Monday, September 7, 2015

On Labor Day: Rosie the Riveter

Dear George,
In honor of Labor Day, I thought I would post the lyrics of “Rosie the Riveter”.  We identify Rosie, of course, as the iconic image of women defense workers in World War II.  The original “We Can Do It” poster (above) was created in 1942 by a Westinghouse Company artist, J. Howard Miller, in response to the federal government’s urging industries to encourage more women to join the wartime work force.  Miller’s poster, however, had no association with the name “Rosie” when it appeared, nor with the riveter occupation.  Rather the name, “Rosie the Riveter”, first appeared as the title of a song composed quite independently by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb and released in early 1943.  Recorded by the Kay Kaiser band among others, the song quickly became a national hit.  Here’s how it went:


All the day long, whether rain or shine
She's a part of the assembly line
She's making history, working for victory
Rosie, brrrrrrrrrrr, the riveter

Keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage
Sitting up there on the fuselage
That little frail can do more than a male can do
Rosie, brrrrrrrrrrr, the riveter

Rosie's got a boyfriend, Charlie
Charlie, he's a Marine
Rosie is protecting Charlie
Workin' overtime on the riveting machine

When they gave her a production 'E'
She was as proud as a girl could be
There's something true about, red, white, and blue about
Rosie, brrrrrrrrrrr, the riveter

Ev'ryone stops to admire the scene
Rosie at work on the P-19
She's never twittery, nervous or jittery
(FEMALE VOICE: I'm Rosie, hm-hm-hm-hmm, the riveter)

What if she's smeared full of oil and grease
Doin' her bit for the old lend-lease
She keeps the gang around, they love to hang around
Rosie (Hm-hm-hm-hm, that's me, the riveter)

Rosie buys a lot of War Bonds
That girl really has sense
Wishes she could purchase more Bonds
Putting all her extra cash in National Defense

Oh, when they gave her a production 'E'
She was as proud as a girl could be
There's something true about, red, white, and blue about
Rosie the riveter gal

While other girls attend their favorite cocktail bar
Sipping dry Martinis, munching caviar
There's a girl who's really putting them to shame
Rosie is her name

Oh, Rosie buys a lot of War Bonds
That girl really has sense
Wishes she could purchase more Bonds
Putting all her extra cash into National Defense

Oh, Senator Jones, who was in the know
Shouted these words on the radio
Berlin will hear about, Moscow will cheer about
Rosie (Hah-hah-hah-hee-hee-hee), Rosie (Hee-hee-hee-hee)
Rosie the riveter gal  (3) 

A few months after Evans and Loeb’s hit song appeared, Norman Rockwell created a cover for the May 29, 1943, issue of the Saturday Evening Post which featured a woman riveter with the name Rosie on her lunchbox.  Historians speculate that Rockwell was familiar with Evans and Loeb’s song when he composed the picture.  Rosie is a large, muscular women wearing blue work clothes and holding a riveting gun in her lap.  A copy of Hitler’s Mein Kamp is under her feet, symbolizing Rosie’s contribution to crushing the Nazi war machine.  The American flag in the background contributes to the patriotism of the message.  (5) 

Because of its massive distribution, Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post image was well-known at the time and was widely used in war bond drives.  However, because of copyright restrictions, it was seen less and less often after the war ended.  Miller’s “We Can Do It” image was essentially unknown, having been shown only to Westinghouse employees, and it disappeared within weeks.  It was rediscovered in the 1980s, became associated with the feminist movement, and only then became linked to the label “Rosie the Riveter.”    

With widespread enlistment of males in the military in the early 1940s, women entered the American workforce in unprecedented numbers.  The female percentage of the U.S. workforce increased from 27% to nearly 37% between 1940 and 1945.  By 1944 4.1 million unmarried women between the ages of 20 and 34 worked in the defense industry, compared to only 1.7 million unmarried men between those ages.  The aviation industry saw the largest increases for women.  While women constituted one percent of the aviation workforce before the war, over 310,000 women were employed by the aircraft industry in 1943, making up 65% of the total workforce.  In addition to factory work and other jobs, 350,000 American women joined the U.S. military, serving at home and abroad.   (1) (5) 

In my home town the largest industry in the 1940s was the Lloyd Loom factory which produced baby carriages and wicker furniture.  250 male employees left Lloyd to join the military at the war’s beginning, and they were replaced by local women, many new to the work force.  85% of the Lloyd plant’s work was in war production: glider fuselages, bomber trainers, airplane motor mounts, and high-explosive shells.  I like to think that Rosie the Riveter might have been a part of the crew. (4) 

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