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  • Writer's pictureMatilda Butler

What Else Did Rosie Do?

Working Women in America -- Black and White

Women have always worked in America -- found employment outside the home. But many jobs were not open -- some still aren't. The notion was, "We have to protect the ladies." Of course, that was ridiculous, but history is clear on that point. And we all know that when women and men held the identical positions, women have been paid less.

Even when I was in college and thought I'd like to be a geologist, I was told, "You can work in the lab but you won't be allowed to do field work." The field work was the only part of the profession that I thought would be fascinating. Needless to say, I didn't end up majoring in geology.

Depending on your age, you may have your own set of experiences and memories with college majors and employment positions.

And Black women have experienced the discrepancies to an even greater degree -- both in fields open to them and in pay. "Equal pay for equal work" continues to be more of a goal than an accomplishment.

On December 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked, women listening to the radio could never could have imagined all the occupations they might enter. Here are just a few of them:

  • Railroad maintenance engineers

  • Taxi Drivers

  • Mail carriers

  • Ammunitions workers

  • Boot makers

  • Uniforms seamstresses

  • Parachute seamstresses

  • Volunteer crop pickers (more than 1,000,000 people became part of the Women's Land Army, picking farm crops)

  • Ambulance drivers

  • Fire fighters

  • Nurses

  • Crane operators

  • Volunteer assistants to local rationing boards (at least 100,000)

  • Baseball players (Have you seen A League of Their Own?)

  • Red Cross Volunteers (7.5 million women)

  • Clerical workers

  • Intelligence gatherers

  • Cryptographers

  • Inspectors

  • Managers

  • Mathematicians

  • Proprietors of boarding houses (massive need for lodging for rural workers who came into urban areas)

  • Riveters

  • Welders

  • Military personnel (approximately 400,000 women served in the Army, Navy, Marines, Army Air Force, and Coast Guard)

  • Shopkeepers

  • Hotel workers

  • Farmers

  • Just about any job a man did before the war became work for women during the war

It Took a While, but Women Were Needed!

By the end of WW2, there were more than 18 million women working in the war effort. But it took time because many companies were opposed to having women and minorities in their factories. Yes, for a while the military also opposed admitting women. And even when women were hired, it was primarily single women -- at least for a while. We've read that companies thought the solution was to look for draft-exempt men and/or to lower the age limits for specific occupations.

First Women Hired?

Although it took companies and factories months before women were recruited and hired, the aircraft industry felt the impact of Pearl Harbor almost immediately. So it is not surprising that they were probably the first to sign on women. Their first hires were 60 women whose husbands had been killed during the Pearl Harbor attack.

Banning Discrimination on the Basis of Race Before Including Sex

Interestingly, companies with government contracts were required to open opportunities to Blacks on the same basis of whites -- long before women had opportunities. How did that come to be? The NAACP and the National Urban League urged Roosevelt to ban racial discrimination in defense plants -- threatening a march on Washington by more than 100,000 minorities if he did not. And though that was a forceful incentive for FDR to issue Executive Order 8802, it is true that Eleanor Roosevelt was also a prominent force in his decision to bring about the signing of that order banning racial discrimination in early June of 1941.

A Legacy of Women's Participation

Of the 18 million women who worked in defense industries and support services almost a quarter of a million were employed in shipyards. We hope you appreciate the sign overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge that quotes one of these shipyard workers:

"You must tell your children, putting modesty aside, that without us, without women, there would have been no spring in 1945."

And After the War...

When the war ended, a majority of women wanted to keep their jobs and their new-found economic and social independence. But nearly all received their pink slips. They were required to turn in their employment badges and not even keep them as a souvenir and reminder of their efforts. Most women viewed leaving their jobs as simply one more sacrifice made to the war effort. They knew that the millions of men returning home would be seeking those positions.

As We Like to Say...

...we take our bandanas off to all the amazing and inspiring women who helped America win the war. For whatever the role, every woman did her part.


First a Bandana...then an Employment Badge

Originally, Kendra and I only researched Rosie's red and white polkadot bandana. Customers kept asking us if we also had an employment badge. We said "no" for several years. Then, we decided to tackle the product.

We thought we might purchase one on Ebay and then create our own accurate version. But none were available. We finally decided to go to the government archives where we found a few -- maybe four or so. We were fortunate that one of these was from the Westinghouse Electric Service -- the same company where J. Howard Miller was creating posters -- including the We Can Do It! one.

At first, once we knew we had a historically accurate design, we created buttons. After all, we didn't know if they would be popular. Then, as soon as we saw how many women wanted to add the Rosie the Riveter Employment Badge, we created a metal version with raised lettering, each hand enameled with exactly the same colors as those originally worn.

And did I say ACCURATE? We used the image of Rosie drawn by J. Howard Miller in the center of the employment pin -- in the space where the photo of the woman was placed. We even used a photo process. Of course, the poster showed the employment badge already on her collar. But that wouldn't do since in her photo she had just been hired and didn't already have the employment badge. So we removed the pin from her collar in order to make her look as she would have when seated before the camera.

If you are interested in our Rosie Employment Badge / Collar Pin, please click on the link below.

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Sep 15, 2022

We all love Rosie the Riveter and the We Can Do It Poster. But I expect that many of us don't know the magnitude of Rosie's contributions to the war on the Homefront. Thank you

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