Many women working on the Home Front did not feel Rosie truly represented the work they were doing. Although an icon, Rosie only represented the riveting trade.
“No. We were not Rosie the Riveter. We welded ships. Rosie got all the attention. No one even gave us a name.” – Ann Jurjevic Thomas in “Don’t Call Me Rosie, the Women who Welded the LSTs and the Men who Sailed on Them”
Rosie the Riveter was the U.S. Government’s icon during World War II and posters showing Rosie were produced to encourage women to join the work force. Women went to the airplane factories, the shipyards, the munitions factories, and other defense related industries and performed work that was considered “men’s jobs”.
Although today we try to honor these women by calling them Rosie the Riveter, if you ask a woman welder who worked in a shipyard if she was a Rosie, she might tell you no. She will then explain to you that welding is different than riveting.
The development of arc welding made it possible to build ships faster – a critical element during World War II. In 1942, shipyards began producing the Landing Ship, Tank or LST. Winston Churchill requested this new type of ship, the LST, be constructed so that the Allies could land directly on the beaches of Africa and Europe and discharge troops and equipment.
Because the U.S. was at war and there was a shortage of men in the shipyards, it was the women that went to the shipyards to build the LSTs. The shipyards that built the majority of LSTs were located in Pittsburgh, Ambridge, Seneca, Evansville, Jeffersonville, and Hingham. As shipyard welders, the women endured the cold of winter and the heat and humidity of summer, the hot steel occasionally dropping beneath their coat and burning their chest, and the chance of a flash burn that may develop into an eye infection. But ask these women about being a welder during World War II and many will tell you that they loved their work.
If the U.S. government had come out with a different icon, for example “Doris the Defense Worker”, these women would have felt more connected to it. As an example, if one called all doctors, “Sam the Surgeon”, this might create a detachment for those who are general practitioners, pediatricians, gynecologists, internists, etc.
Recognizing that Rosie the Riveter does not represent the thousands of women who worked in the other trades during World War II does in no way lessen the importance of those who really were Rosies. All of the women who worked on the Home Front during World War II are very proud of their accomplishments and contribution to the war effort. But if we want to truly remember them, then we need to find an all-encompassing icon.