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Rosie, a Discussion Panel

merlin's picture




Although we commonly think of this poster as representing the icon of Rosie, it was not originally all that popular when it was first produced by J Howard Miller in 1942. The image actually gained more popularity in the 70’s during the second wave feminist movement in order to represent women going into the workforce and gaining equality as being just as capable as men. It was especially popular in the 1980s when it came to represent women’s equality in the workplace. It is interesting to think about, however, that this original poster was commissioned by the War Production Coordinating Committee in order to advertise to women when there became a male deficit. The shortage of men came about when they all went overseas to fight, leaving women to fill their jobs, particularly in industry and manufacturing. The advertisement was to encourage women to work in these typically male-only jobs, but they were actually paid far less than men and were expected to enter back into the role of housewife after the war. So, it is kind of ironic that the iconic poster became a symbol for feminist ideas and female equality. 



This acknowledgement made me think of a concept we discussed in class having to do with the transmission of information. Without the human element, this poster is just a collection of colors to create an image. To the Artist who made it, it was a purposeful design made to transmit a message to a particular group of Americans; a message, which was relayed to him by War Production Coordinating Committee in exchange for payment to make the poster.  To a woman in 1942, it might have sparked emotions of Nationalism and Female power. Take a look at how the image portrays Rosie. She’s attractive and wearing make-up. There are very strong gender cues to signal the viewer of her Femininity and the one raised eyebrow even gives her a little attitude and a great deal of prowess. “We can do it!” might have evoked feelings about their duties towards the War Effort by a woman whose husband was in the military. 





















Notice the juxtaposition with Norman Rockwell’s Rosie. This poster seems to be more of a reaction to the times. I think it is more interesting because of all the imagery at play. Shortly, we’ll hear from the artist himself. So, let’s put off our discussion till then. 

The panel discussions done in class will serve as a model in this project, as I construct a “panel Discussion” using each of the figures influenced by Rosie…




Please tell us a little bit about your life and mention how it involved the intersection of science and technology and Rosie.

Also, please mention your personal “interpretation” of Rosie as an icon.


Geraldine Doyle (a “real life” Rosie – inspiration for the poster):

I was a model for the “we can do it” posters. This picture of me was actually a direct inspiration for the poster! After my father died and my mother became very sick, I graduated high school and found work as a metal presser in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Being a Cello musician, I found the factory work very dangerous and did not want to risk crushing my hands with the machinery. After this realization, I ended up quitting my job and quickly got married to a dentist. Amazingly, I didn’t even know that a picture of me was the inspiration for the famous Rosie posters until 1984 when I accidentally came across a magazine article! I guess you could say that even though I am the woman in that iconic poster, my factory work and later life choices were not necessarily parallel to the imagery the poster tries to convey. I only lasted a few months on the job! And my short-lived career as a Rosie led directly into the role as wife and mother. So I guess you could say I was the real, original Rosie, but not much of a Rosie at that! My career using technology gave way to a life fulfilling the stereotypical gender role of that time period. 


I passed away in December 2010 in Michigan at the ripe old age of 86. I had many kids, and many, many grandkids. 

To me, being a “Rosie” was a necessary choice I had to make in order to support myself after both my parents were no longer around to support me. After high school I had to get a job, and jobs like this were readily available due to the male deficit during the war. Being a rose wasn’t so glamorous for me, it was merely a necessity until I got married and had a husband.



Norman Rockwell: 

I was a prolific painter who created scenes depicting the everyday life if Americans. The distribution of my paining was made possible when it was displayed on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in 1943. I guess you could say that the technology of mass distribution helped me out there. For my image, I wanted to create a more Brawny looking female with a more androgynous appearance. She is shown here taking a lunch break with a rivet gun sprawled out across her lap.  In my version, Rosie sits with a copy of Hitler’s manifesto “Mein Kampf” beneath her boot, creating strong imagery representing the war effort. Inspiration for her actually came from the image of Isaiah the Prophet in the Sistine Chapel. There too was an actual woman who modeled for me. Her name was Shirley Karp Dick, and she was a real life Rosie who was a big part of the WWII movement. She helped motivate over 11 million women to work on “male” jobs. Unlike the Rosie who was J Howard Millers inspiration, my Rosie model was a leader in the movement to get women working. Furthermore, my poster was actually one of the opsters that made the name Rosie the Riveter popular as it became associated with my picture and with the popular patriotic song “Rosie the Riveter” 

My poster was not advertisement; rather it was a reaction to the culture of 1943 America.




