of occupations formerly considered male. This process continues today and is not yet complete. But it does appear unstoppable.

The motto "We can do it!" still rings true today. The word "it" in that slogan no longer means defeating Hitler. It now means gaining for women the respect and freedom that they deserve. Victory over Fascism and bigotry is an on-going struggle that did not end in 1945.

Whom do we choose to honor? Rose the woman or Rosie the symbol? Both. Rose Monroe was a humble woman who contributed her time and effort wholeheartedly to a noble crusade for freedom. After the war, she continued to work in humble jobs, never becoming rich, never ceasing in her efforts to better the lives of those she loved. Such a life alone would be worthy of respect.

As for the symbol, Rosie the Riveter, she is something that people of all countries should cherish and remember forever. She continues to be a symbol for freedom in ways that her original creators did not anticipate. Yes, there is something true about, red, white, and blue about, Rosie the Riveter.