The Real Rosie the Riveter
These photographs that depict more than 150 World War II women workers were drawn from the archives of the Daily Worker and Women's Bureau Bulletin published by the United States Department of Labor in the collections of the Tamiment Library.

Read more about the project.

The photos depict Rosies in a variety of work places: shipyards, jeep and tank assembly lines, aircraft factories, machine shops, electrical shops, and railroad yards. Woman are shown riveting bombers, doing electrical wiring, enforcing quality control, serving as flight mechanics, assembling torpedoes painting destroyers, inspecting hoses, operating drill presses, and assembling machine guns.

The captions often reveal contemporary assumptions about gender. Women working in electrical plants are described as having nimble fingers that are more appropriate for such jobs than male fingers. Others are identified as "girl mechanics." A women depicted reading a micrometer at the Richfield School of Mechanics is described as a former "housewife" whose "only [previous] concern with measurements had to do with cups of flower." One "175-pound brunette," who according to the caption description was given "a chance to prove her ability at man's work," is described as the first flight mechanic at an aircraft plant (Vultee Aircraft near Los Angeles). A press release from the Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company talks about a "feminine invasion."

World War II was a major turning point in the history of America's working women. As millions of men entered the armed forces, the traditional division of labor between the sexes was swept aside as women were hired for "men's jobs" in the war industries.

At the peak of wartime women constituted one half of the labor force in the automobile industry and near one-third in the electrical industry. This unprecedented change resulted in over 18 million women going to work for the first time in history. This experience showed that women were fully capable of performing this work. After the war, most women were forced back into traditional female occupations, or out of the labor force completely.

The New York-based film and documentary company Spargel Productions is producing "The Real Rosie The Riveter Project," a series of high definition video histories documenting the life stories of the women who went work in America's defense plants during the Second World War. The interviews, performed by filmmakers Anne de Mare and Kirsten Kelly, will form a new filmed oral history archive at The Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives.

We recommend viewing the exhibit as a slide show by clicking on the link on the top right of the images.

Please note that these images are provided for reference purposes only. Permission to publish materials must be obtained in writing from the Director of the Tamiment Library / Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, New York University, 70 Washington Square South, New York, N.Y. 10012.
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