Color portraits of the ladies who inspired Norman Rockwell's “Rosie the Riveter.”
Published May 28, 2018
Published 21 days ago
Seventy-five years ago, on May 29, 1943, Norman Rockwell's iconic painting, "Rosie the Riveter," made its debut on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Donning a red bandana with a rivet gun on her lap and her foot resting comfortably atop a copy of "Mein Kampf,” Rockwell's Rosie (which he based on Michelangelo’s painting of Isaiah at the Sistine Chapel) remains a powerful symbol of American women and their critical contributions to the war effort. Here, photos taken between 1942 and 1943 at factories across the U.S. offer a glimpse of the hard-working women who kept America running when it needed them most.
Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty ImagesI'm Every WomanIn January 1942, just a month after the raid on Pearl Harbor, 60 widows whose husbands had died in the attack applied for jobs at aircraft companies in Burbank, California. “Keep ‘em flying to avenge our husbands’ deaths” was their rallying cry. Their efforts sparked the U.S. government’s “Rosie the Riveter” campaign, and inspired thousands of other American women to literally roll up their sleeves and get to work. (Pictured: A Douglas Aircraft Company employee puts the final touches on the nose section of a Boeing B-17 Navy bomber in Long Beach, California; 1942.)
Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty ImagesCan't Hold Us DownSpeaking on the importance of women’s wartime efforts, Sybil Lewis, an African-American riveter for Lockheed in Los Angeles, explained, “You came out to California, put on your pants, and took your lunch pail to a man’s job. This was the beginning of women feeling that they could be something more.” (Pictured: A woman at the Douglas Aircraft Company is trained to do vital aircraft engine installation; 1942.)Bernard Hoffman/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesGirl on FireA welder shows off her flame at the Electric Boat Company (later General Dynamics Electric Boat) in Groton, Connecticut, where more than 70 submarines and 400 PT (patrol torpedo) boats were assembled during the war.Buyenlarge/Getty ImagesRun the WorldDuring WWII, the number of women in the workplace increased significantly. In just five years, the percentage of female employees that made up the U.S. workforce increased from 27 percent to 37 percent. By 1945, about one in every four married women worked outside of the home. (Pictured: Workers install fixtures to the tail of a B-17 bomber at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant; 1942.)
Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty ImagesMan! I Feel Like a WomanDespite their crucial contributions to wartime efforts, women often received 50 percent less pay than their male counterparts — a gap that’s closing, but still persists today. (Pictured: An assembly worker takes her lunch break next to heavy bomber parts at Douglas Aircraft Company; 1942.)
Buyenlarge/Getty ImagesUniversal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images
PhotoQuest/Getty ImagesSingle LadiesTwo technicians work with complicated wiring for patrol bombers in Downey, California; 1943.Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty ImagesI'm Coming OutDouglas Aircraft employees inspect wing parts of C-47 transport planes in Long Beach, California; 1942.Bettmann/Bettmann ArchiveRebel GirlAfter the war, many women who had grown to enjoy the financial independence that came with working wanted to keep their jobs. Ultimately, almost all of them were laid off, as male soldiers returned home and military production slowed. (Pictured: A worker assembles bullets on an assembly line.)
Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty ImagesIndependent WomenThough it would take decades before a majority of American women would once again enjoy the freedoms and responsibilities that come with employment outside the home, their contributions were not soon forgotten. As LIFE magazine put it in August 1943, “In time of peace they may return once more to home and family, but they have proved that in time of crisis no job is too tough for American women.” (Pictured: Two workers inspect tubing for an A-31 dive bomber at the Vultee plant in Nashville, Tennessee; 1943.)Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty ImagesRespectTwo North American Aviation Company employees work on the cockpit shell of a B-25 bomber in Inglewood, California; 1942.