"Rosie the Riveter"
is not the same as
"We Can Do It!"

Perhaps the best-known example of women working in trades during World War II [on right] is commonly - though incorrectly - called “Rosie the Riveter,” memorialized in numerous posters, magazine covers, t-shirts, coffee mugs and advertisements.

The actual image of "Rosie the Riveter" appeared on a Norman Rockwell cover of a 1943 Saturday Evening Post. The "We Can Do It!" image, also featuring a strong working woman, was a poster by J. Howard Miller for Westinghouse.

Here is the background according to Ed Reis, Volunteer Historian for Westinghouse, as interviewed by California Federation of Teachers Publications Director Jane Hundertmark, February 5, 2003:

“For the past 60 years, the popular image of the World War II-era female worker in the “We Can Do It” poster has evoked strength and empowerment. The American public identified the image as “Rosie the Riveter,” named for the women who were popping rivets on the West Coast, making bombers and fighters for aeronautical companies like Boeing. But history tells a different story. In 1942, the Westinghouse Corporation, in conjunction with the War Production Coordinating Committee, commissioned the poster. It was to be displayed for only two weeks in Westinghouse factories in the Midwest where women were making helmet liners. They made 13 million plastic helmet liners out of a material called Mycarta, the predecessor to Formica (which means “formerly Mycarta”). So, more aptly named, this woman is Molly the Mycarta Molder or Helen the Helmet Liner Maker.”

Among the numerous adaptations of the "We Can Do It!" graphic are these, all from the 2008 presidential elections - Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, and Hillary Clinton:

This microessay brought to you by Lincoln Cushing and Tim Drescher, excerpted from their book Agitate! Educate! Organize! - American Labor Posters, Cornell University Press.

Also see
"Rosie the Riveter" as popular culture essay
Wikipedia entry on Rosie the Riveter

return to Docs Populi  - updated 4/23/2021