Howard Miller's famous portrait of "Rosie the Riveter"
(This Sunday, I was Worship Leader at Mayflower Church. The Worship Leader delivers a short talk on any subject s/he chooses.)
This Memorial Day weekend, I would like to pay tribute to the women of World War II who answered the call to go to work in place of the soldiers who had gone off to war, the women who have been represented by the iconic figure: Rosie the Riveter.
Rosie first existed as a character in a song by big band leader Kay Kaiser. Later a real woman, Rose Monroe, who worked in an aircraft plant in Michigan, was featured in a promotional film about the war effort at home. Of course, the most famous depiction of Rosie is the poster created by Howard Miller showing Rosie flexing her strong right arm under the caption “We Can Do It.”
It is estimated that by 1944 20 million women were working in what had been traditional male trades, a 57% increase over women in the workforce in 1940. In addition, millions more women worked on farms, and all of those at home kept the nation going until the final victory was won.
By answering their country’s call, these women laid the groundwork for many of the gains achieved by the Civil Rights and Feminist movements. Women proved that they could “do a man’s job” and do it well. At the beginning of America’s war effort, employers estimated that women could perform about 29% of the jobs previously done by men. In short order, that estimate rose to 85%.
African-American women also answered the call to work for Victory and proved that the idea of “racial superiority” was a lie. Having black and white women working together for the first time contributed to the breakdown of racial isolation, which helped to lay the groundwork for the Civil Rights movement in the next decade.
Most Rosies left their jobs and went back to their traditional roles as homemakers, told to do so by the same people who before had begged them to come to work, but her work, example, and image have left a permanent mark on the American character. So today, I salute all the Rosies who showed us we “Can Do It,” “Yes We Can.”