The New Faces of Rosie the Riveter

Image credit: 
J. Howard Miller

The term “Rosie the Riveter” was first used in a song in 1942 about a woman who took a wartime job in a factory. It became a popular term to use in reference to the millions of American women who went to work in factories making munitions, airplanes, and other war supplies, as well as those who filled other jobs vacated when men served in World War II. Norman Rockwell did an illustration for the Saturday Evening Post of a woman with a rivet gun and a lunchpail that said “Rosie” in 1943. That was the popular image associated with Rosie the Riveter during the war.

Meanwhile, the Westinghouse War Production Coordinating Committee commissioned Pittsburgh artist J. Howard Miller to make motivational posters for their factories. One of them was titled “We Can Do It!” It was only seen inside Westinghouse factories for a two-week period in 1943, then went under the radar until the early 1980s. The woman on the poster was modeled after a wire service photograph of a teenage factory worker. Geraldine Hoff Doyle was 17 years old in 1942 when a photographer took her picture as she worked, wearing her red polka-dot bandana. She had no idea that her picture had been used as the model for the motivational poster until the ‘80s. That’s when the poster was resurrected and used to promote women’s rights. It had fallen into the public domain, unlike the Norman Rockwell painting. Since then, the “We Can Do It!” poster has been known as “Rosie the Riveter” in the public consciousness. And it’s been used to imply motivation and power in many ways.

Unveiled in May, Houston artist Anat Ronen combined the image of 17-year-old Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai with the Rosie poster to make a statement of power. The mural, titled "Yes She Can!”, is at the Avis Frank Gallery in Houston.

Watch Ronen as she paints the mural in this time-lapse video.

The Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California, uses the “We Can Do It!” image, too. This one is their Facebook page banner.

In 2009, the Shotgun Players presented the play This World in a Woman’s Hands, about the women who worked in the Richmond, California, shipyards during World War II. Artist Richard Black designed a poster for the play, updating the image with a black woman wearing a welder’s helmet. This design was also sold on t-shirts at the nearby national park dedicated to Rosie.

The image is being used to raise funds to Save The Willow Run Bomber Plant. The factory, just east of Ypsilanti, Michigan, produced more than 8,600 B-24 Liberator bomber aircraft in World War II, largely made by women. A campaign hopes to raise $8 million to preserve the facility as the Yankee Air Museum.

Michelle Obama’s image was used in a poster to promote the Recovery.gov website in 2009 with the tagline “Together, We Can Get This Country Moving Again.” For some reason, she’s facing left.

Just this week, Beyoncé posted her own version on Instagram.

Although her former bandmate in Destiny’s Child, Kelly Rowland, did it four years ago.

A number of people have use the imagery of the “We Can Do It!” poster for personal pictures. Carla posed in front of her own slogan to show her stage of pregnancy.

DeviantART member Abranime made a two-woman tribute poster to celebrate International Women’s Day.

DeviantART member Steven Donegani created Diana The Riveter as a housewarming gift for his girlfriend.

Rosie has been recreated in other cultures to convey power and independence among all kinds of women. You can find plenty more photographs and artworks using the “We Can Do It!” template at Pinterest and DeviantART.

Of course, you don’t have to buy new clothes and construct a backdrop to be in a Rosie the Riveter poster yourself. You can drop your face into the poster with the Face in Hole generator. Or just change the wording on the original poster, as I did.

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July 24, 2014 - 7:23pm
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