Years ago my family got to celebrate Thanksgiving at the Disney resort on Oahu. It was every bit as magical as expected, but likely my favorite souvenir was a re-usable bag my mom had found for me at the Pearl Harbor souvenir store. It was Rosie the Riveter with the We Can Do It at the bottom. I loved that gift, not only because I idolize the Rosie persona, but that my mom knew me so well. She knew how much I admired this WWII advertising machine. The following year, I would be given a Rosie the Riveter shirt with a pink ribbon as I was up against breast cancer. The artist who created the war propaganda never acknowledged who the real inspiration for his Rosie the Riveter and since he had no offspring, we’ll likely never really know.
While people might disagree with the identity of Rosie, I think everyone agrees with what she symbolized. That, for me, is why I snatch up anything I can find with her polka dot headwrap and work overalls. I have her hanging in my utility room as a reminder that I can do hard things. For me, Rosie represents a time when America came together in unity to fight the Nazi regime. Since so many of our men were off fighting in the war, women started entering the workforce and doing jobs previously considered man’s work. Ladies got creative with childcare, with sharing rations and growing victory gardens. They were willing to do difficult jobs, make sacrifices and unite to serve their country.
For my 50th birthday, I had to venture to the Rosie the Riveter Museum just outside of San Francisco and it did not disappoint. It was a place to recognize and acknowledge the contributions women made during WWII. Housing was a serious issue for these women and sometimes they had to resort to hot bedding or hot racking, basically sharing a bed with another worker with an opposite shift. Plus, some of the men didn’t appreciate working alongside women. They viewed them as inferior and told openly expressed that. These ladies were tough, and in so many ways.
The jobs were typical blue-collar work in the shipyards, punching rivets, welding and helping churn out battleships. It was serious labor and the women were up for the challenge. While we mostly see White women depicted in the shipyards, there were many Black and Latina women helping their country as well. I first heard about this museum after Betty Soskin brought to light how much more of the story there is to be told. Soskin was the oldest National Park Ranger serving in the United States until she retired on March 31, 2022 at 100. I was so disappointed that she retired one month before my birthday since I was hoping to get to meet her at the museum.
As kitschy as my décor might be, I’m still going to keep collecting anything I can find with this iconic woman. For me it’s an ideal I want and something I strive for every day. My Rosie symbol reminds me that I am capable of doing hard things, brushing off cruel remarks and ignoring jealous digs. I hope that more of us can go back to some of these ideals. We can do anything we set our mind to with grit and determination. I love Rosie for her strength and courage combined with just a dash of femininity.