It’s probably one of the most famous images from the Second World War. Rosie the Riveter or ‘We Can Do It!’ appeared on a poster in the 1940s. It’s now a feminist icon.
Rosie has been immortalised in magazines, on stamps and on even on vintage metal signs. The iconic image of Rosie the Riveter has come to represent the struggles women had back in the day.
It’s an empowering and inspirational image.
Ironically though Rosie the Riveter has become more important to modern women than she ever was to their 1940s sisters. The reason for that is simple. But will be surprising to many. Very few people actually saw the ‘We Can Do It!’ poster in the forties. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1980s that Rosie the Riveter became a feminist icon.
The real Rosie the Riveter story
Westinghouse Electric was the company which produced the poster. J. Howard Miller was the artist. It’s a wonderful image. But there’s a common misconception about the poster.
Everyone thinks it was a rallying call. To encourage women out of the home and into the factory. To support the war effort. It wasn’t.
As a poster it only saw the light of day for a few weeks. Westinghouse Electric displayed it on their company noticeboards as a rallying cry to their own staff. Unfortunately, Rosie the Riveter never adorned billboards in Times Square or anywhere else in America.
Rosie never rallied women to the cause.
Rosie in the eighties
This is a shame. But in the 1980s Rosie finally made an impact. Who it was that first used Rosie to push a feminist or equality agenda is unknown. But whoever it was did a great job because the ‘We Can Do It!’ Rosie the Riveter poster quickly went viral (to use contemporary parlance).
Female politicians used her in their campaigns. The Smithsonian magazine put her on its cover. And she’s been the face of dozens of publicity campaigns. And the poster is one of the most popular images in the US national Archives.
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