On December 7th, 1941, Mae Krier and her sister returned home from a matinee movie to find their parents huddled around the family radio.
The Imperial Japanese Navy had bombed Pearl Harbor.
This infamous event would prove the tipping point, shaking the United States out of neutrality and sending any young man who was able to the enlistment offices.
But Mae looked for a way she too could help the effort.
While her brother went west to join the fight in the Pacific Theatre, Mae and her sister went west too, from a small town in North Dakota to Seattle, Washington and the vast airplane-manufacturing facilities of Boeing.
The industrial giant, like certainly every other manufacturer of heavy equipment, had struggled from the very beginning to find workers to meet the demands of the fully-mobilized U.S. war machine.
By 1942, the image of a woman worker had already changed dramatically in the popular consciousness.
While clothing and textile manufacturing had long used a mostly-female workforce and continued to do so during the war, a massive shift was occuring in the number of women working riveting, welding, and other traditional “men’s work”.
The First Rosie
Evans and Loeb claimed the name was just a bit of clever alliteration, and officially “Rosie” didn’t refer to any particular woman (unlike the Canada’s similar Ronnie the Bren Girl or Britain’s Ruby Loftus).
We Can Do It
At the same time the song was working its way through American popular radio, Pittsburgh artist J. Howard Miller was working on a series of posters for the Westinghouse Corporation to boost female worker morale.
While this particular poster is almost ubiquitous now, it was only seen inside Westinghouse factories during the war. It was never used for recruitment purposes and didn’t receive a lot of attention from the public at the time.
But one very influential person who almost certainly saw this poster was famed Saturday Evening Post illustrator Norman Rockwell.
In Rockwell’s image the name “Rosie” and the dynamic figure of female empowerment and strength came together into a single archetype.
The Rise of Female Labor
All told, the number of women employed outside the home in the wartime United States grew by about 6 million (from 12 to 18 million, about 33%).
When servicemen returned home after the war, many of these working women left their jobs or went back to previous traditionally-female industries.
But some, such as Elinor Otto, continued to search out riveting jobs as their preferred work, even after being laid off by their wartime employers.
Women would never completely lose the freedom offered during those wartime years, and the bright embodiment of that spirit would remain in “Rosie the Riveter” for all time.