Shirley Karp Dick:

I was another actual person who was an inspiration for the Rosie Icon. However, unlike Geraldine, I was a major part of the movement to get women working during WWII. 

During my time as a real life Rosie, I was part of the movement to get over 11 million women to work in Men’s jobs during World war II. I was a model for several Rosie images at the time, which include me standing on a Hitler book and me fueling a US fighter plane!

Technology was a big part of not only my life, but the lives of those women I encouraged to work in the factories. We helped build parts for the war effort and I’m proud to have been apart of the US victory in WWII. 

I died in January, 2009 at the age of 85. at the time I was the oldest living Rosie.

I see the Rosie Icon as a hugely important part of my life. Until my death, I was involved in efforts towards women in the workplace and Rosie became a symbol of my life goals. She stands for equality and inspiration for women in America.



J. Howard Miller: 

So I don’t know how all this Rosie the Riveter stuff came to be. All I know is that I made this poster after being commissioned by Westinghouse. I call it the “we can do it” poster, and my goal was to paint posters during the 40s to encourage support for the war effort!

Basically the War Production Co-Ordinating Committee was run by Westinghouse and was one of hundreds of committees at the time in the US with similar goals. But, Rosie was a name only given to the poster long after I created it. During WWII, my poster wasn’t even all that  popular, since there were many others similar to it at the time. 

I never would have expected this image to become associated with so much and have so much influence today. From the perspective of an advertisement, I think that it would appeal to men and women alike and is very much about initial impact and the intrigue of the woman portrayed.




Marilyn Monroe:

This may come as a surprise to most people who know me as Marilyn Monroe. Before I was a glamorous Holywood star, I was Norma Jeane Baker, a California aircraft factory worker during the war. My modeling career started from that one photograph for Yank Magazine taken when I was 19, to be sent overseas to soldiers. It’s funny to think about how my life as a Rosie directly lead into a life of glamour by exposing me to a life as a pin-up girl. My image as Marilyn was in sharp contrast to my earlier image as a wholesome factory worker shown here. (Notice, I was a brunette in my earlier days). Quite noteworthy is how I went from the image shown below to a hyper-gender stereotyped  “Blonde Bombshell” or “dumb blonde” after rising to fame. My stardom eventually led to my tragic death that was surrounded by conspiracy and gossip. It is quite sad that my work with technology made me famous, but my role as a gendered icon lead to my death. 

I see the Rosie Icon as a part of my past life which served as a huge turning point – my discovery and later fame.






Ok, let’s switch to a lighter note about gender and technology intersecting with my icon. Not only were we Rosies involved in the manual labor or manufacturing, we were also mathematicians whose job it was to calculate bomb trajectories. At Penn, Women operated a “differential analyzer” that took up a whole room! It could perform these calculations much more quickly. 

After WWII, the women who operated these machines went on to become some of the earliest computer programmers and wrote codes for the first computers! They proved that women could be valuable in the mathematics and technology careers – definitely a very important instance of the intersection of gender and technology that helped bring about changes for women. 

We can do it!




As you can see, all of these people have different experiences and very different interpretations of the icon. After our class discussion about Hayles articles, it was interesting to think about the transfer of information as highly dependent upon personal interpretation, which varies from one recipient to the next. Information is basically what we make of it. Therefore, this particular idea seemed to be a great context under which to discuss gender and technology through the lens of several figures associated with the icon Rosie the Riveter. The discussion panel was the second inspiration for this project and allowed each character (whether fictional or historical) to give his or her own recount of their interpretation and what the icon means to them. 




Liz McCormack's picture

panels redux

 Very creative!  You achieved in this dialogue the kind of interchange we sought in our classroom panels.  The characters were vividly given voice and their perspectives on point of the themes of the course.  I wonder, which Rosie do you resonate the most with?

MissArcher2's picture

Continuing the Conversaton

 Hi Merlin! In the spirit of engaging in discussion online more, I just wanted to say that I really liked your project. I think it's such a cool idea to go off the discussion in this imaginative way, bringing different historical and inspirational perspectives to the forefront. I thought you did a great job of thinking in the place of the characters for whom you write, imagining how they would view our perceptions of Rosie. Thanks for sharing this with us!

merlin's picture

 Thanks! :D  

 Thanks! :D