Remembering Rosie

Mostly this weekend we will speak of the (mostly) men who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. That’s what the holiday is for, after all. But those guys went to war, wearing clothes, eating food, using equipment and so forth. The legendary, beans, bullets, and gas that are the lifeblood of victorious war. Where did it come from?

Yes, the holiday is based in the Civil War, so we could easily speak of the Studebaker brothers, who produced the ambulances that served the army in all sorts of ways until mechanization. There are many stories like theirs about, and during that war, immigrants were eagerly welcomed, both in the armies and in American industry, which really got its start here.

But starting in World War I and increasing greatly during the second, the burden of supplying the forces was born by American women – the semi-legendary Rosie the Riveter. If you are my age, as you knew many veterans amongst the men, you knew many Rosies as well. They did this in addition to the traditional role of loving, missing, and grieving the boys. Without them, victory would not have happened. That picture above is the original Rosie, painted by Norman Rockwell, complete with rivet gun, bologna sandwich, and Mein Kampf crushed under her shoes. She isn’t the pin-up queen of the more common Westinghouse worker that is so common now. But she speaks for her generation, and to ours quite effectively.

Kimberly Bloom Jackson wrote on The Federalist Friday about some of those Rosies, and I think you should read it.

“You came out to California, put on your pants, and took your lunch pail to a man’s job,” recalls Sybil Lewis, a black Rosie who worked at Lockheed Aircraft as a riveter. “This was the beginning of women’s feeling that they could do something more.”

By the end of the war, women had mass-produced some 80,000 landing craft, 100,000 tanks and armored vehicles, 200,000 airplanes, 6 million tons of bombs, 41 billion rounds of ammunition, and so much more.

But did you know that black and white Rosies often worked side by side during the war? Despite widespread Jim Crow laws at the time, industrialists like Henry Kaiser established an integrated workforce of over 100,000 Americans, “many of whom were African Americans, Latinos, American Indians and Asian Americans.”

In fact, in 1941, after civil rights activists threatened to march in protest of racial discrimination in industry and the military, Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt went against the wishes of his own party and issued Executive Order 8802 prohibiting workplace discrimination. This included repealing much of fellow Democrat Woodrow Wilson’s longstanding pro-segregation policies in the defense industries and federal government jobs.

To enforce the order, FDR also set up the Fair Employment Practices Committee. This government initiative, along with wartime necessity to mobilize workers, transformed the workforce. Eventually, this would help lay the groundwork for post-war civil rights legislation which didn’t start in earnest for the Democratic Party until Harry S. Truman was elected president in 1946, but not without the usual opposition by Democrats, as history has shown. […]

  • Ollie M. Hawkins (black Rosie, shipyards of San Francisco Bay):  “When you got off work, you’d go to Oakland to go shopping, and everywhere you’d go, you’d see ‘White Trade Only’ signs. … In theshipyards you didn’t run into that prejudice because everyone was working side by side for the same purpose.”

  • Charlyne Harper (white Rosie, Welder at Kaiser Shipyard, Richmond): “I am real proud of the women of my day. We just knew that war had to be won, and we were proud to do our part. And the women just flocked there. … So everybody back then helped win that war. But the men on the front lines was the ones that sacrificed. … There were some women in service at that time, but most of them were in the war effort. They did something. Everybody did something and sacrificed. It was no big deal to do without new shoes or certain foods. … Everybody was in it together. We all had a rough time.”

  • Sybil Lewis (black Rosie, Lockheed Aircraft in Los Angeles): “The women worked in pairs. I was theriveter and this big, strong, white girl from a cotton farm in Arkansas worked as thebucker.

  • The riveter used a gun to shoot rivets through the metal and fasten it together. Thebucker used a bucking bar on the other side of the metal to smooth out the rivets. Bucking was harder than shooting rivets; it required more muscle. Riveting required more skill.”

  • Esther Horne (white Rosie, machine operator, Gussack’s Machine Products, Long Island City):  “Lunch hour, for the longest time, we would sit around, sit on crates with our long work aprons and pants, or whatever and one of the bosses, Moe Kammer, would read a scene from “Othello” and we would discuss it. Remember the differences in education? I saw all around me people, some of whom had never finished eighth grade, entranced. We all went to see “Othello.” And we all saw Paul Robeson and Uta Hagen, and Jose Ferrer as Iago. For a factory!”

  • Wanita Allen (black Rosie, Ford’s River Rouge foundry, Detroit): “It was good to work with people. It’s something about that camaraderie that you really need on a job. If the job is hard and everyone is working, you don’t mind. It’s just that sharing and all doing it together.”

Do read her article. But above all, remember that without these women, we would not have won the war, they were every bit as important as any man with the eagle on his button. This is also where the women’s movement came from, like all movements, it has sometimes gotten excessive, but these women proved they were worth as much as any man.

As you think about the guys we’ve lost in our wars this weekend, remember too the brave women who supported them, loved them and grieved for them. Never was the old saying more true, “Behind every good man there is a good woman”.

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About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

6 Responses to Remembering Rosie

  1. the unit says:

    I like the Liberty Girl, Post cover 1943, wearing her saddle shoes, that I remember so well the girls wore. Me, I remember the Clodhoppers that Mama bought me! 🙂
    https://www.google.com/search?q=norman+rockwell+rosie&tbm=isch&imgil=RofINxJ3W0fGgM%253A%253BSPeVbSRvbAaU8M%253Bhttps%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.nrm.org%25252F2014%25252F02%25252Fbeyond-objectification-norman-rockwells-depictions-of-women-for-the-saturday-evening-post%25252F&source=iu&pf=m&fir=RofINxJ3W0fGgM%253A%252CSPeVbSRvbAaU8M%252C_&usg=__JiH2NxKAHBlf39DHQ5p7D-EfPKg%3D&biw=1366&bih=638&ved=0ahUKEwitjoPCipXUAhUESCYKHcfKBsUQyjcIZw&ei=HxEsWe2CBoSQmQHHlZuoDA#imgrc=RofINxJ3W0fGgM:

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      For me, it was my fist pair of Wesco’s. Marked a coming of age, knee high, laced all the way, steel plates to protect the boots from my hooks, and three separate arch supports. My God, they were expensive, almost $500 in the early 70s, but worth every penny, since the surplus officer’s boots had dried up.

      Liked by 1 person

      • the unit says:

        Yeah, the Clodhopper’s weren’t so bad. It was the knickerbocker pants that nearly drove me bonkers. She only bought me one pair once, and I only wore once. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Never had a pair of those. Should I feel left out? Did have a couple pair of Cavalry riding britches, worked well with the Boots! 🙂

          Like

        • the unit says:

          No, nothing missed there. Mama wanted English to show I guess. Cooper’s you know. Following conversation in 1936 explains that sentiment. 🙂
          Dempsey: Well, Charlie, I am certainly glad to see you safely back in the United States, but thought you might surprise us all by coming back on the German zeppelin.

          Atlas: No, but if they ever reach the stage where they have flying gymnasiums I might do that, Jack.

          Dempsey: How did you find the English people, Charlie? Did they seem to be in as good physical condition as our boys over here?

          Atlas: On the contrary, they appeared in much better physical condition than our boys. The Englishman … doesn’t allow that chest of his to slip down below his belt, where you find most of the American chests. If some of the boys over here don’t begin taking daily exercises, they’ll be carrying their paunches around in baskets.”

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Not far wrong! Hey, quit looking in my mirror! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

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