A Riveter’s Name

Rome is now beneath us. Once again on a plane headed to the next destination, Barcelona. Although the last two posts, including this one have been ‘on the road’ I do look forward to heading back to the usual cafe’ in Detroit. But, for this week’s photographic story being in an airplane is actually very well suited.Rivets. An airplane is held together by them. Small bolts and screws, for a lack of a better explanation, that are hammered to each other and all the while hold together some kind of material. Rivets are those on your jeans’ front pockets, as well as the on the fuselage around us.

They reinforce, they hold it together. Who? The rivets, or the women?

As photographers we tend to document, to observe, to express our vision through the subjects in front of us. Sometimes we capture things that we already know, and many others, we discover through photography.

That’s what happened when I volunteered at the Michigan Military Technical and Historical Society.

Volunteering to gain access to another place that I would rather see as a ‘documentor’ rather than a mere visitor.

And after a few times I was called on to document the Rosie the Riveter event. What was her name? Rosie?

rosie the riveter j howard miller
J Howard Miller’s “We Can Do It” poster that became the symbolic “Rosie the Riveter”, designed during WWII

No, that’s not Rosie. That may have been Isabel, Mary, Anne, or any other woman of that time. Women that were hired to work in factories while the men were at war. Women that put rivets in the planes that would be flown over Europe.

It’s just that Rosie became famous because of this particular song, “Rosie the Riveter”. Written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb and recorded and performed by numerous artists, it wasn’t until Kay Kyser‘s big band made it a national hit.

Here is the song. And some good WWII jazz and swing is in the background to accompany this post.

And like all national propaganda, both song and the poster were used as national icons to attract women to the factories. Like at Willow Run, a manufacturing complex in the Greater Detroit Area. It was built by Ford and was used to mass produce B-24 Liberators; bombers for the war.

A B-24 Liberator
A B-24 Liberator
Badges and patches, such as the Willow Run one, sewn on the blue overalls

And in that particular day, when I was volunteering to take photos of the event and hear the lecture, the presenter stated that there were approximately 313,000 rivets in an airplane.

Of course one of the Rosies yelled “313”, the Detroit area code.

A Detroit Rosie with aviation goggles, and an image of Willow Run on the projector

The lecturer also described how riveting was done in pairs, and to keep the ryhthym in sync, women were asked to choose a song they both knew. Maybe one of the songs that are playing in the background now?

But women were not only welders or riveters. Although the social movement grew exponentially, to the point that the number of working women increased from 12 million to 20 million between 1940 and 1942, there were many sectors that began to hire women, which was not appreciated by the male workers that were not at war. It was another Civil Rights Movement.

In 1942, just between the months of January and July, the estimates of the proportion of jobs that would be “acceptable” for women was raised by employers from 29% to 85%. Many original Rosies were prostitutes because it was a form of legitimate work but after the movement started, the propaganda would shift to also appeal housewives with “Can you use an electric mixer? Then you can use a drill”.

While photographing the event, I also noticed the famous lunch box.

Rosie the riveter lunch box
Original Rosie lunchbox

It can’t be seen in Howard’s image, but it can in Norman Rockwell’s, which although was painted one year later, it received mass distribution due to its front cover printing on the Saturday Evening Post, on Memorial day in 1943.

Normal Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter, 1943

Rosie rests on her lunchbox, feet on a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, a jack hammer on her lamp, aviation goggles on her forehead, and a sandwich in her hand. The image was based on the Michelangelo’s 1509 painting of Prophet Isaiah from the Sistine Chapel.

Michelangelo, Prophet Isaiah, 1509. Rome is indeed below us.

Due to tight copyright issues, Rockwell’s image was not used though, and Miller’s became the famous poster.

Famous to the point that Rosies at the event all posed like this.

A Rosie posing for the camera

Lastly, they all wore large overalls, which became iconic with Miller’s poster. But the sleeves were rolled because the women were not given uniforms. Rather, they would go into their brothers and fathers’ closets to get whatever clothes they could find.

rosie the riveters group photo
Rosies keeping the tradition gathering together at the Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society, Dec 2017

Women, the rivets and riveters that helped keep planes together and the society moving forward during WWII.

And a photographer doing some volunteering work to document the world around us.

Until Next Time,

Same People, Different Nations




Update, 01/23/2018.  Naomi Parker Fraley, the “original” Rosie thh Riveter “We Can do It” model passed away at 96. Read more here.