Rosie the Riveter, Face of World War II Poster, Dies in Michigan

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FEMINIST FACE: Rosie the Riveter inspiration Geraldine Doyle in 1942
FEMINIST FACE: Rosie the Riveter inspiration Geraldine Doyle in 1942

A MICHIGAN factory worker used as the unwitting model for the wartime Rosie the Riveter poster, whose inspirational “We Can Do It!” message became an icon of the feminist movement, has died…

Geraldine Doyle died aged 86 on Monday this past week, according to a spokesman for the Hospice House of Mid-Michigan. Doyle had not realised she had a famous face until 1982, when she saw a reproduction of the poster while flipping through a magazine.  Despite Doyle recognising herself under the red and white polka dot bandana, the strong arm held up in a fist was not hers.

“That was the artists pumping up the muscles,” daughter Stephanie Gregg said.

Doyle was just 17 when she took up a job at a metal pressing plant near Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1942.  She was present when a United Press photographer had visited the factory to document the contribution of women to the war effort. Westinghouse graphic artist J. Howard Miller later used a picture of Doyle for the poster, which was aimed at deterring strikes.

Geraldine Doyle - Rosie the Riveter
Geraldine Doyle - Rosie the Riveter

During World War II, so many men were sent off to war, and so much new production was needed to support that war effort that there was a gross shortage of manpower to staff factories and manufacturing plants. As a result, propaganda was distributed through print, film and radio to encourage women to take over their jobs for the duration of the war. There was a catch, however. When the war was over, they were supposed to give the jobs right back.

Rosie The Riveter was the name given to the woman depicted on many of the propaganda posters. In the most famous one, she is wearing a red and white bandana to cover her hair, and she has rolled back the sleeve of her blue coverall to expose a flexed bicep. The expression on her face was confident and determined. The caption above her head reads, “We Can Do It!” in bold letters.

Women who had been employed in fields predominated by women- pink collar secretarial positions, domestic jobs and lower paying industrial positions were eager to try their hands at the new opportunities. Soon they were successfully doing things only men had done before. Women became taxi and streetcar drivers, operated heavy construction machinery, worked in lumber and steel mills, unloaded freight, built dirigibles, made munitions and much more. Men’s jobs always paid more, and this was women’s only chance to step up and earn more.

The slogan, “Do the job he left behind” said a lot. She could do it as long as he didn’t want it or wasn’t around to do it. As soon as soldiers began to return home, women were forced out of these jobs, even if they had no other means of support. A great many women would have preferred to stay in their industrial jobs, but the influx of men and the attitudes of the day prevented it.

Despite the way they were discarded at the end of the war, these female workers had much to do with the success of the United States during World War II and their contribution should not be forgotten. In a very direct way, women helped win the war.

Rosie the Riveter Poster
Rosie the Riveter Poster

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