Long live Rosie the Riveter!
On Wednesday, a fundraising campaign to preserve a Detroit factory that once employed the real-life version of “Rosie the Riveter” — the flexed-armed feminist icon during World War II — was given a two-month extension. If the group doesn't raise enough money, the building will be demolished.
So far, the Save the Bomber Plant campaign has raised $4.5 million of the $8 million it needs to preserve a portion of the Willow Run Bomber Plant, where a woman named Rosie Monroe helped build B-24 Liberator bomber planes during World War II. The campaign hopes to convert the factory space into a new, expanded home for the Yankee Air Museum, and in order to secure the building with water, gas, and electricity, the group needs to raise funds before the October 1 deadline. Part of the museum would be dedicated to Rosie the Riveter, sharing insight into the history of how females back then even managed to get (historically male) jobs building planes in the first place, and changed the face of women in the workplace forever.
When the United States entered World War II in 1941, auto factories were converted to build war supplies, including airplanes. At first, women weren’t even considered for factory jobs, but when their husbands went off to war, the wives were the ones available. However, getting women to temporarily trade dishwasher gloves for utility gloves was a challenge, so the government launched a media campaign to make factory work appealing to the fairer sex, conceiving an image of the ideal factory worker, a fictional character named Rosie, who was loyal, ballsy, patriotic, and of course, pretty. It made a splash.
Today, Rosie would have had a Twitter handle (and several parody accounts) along with a Facebook page, but in 1943, there were more creative efforts. A song titled “Rosie the Riveter” by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb was released on the radio, followed by a painting by Saturday Evening Post artist Norman Rockwell. The image was of Rosie on her lunch break at work, eating a sandwich while her riveting gun rested on her lap. A few months later, the government issued that famous poster with Rosie’s image and the slogan, “We Can Do It!”
Then came the real Rosies: A few weeks after Rockwell’s painting ran, the media picked up a story of a local worker named Rose Bonavita-Hickey, an employee at a New York factory, who was dubbed a “real-life Rosie the Riveter” along with many others like her. Naturally, Hollywood took note and set out to cast a “riveter” for a government film about the war. The star was a Kentucky woman named Rose Will Monroe, an employee at Willow Run Bomber Plant, which churned out B-24 Liberator bombers. After the 1943 film, her image was solidified as a symbol of female empowerment.
After the war ended, the factory re-opened to make cars, but it’s been closed since 2010. Meanwhile, Rosie the Riveter's image has lived on though new versions of the poster as a symbol for gay activists rights, during pro-democracy protests in Iran, and in music videos for Beyonce and Christina Aguilera. Most recently, her image was used in a Swiffer campaign, evoking backlash for its sexist undertones, and forcing the company to publicly apologize.
Whether or not the factory will live on is anyone's guess (you can donate here), but Rosie's image most likely will no matter what.