From the Intern’s Desk: Rosie the Riveter

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Rosie the Riveter is perhaps the most iconic of American tradeswomen.


Did you know that she was originally painted by Norman Rockwell and had a pretty different appearance? The recognizable image of a woman flexing against a yellow background was actually published a year earlier, but was adopted in the 1980s by second-wave feminists because of copyright restrictions on the Rockwell image.

Rockwell’s painting appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on Memorial Day in 1943. The name inscribed on her lunchbox – Rosie – recalled the popular song “Rosie the Riveter,” which was written the year before.


The Rosie we recognize now was produced by Westinghouse Electric, which manufactured everything from atomic research equipment to helmet liners during World War II. It was originally intended to simply boost morale internally, but became an iconic representation of second-wave feminism – “anything boys can do, girls can do better” – in the 1980s.

I love both versions. They tell two different – but equally important – stories. The Rockwell painting shows that a woman with ripped forearms in grimy work boots is no less an inspirational symbol of femininity than any other, while the Westinghouse reminds us that a girl’s appearance doesn’t interfere with her ability to kick some serious tail.

It’s a tribute to just how entrenched Rosie has become in popular feminism that she’s been adopted by modern artists – particularly women of color – in creative and evocative ways.


This version (see the artist’s website here) is named Rosita Adelita, blending the familiar Rosie with La Adelita, a symbol of Mexican independence from the early 20th century. “Sí se puede” roughly translates to “yes we can” and references the United Farm Workers labor union, Cesar Chavez, and the Chicano movement.


Here, Michelle Obama shows off her famously toned arms (basically a feminist symbol in their own right) to encourage Americans in 2009 to roll up their sleeves and rebuild the American economy, not unlike Eleanor Roosevelt did after the Great Depression.


And, of course, Beyonce.

Do you have a favorite Rosie? Have you dressed up as her? (I have. Halloween 2013!) Did I miss a part of her history that you think is important? Leave a comment!

Till next week,

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