In constructing this blog this week, imagine my surprise in seeing the news that Geraldine Hoff Doyle, the real-life inspiration for the “We Can Do It” graphic, that serves as the visual symbol for this blog, and indeed the American feminist movement , died at the age of 86 on December 26, 2010. (Read her full obituary here).
In World War II with many men away at war, and manufacturing efforts increased to feed the American war machine, millions of American women left their homes and went to work, in response to government propaganda campaigns. In white-collar jobs previously held by men, and in the munitions factories and other manufacturing ventures, women filled the labor gaps and “Rosie the Riveter”, memorialized in a 1942 song of the same name, became the symbol of their dedication to the war effort.
Although the “We Can Do It” poster, created in Geraldine Doyle’s likeness, was originally commissioned by the Westinghouse Company in a campaign to deter strikes and absenteeism, it was not associated with Rosie the Riveter at that time. In later decades, after the poster was rediscovered, it became a popular symbol of the American Women’s Movement in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and the character of Rosie and the “We Can Do It” poster became synonymous symbols of the efforts of American women in World War II.
Imagine what it must have been like for women, until World War II tied to home life and menial labor, to suddenly be able to enter the work-force in jobs previously only held by men, earn their own money, and finally feel like valued members of society. It must have been incredibly liberating for many women. Although, following the end of World War II with the return of the men, can you then imagine being expected to return to home life and give up responsible jobs for which you had worked so hard? This must have been an equally devastating feeling for so many women in the years following the war.
Did any women in your family hold jobs relating to the war effort of the 1940’s ? What did they do ? Did they remain in the workforce after the war ?