Historic Rosies

Rosie the Riveter is the female icon of World War II. She represents every American female manufacturing worker. She lives large in our collective consciousness, as a symbol of female strength and empowerment.

With the entry of the United States into World War II, women found themselves filling jobs that traditionally had been held by men. The number of women in manufacturing jobs rose dramatically over the course of the war, with about 6 million women entering the workforce for the first time. Many of these women worked in unionized factories, helping to ensure fair pay and good working conditions. While the typical “Rosie” was portrayed as white, middle class and married, women from all walks of life, especially African American women, found improved opportunities in manufacturing jobs. Sadly, these Rosies still suffered discrimination that kept women, and women of color in particular, out of the best-paying, highly skilled jobs. Though poor women of all ethnicities long had sought employment outside the home, the rise of the Rosie archetype recast “women’s work” in new and powerful ways.

Operating a hand drillAgnes CliemkaA-20 bomberDorothy Luckechecking electrical assembliesCloe WeaverIrene BrackerAngeline KwintMary Louise StepanFemale lathe operatorcapping and inspecting tubingOperating a hand drillOperating a hand drillSwitch boxescowlingriveting machine operatorOperating a hand drillemployee of North American Aviation, Incorporatedworking on an airplane motorMrs. Marcella Hart and Mrs. Viola Sievers

After World War II, the number of women working outside the home never returned to prewar levels. It was an important moment for American women — gaining the opportunity to join the labor movement and work in industries traditionally dominated by men.

The historical photographs are courtesy Library of Congress.

Alfred T. Palmer, Howard R Hollem, David Bransby, Jack Delano and other photographers were hired during the war years to promote and document the war effort.