Thursday, December 26, 2013

Rosie the Riveter, R. I. P.

Geraldine "Rosie the Riveter" Doyle (1924-2010)

Even if you're not old enough to recognize the "Rosie the Riveter" moniker from World War II, you've probably seen her poster.

When Geraldine/Rosie died on Dec. 26, 2010, the Washington Post eulogized her as "a 17-year-old factory worker [who] became the inspiration for a popular World War II recruitment poster that evoked female power and independence."

The Post forgot to say explicitly that Geraldine was one of the anonymous 3 million women who stepped right up to "do a man's job" in defense production plants throughout the war. Many of them realized that it wasn't "a man's job," it was "a job." After the war ended, most of them returned to then-traditional women's roles and "women's jobs," but they opened the door for the explosion of women in the workplace in the last half of the 20th century. In 1950 about 34% of women worked outside the home; in 2000, about 60% of women were on the job.

"Rosie the Riveter" was a fictional character, a wartime morale-boosting invention aimed at recruiting women for wartime work. There were several iterations in different locales, a "Rosie the Riveter" song, and numerous local press celebrations of the local "Rosies" on the assembly lines.

One day in early 1942 a United Press International photographer snapped a candid shot of a good-looking brunette teenager bending over a machine in a metal factory in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Geraldine was the girl in the polka-dot bandanna. She did not know that the photo ended up in the hands of an artist, who took Geraldine as his inspiration and created the "We Can Do It" poster with an intensely determined young woman rolling up her sleeve.

In fact, Geraldine didn't find out that she was the girl in the poster for more than 40 years. A family member read an article in a 1984 issue of Modern Maturity magazine that linked the teenage factory worker with the iconic patriotic poster.

Much belated thanks to Geraldine Doyle for doing her bit in the war.

Geraldine Doyle, requiescat in pace.

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