B2 High-Intermediate US 7 Folder Collection
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Today, this woman's known as Rosie the Riveter.
Her poster says “we can do it.”
During World War II, overall American women's employment increased from 12 million in December
1941 to 16 million in March 1944.
It peaked at 19 million that July.
More than 2,000,000 women started jobs in wartime manufacturing specifically — the
stuff of riveting.
They came from other industries, housework, and school.
How did millions of women enter a new industry in the span of a few years?
“Here is the office of the supervisor of Women Employees.”
“Women in steel are simply the result of realistic thinking.”
“Women of steel” changed labor and helped win a war.
But how did the country manage to transform a massive war effort on the turn of a dime?
How did all the women behind this image become riveters?
“With the army taking men by the thousands, more than 16,000 from our plant so far, we
had to find people to replace them.
A great untapped reserve was women.”
The Pearl Harbor attack effectively launched the United States into World War II.
The labor pool had to get bigger.
A group of women in government wanted women to fill in the gaps.
In the Department of Labor, Frances Perkins was the first female secretary of labor.
She worked with Thelma McKelvey of Women's Labor Supply Services, she was part of the
war production board, which managed the conversion of peacetime industries to meet wartime needs.
Mary Anderson was the leader of the Women's Bureau, a Department of Labor agency that
advocated for women's employment since 1920.
They all worked with the War Manpower Commission, a wartime agency that had a women's advisory
committee, including leaders across industries like efficiency expert Lillian Gilbreth, lawyer
Margaret Hickey, and school principal Maudelle Bousfield.
These groups all helped shape public perception of wartime women workers with ads and PR,
but the most important process was practical: they had to help women find the thousands
of war industry jobs that needed workers.
They did that through the US Employment Service.
This pamphlet lays out the steps women could take to find a wartime job.
The Office of War Information Distributed it to magazine editors and the public.
Government work: go to the Civil Service.
Military: work in shore stations through a reserve like WAVES.
Industry: find the US Employment Service.
This agency became a subset of the War Manpower Commission.
The US Employment Service coordinated local offices, which referred job seekers to employers
who could offer war industry work.
Employers also recruited through classified ads.
Trade schools advertised to men and women as well.
As the draft further depleted the supply of male workers, women filled a host of industrial
jobs, from lathe work to welding.
One specific job was perfect for that boom: As early as May, 1942, Thelma McKelvey said
that for aircraft jobs, women riveters in particular would be commonplace.
“With the ever-increasing demand for greater speeds in aircraft, it has been necessary
to remove every possible projection from the outer surface of the airplane.”
Industrial jobs clustered around Detroit, Baltimore, and Seattle, with high aircraft
and ship production.
Increases in women in manufacturing in those cities were huge — especially for:
Learning how and where to put the 700,000 rivets that go into a single Liberator bomber.”
To train an onslaught of inexperienced labor, employers developed techniques.
Some of them were likely sexist: “They were as fast as men if not faster,
for rivets are the buttons of a bomber to hold it together against a speed of nearly
350 miles an hour.”
Others sped up training for employees who had to learn an entirely new job really quickly.
“Women workers can be surprisingly good producers.
You've got to study every job and subdivide it into simple operating steps.'
Mary Anderson of the Women's Bureau recommended riveting, “which is the most common job
throughout assembly.”
The Women's Bureau recruited for these jobs in ways that appealed to contemporary notions
of women's traits: riveting used “a delicate touch, manipulative dexterity of a high degree,
as well as extreme accuracy in measurement.”
Teamwork could help with training.
Rosalind Palmer, who inspired the name Rosie the Riveter, started out as a riveter but
became a welder after she was paired with a “crackerjack welder” who “taught me
all he knew.”
The training showed results.
Boeing Seattle quadrupled monthly output from 1942-1944.
In Detroit, worker hours per bomber dropped at the Ford Willow Run Bomber Plant.
They went from 200,000 to less than 18,000 hours, thanks in part to increased efficiency
from subdividing jobs.
These riveters succeeded in transforming the war effort — and the labor market.
Rosie the Riveter is truth and myth.
Look at this pin.
“We Can Do It” was a poster the Westinghouse Electric company made to briefly show at its
The real-life woman who inspired her likeness was an Alameda Naval Air station employee
named Naomi Parker.
Rosie became mythologized in a Norman Rockwell painting, a song — “Rosie, the Riveter”
— and even a movie shortly thereafter.
And the Westinghouse poster became all-but-ubiquitous when a copy was unearthed in the 1980s.
But the truth about real riveters was more complicated, and it didn't make the poster.
In 1942, Thelma McKelvey of the War Production Board testified that women were paid 10 to
15 cents an hour lower, despite equal pay regulations.
Results varied wildly by company and region, but during the war, some unions used claims
of seniority and job differentiation to keep women's pay down.
They also pushed for women to give back “men's jobs” when the war was over.
“How you like your job Mrs. Stoner?”
“How about after the war?
Are you going to keep on working?”
“I should say not, when my husband comes back, I'm going to be busy at home.”
“Good for you.”
“What about after this war, Lee?”
“Well, this job belongs to some soldier, and when he comes back, he can have it.”
“Ah that's swell.”
Women of color were also discriminated against in some places.
Black women in industry went from 6.5% to 18% during the war.
But employers were spotty.
At Wagner Electric in St. Louis, 64% of employees were white women, 24% black males, and 12%
white males.
They simply did not hire black women.
Most women who did work were already in the workforce, single, and without children, so
it's easy to overestimate how much the war changed things.
Total working women also declined when the war ended.
But World War II did transform public and private sector labor.
About half the already-employed women switched employment from clerical work to higher paying
manufacturing work.
And the number of employed married women increased during and after the war.
The real story of women riveters is more complicated than a poster or a slogan.
But together, private industry, women leaders, and all those working women changed work in
America — one rivet at a time.
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The real story behind this war poster

7 Folder Collection
Lee Amanda published on May 29, 2020
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