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  • Writer's pictureMatilda Butler


Rosie the Riveter Knew Dots -- Polkadots

As you know by now, September is Rosie the Riveter Month at RosieCentral. In our first Rosie the Riveter blog article on September 1, we talked about the iconic We Can Do It! poster and how the woman in it came to be called Rosie the Riveter.

Then in the September 2 article, we discussed what we know about the possible model for the poster. A number of women have been mentioned -- including one Canadian.

Today, we thought we’d talk about all those polkadots on her red and white bandana. Where did they come from? Why were they used? What's the scoop!

Here’s what our research reveals about Rosie’s now-famous bandana. We think you just might not know this story.

Q. After all, isn't a polkadot just a polkadot?

A. We suggest the answer to that question is "no."

The Origin of Rosie's Bandana

Let's back up for a moment.

Kendra and I wrote a collective memoir of women born during WW2. We titled it: Rosie's Daughters: The 'First Woman To' Generation Tells Its Story. Later, when we began to give book presentations, we thought it would be great fun to wear a bandana like Rosie when we spoke. That seemed simple.

However, Kendra and I couldn't find a bandana or even bandana fabric like the one in the We Can Do It! poster.

So, we designed our own -- a Rosie the Riveter Legacy Bandana based on the one shown in J. Howard Miller's 1942 "We Can Do It!" poster. We looked at many other photographs from World War II so that we could see how often women were shown wearing bandanas. We found lots of examples, but only a few had polkadots. So we decided that Miller wasn't just showing a typical pattern on the bandana.

Another Poster Might Tell the Story

The poster above just might have been the inspiration for Miller. It was drawn by Adolph Treidler who created posters during World War I and World War II. (He was born in 1886 and died in 1991!) He drew five posters in what is called his WOW series. [Below is another one of his posters in the series. Notice that the figure on the right is wearing a red and white bandana]

WOW stands for Women Ordnance Workers

The U.S. Ordnance Department's logo is a symbol of an exploding cannon ball. If Miller got the idea for his polkadots from either Treidler’s poster or from bandanas required of women working in ordnance factories — then you can see the logic behind the somewhat unusual polkadot patterned bandana in Miller's poster.

Unusual? Yes. There were polkadot bandanas worn by women working during the war. For example, go back to last week’s article on the model for the poster and you’ll see that Naomi Parker Fraley wore a polkadot bandana. We've provided a closeup below. You'll see that her bandana displayed two sizes of dots and most of them were quite small and close together. In addition, the dots were in regular rows and columns. J. Howard Miller’s figure wore a bandana with large randomly placed polkadots.

Ordnance Insignia

The WOW bandanas were designed and then made to match the US Army specification. It had to be 27" x 27" -- just like ours. We didn't know about this official size until a couple of years after we designed our bandanas. We arrived at that same size because that's how much fabric it takes to be able to tie a bandana like Rosie the Riveter did in the poster.

By the way, female ordnance workers always wore bandanas to keep their hair from getting tangled in the machines. The bandanas saved lives.

Today, we find that many bandanas are 20" x 20 or even 22” x 22” and that just isn't big enough. (Actually we do have a 22” x 22” Rosie the Riveter bandana but it is designed primarily for children.) All the official WOW bandanas were either red with the white Ordnance insignia printed on it or the opposite -- white with the Ordnance insignia in red.

No Way to Confirm Our Educated Guess

We don't have any way to confirm this, but it seems quite likely that J. Howard Miller had seen the WOW bandanas or WOW posters and simply changed Rosie's bandana to plain polka dots instead of bombs since his worker wasn't making ammunitions. This also explains why the dots are so large -- that's the way they were on the WOW bandanas -- and why they are shown in a random pattern.

Hope you've enjoyed this fun look back into Rosie and what we think is the story behind her iconic red and white polkadot bandana.



If So, We've Got Fun Offer for You.

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1 -27" official size (by US Army Mandate) Rosie the Riveter red and white polkadot bandana

1 - 3" Authentic Rosie the Riveter Employment Badge. This is pinless -- no damage to your shirt or sweater. Uses heavy duty clothing magnet for simple attaching.

• ROSIE BANDANA: Bandanas come in all sizes. This one is BIG AND BOLD -- just like the US Army requirements mandated. It is 27 inches. We have the fabric custom dyed for us in our random polkadot pattern that we created based on our analysis of the WE CAN DO IT poster. Then, we added a small image of Rosie in profile and the words: WE CAN DO IT...PASS IT ON.

ACCURATE EMPLOYMENT PIN DESIGN: The second element in this BUNDLE is our ALL NEW BIG AND BOLD Rosie Employment Badge that is 3 INCHES. During WW2, employment badges included a photograph of the employee. The image shown in the center of this magnet is Rosie, of course. Our original art matches the colors and font in the authentic employment badges from Westinghouse Electric Service where Rosie worked. Although the pin on her collar is small, sometimes one just wants to be BOLD. So we made this in a 3-inch format that uses a strong clothing magnet to affix it. SUCH FUN.

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Sep 05, 2022

Love the dots. Love Rosie. Love RosieCentral. Thanks for all you do.

Sep 05, 2022
Replying to

Hi There. So glad you share our love of Rosie and all her dots. --Matilda

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