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  • Writer's pictureMatilda Butler

Maybe You Can Vote, But Can You Work?

Updated: Sep 1, 2022

Welcome to September and Rosie the Riveter Month

August Flew By as We Celebrated the Women and Men of Suffrage

August was an incredible month of celebrating woman’s suffrage. Every week, Kendra and I researched new stories, facts, people, and dates that told of the decades-long struggle for women’s right to vote. You’d be surprised how often one or the other of us would call just to share something really interesting — so fascinating that we didn’t want to keep it to ourselves.

Over the month, we made our way from the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention to the 1920 passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. Did you read in Kendra’s blog that Joseph Sturge, English Quaker who organized the London Anti-Slavery Convention, ruled that women could not actively participate? That drove Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, well-known abolitionists, to realize women would never be taken seriously until they had rights, including the right to vote. Thus the suffrage movement was born.

So at this Point, Women Have the Right to Vote!

...But What About Their Presence in the Workforce!

September and a Focus on Rosie the Riveter

Beginning today, the month of September will be devoted to the inspiring women of WW2. They started out with the right to vote. The 19th Amendment had passed only 21 years before Pearl Harbor. So it was still "fresh" in the minds of many.

They could vote. But could they work?

At the beginning of WW2, most occupations were sex segregated. Help Wanted ads said "Men Wanted" or "Women Wanted." If you were a woman there would the 3Ts open to you -- you could Teach, Type, or Take temps.

Pearl Harbor Changed All of That...

We'll share stories of that change -- of how the millions of Rosie the Riveters opened employment opportunities for future generations of women just as the suffragists opened opportunities to vote and participate in governance to future generations of women.

Each of these two generations changed the world we live in. We're grateful to both. They have inspired generations of women and continue to do so.

We anticipate that our September focus on Rosie the Riveter (and other strong women of WW2) will bring to light new stories and new inspiration. We have researched Rosie and the many of women from the Second World War, and so already known many stories we're eager to share with you. But as we read and write during the month, we’re sure we’ll find much that we don’t currently know.

But let’s begin with the We Can Do It! Poster

The Story of the Poster That Continues to Inspire Us

"December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy..." ~FDR

President Franklin D. Roosevelt opened his speech to the joint session of Congress with those words, asking for a declaration of war. The Pearl Harbor attack was 80 years ago last December. FDR gave his speech one day later on December 8, 1941.

The Men Began to March (and Fly and Sail) to War...

Within months of the Pearl Harbor tragedy--the worst naval disaster in our history--women began to move into the workforce to replace men leaving for war. Although factories and companies cautiously hired women at first, soon women were actively recruited to help America win the war.

The USS Arizona Memorial...a Tribute to the Men who Died on December 7, 1941

On multiple occasions, I've been to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor--built over the remains of the sunken battleship of that name. If you have ever been there--watching droplets of oil still rising to the ocean surface from the fuel tanks that were full on December 7--you also will have felt the emotional tug that is as real today as it must have been 80 years ago.

As you know, Kendra Bonnett and I are big fans of Rosie the Riveter. We even named our company RosieCentral. We honor her and her efforts throughout our entire Rosie Legacy Gear product line. Today, and all month long, we want to share with you some of the information we've gathered about her.

Back at the Beginning

We'll start at what might be considered the beginning of the story about Rosie the Riveter and ask the question:

The chicken or the egg...which came first?

The Origins of the Poster That Continues to Inspire Us

There are a lot of stories floating around about Rosie the Riveter so let's see where the facts lead us. There are three main characters in our drama:

  • J. Howard Miller,

  • Redd Evans/John Jacob Loeb,

  • and, Norman Rockwell.

Which one is responsible...

...for a poster that is often called Rosie the Riveter and who thought up the name and the occupation?

The story seems to go this way:

An artist from Pittsburgh by the name of J. Howard Miller was hired by Westinghouse Electric's internal War Production Coordinating Committee through an advertising agency. His job was to create posters for internal display only...posters to raise morale and reduce absenteeism. Miller produced about 42 posters.

Westinghouse Electric Company had multiple factories engaged in production during World War II. Miller created posters and a new one was put up every two weeks. The date he created the Rosie poster is unknown but thought to be in late 1942. The distinguishing features of the poster were the red and white polkadot bandana, the blue work clothes, the employment badge on her collar, and the words We Can Do It! captioned above her.

About 1800 copies were printed and posted in the Westinghouse factories beginning on February 15. They were all taken down on February 28. Even the poster shows those dates. Such was the humble beginnings of the now famous poster.

What Were Women Producing in that Factory?

And what were the women making in these factories? Westinghouse had invented a resin that they used to make helmet liners. Women working there helped manufacture more than 13 million helmet liners. When and if anyone mentioned the poster, it was simply called the "We Can Do It!" one.

So now it's March 1, and 1800 posters have been taken down. Collectively they are headed for the dustbin of time. At this point there is no mention of Rosie or riveting.

The We Can Do It! Poster Gets Some Unlikely Help

Rosie Who? The original J. Howard Miller poster had nothing to do with a Rosie. It took a song to give us a name and an occupation.

And Where Did the Music Come From?

Redd Evans was a lyricist popular in the 40s and 50s. Over the years, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day and numerous others recorded his songs. But back in 1942, he teamed up with John Jacob Loeb, a composer. If you recall the musical score from "Annie Hall," then you've heard Loeb's work.

