Rosie the Riveter: A World War II Icon and Part of Washington History

 

Left, Erna Ford, right, Marguerite Smith

Left, Erna Ford, right, Marguerite Smith

“Rosie the Riveter” was a generic name given to women who worked non-traditional jobs in factories and shipyards during WWII while men were away at war. The nickname came from a song by that name written in 1942. There were “Rosies” all over the country working in factories that manufactured munitions and war supplies. In the Pacific Northwest, Rosie the Riveters could be found at Todd Shipyards and Kaiser Shipyards building ships, Indian Island making submarine nets, Fort Lewis working as mechanics, and at many Boeing plants throughout the region constructing airplanes. For most of the Rosies, their jobs ended when the war did—when the men returned. But the Rosies marked a turning point in labor history:  they were women who successfully held jobs that, until then, only men had held.  Rosies opened the door for women to work in the trades—in construction, manufacturing, and transportation.

Six years ago, Washington Women in Trades (WWIT) embarked on a project to interview and photograph all of the Rosies they could locate in the state in order to create a calendar that commemorated their work. Since WWIT was founded by and for women working in the trades, it made sense to recognize the women in the region who were the foremothers of the modern tradeswomen. The WWIT members discovered that the project went far beyond what they had anticipated. Each Rosie’s story is compelling; each goes beyond building airplanes or welding ships. They are stories that span a century of living.

Peggy Cook

Peggy Cook

Most Rosies were just teenagers when they hired on. Many had never left home. They were risk-takers who rode crowded trains across the country with empty pockets and paper bags full of lunch, seeking adventure and decent paychecks. They lived in boarding houses, they trained and they worked. They slogged through exhaustive hours, split shifts, interminable bus and ferry rides, and sexual and racial oppression. And seventy years ago they paved the way for other women to follow.

Since 2008, WWIT has been producing a calendar that features Washington state Rosies. Every year it gets harder and harder to find “calendar girls”–these women are national treasures with, unfortunately, an expiration date. The Washington Women in Trades are proud to participate in Northwest Folklife’s Cultural Focus, Washington Works, and proud to introduce you to some of the most important women in labor in the region.

Washington Women in Trades is a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve women’s economic equity and self-sufficiency through access and success in high-wage, high-skilled careers in the construction, manufacturing and transportation sector. They produce two annual events; a spring Career Fair and a fall Awards Dinner. Their third major project is the annual Rosie Calendar.  www.wawomenintrades.com

Please come and meet some of Washington state’s Rosies on Sunday, May 26, at 2:00 PM in the Olympic Room, where Washington Works will present a panel on “Puget Sound Rosies: Riveting History.”