Evans and Loeb worked together during World War II and wrote a song they called "Rosie the Riveter." Although written in 1942, it wasn't published until 1943, just about the time that J. Howard Miller was posting his We Can Do It! poster in the Westinghouse Electric Company factories in Pennsylvania and the Midwest. However, there was no link between these two events--at least not then.

Here's the beginning of the Evans/Loeb song:

"While other girls attend their favorite cocktail bar Sipping Martinis, munching caviar There's a girl who's really putting them to shame Rosie is her name.
All the day long whether rain or shine She's a part of the assembly line She's making history, working for victory Rosie the Riveter Keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage Sitting up there on the fuselage That little frail can do more than a male will do Rosie the Riveter"

The song became a national hit, fitting the mood of the nation as America went into the second year of the war. Women were needed in factories, offices, and government agencies more than ever. The song was inspirational.

What Do We Have At This Point?

We have a poster that still might end up in the dustbin of history and a pop song that would probably fade away as do most such tunes.

Who will bring this all together and yet not end up producing the most popular Rosie image that is more popular today than ever before in history?

Not surprisingly, it's a question of money versus fame.

Putting the Story All Together

At this point we have:

  • lyrics and a tune written in 1942

  • a poster drawn in 1942.

By early March 1943, the We Can Do It! poster was off the walls of Westinghouse Electric Service factories -- discarded into what would likely become history's garbage heap -- and the Rosie the Riveter song was beginning to wane in popularity.

You may not be familiar with the names Miller, Evans or Loeb. But the next story involved an artist whose name you are likely to recognize.

Finally, a Pose, a Rosie, and...

Norman Rockwell is a name you may know as the illustrator who worked for The Saturday Evening Post.

During WWII, he created many magazine covers including the famous Four Freedoms based on Franklin D. Roosevelt's address to Congress in 1942 when the President presented his postwar vision of a world with

  • Freedom of Speech,

  • Freedom of Religion (that Rockwell renamed Freedom of Worship),

  • Freedom from Want, and

  • Freedom from Fear.

Kendra and I traveled to Rockwell's museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts a few years ago and saw the original oil paintings of the Four Freedoms. Inspiring. For many of his magazine covers, Norman Rockwell used local residents in his town of Arlington, Vermont. So she wasn't particularly surprised when Mary Doyle (Keefe) got a phone call from Norman Rockwell, asking her if she would pose for him. She agreed and sat in his studio for about two hours (watch the video below -- Mary Doyle (Keefe) talks about posing for the picture]

Norman Rockwell’ s Rosie the Riveter

Rockwell's well-known Saturday Evening Post cover appeared on May 29, 1943. This was after the Evans/Loeb song was popular and it's widely believed that Rockwell put the words "Rosie" on the lunch pail of his riveter to go along with the song words.

The Question

So if the Rockwell Rosie was seen on perhaps three million magazine covers, why didn't it become more popular and famous than a poster that only a few thousand people saw? I'm not saying that Norman Rockwell's Rosie isn't known. But we all love having the We Can Do It! poster. I have one on my study wall.

The Answer

The answer?

This is where copyright and money come into the story.

Curtis Publishing owned Saturday Evening Post and wanted to promote the upcoming May 29, 1943 issue of the magazine. They distributed a poster that included the caption "Rosie the Riveter" to newsstands and news dealers.

Then they got nervous.

My guess is that their lawyers told them Evans/Loeb or the publisher of their song, Paramount Music Corporation, might file a lawsuit for copyright violation. Without that concern, Rockwell's Rosie as a poster would have been widely distributed -- millions of copies versus the 1800 copies of the We Can Do It! poster that were seen only inside the factory.

But the Post was apparently concerned with violating the copyright held by the song writers.

So Curtis Publishing required a signed affidavit from each newsstand owner and news dealer stating that all copies of the poster had been destroyed -- before they were ever distributed.

If this decision had not been made, today we would probably want or already own a copy of Norman Rockwell's Rosie rather than J. Howard Miller's Rosie.

Along the way, probably in the 1970's with the rise of the second wave of feminism, J. Howard Miller’s work, with no copyright, became wildly popular and was known as the Rosie the Riveter poster.

Now We Have All the Elements Except...

...Who was the Model for the J. Howard Miller Poster?

In the next RosieCentral blog, I'll fill you in on those details -- including my ever-so-brief association with the answer.

See you then.

In the meantime, remember: We Can Do It!


ROSIE THE RIVETER POSTER. This is a high quality art print of the famous "We Can Do It!" poster created by J. Howard Miller during World War II while working at the Westinghouse Electric Service factory.

AND this large 24" by 36" version is doubly great and doubly usable.

Includes 1 "We Can Do It!" Poster with 2 Sides

SIDE 1: Frameable. High quality "We Can Do It" poster showing Rosie the Riveter in her iconic pose -- we digitized from US government copy so this is authentic. We cleaned it up so that it looks like the poster would have when first displayed in 1943.

SIDE 2: All the details are the same, we just removed Rosie the Riveter, so strike your best DIY Rosie pose for photos, parties, special events.

NOTE: You can even add on one of our red and white polkadot bandanas.


If you’ve missed our August Suffrage Month blogs,

here are some of the links:


we invite you to check them in the links below:


Want More Stories about the Suffragists ... about Rosie the Riveter... about Amazing Women? How about more inspiration for your own life?

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