Factory Recruitment

The Second World War put a strain on every citizen in the United States. One area in particular which felt the war’s effects was the industrial sector. With many of the men being drafted to help with the war effort, factories were quickly running out of people to manufacture their products. This was an especially dire case within the arms production industry as the soldiers being sent off into battle depended on their products. With less and less men available to work every day, the government soon intervened with propaganda aimed at women. The most popular form of this was the war poster.

These government-issued signs were posted all over the country from cities to small towns. They were used to encourage and push people into doing such things as sign up for the army and invest in war bonds. As number of people available to work dwindled, these posters began to persuade women to begin working. Such posters were targeted at women who were not already within the workforce and who were apart of middle-class white families. They appealed to a woman’s sense of patriotism. Basically, it was insinuated that the more women who worked, the sooner the war would end, leading to less casualties abroad and the return of the remaining American soldiers. These types of posters also played upon a woman’s sense of guilt. The government insisted that women who chose to sit at home and do nothing were just as bad as men who avoided the draft and that everyone needed to pull together in order to win the war. They continued to use this blame tactic to convince more women to join the workforce.

In the beginning, the advertisements for women workers often featured glamorous and high-paying jobs that women could do. Jobs such as stenographers were often featured in these war posters and showed women as maintaining their femininity while at work. The women portrayed seemed fashionable and stylish, essentially what every woman wanted to aspire to.

However, in reality such jobs were few and far between and the focus of this propaganda soon shifted to the regular low-status jobs that needed filling. Around 1943, a major labour shortage was happening in the United States and to alleviate this, the administration started to put forward posters which featured grittier but necessary jobs that had not been previously highlighted. Many workers were needed in manufacturing factories that produced everyday goods for people. There were also many empty spaces within the munitions sector that the government was eager to fill in order to keep the war effort going. The images in war posters now shifted to showcase females as factory workers. The women in the posters were portrayed as hard workers who did not care about their appearance while on the job. While assuring that these women were still feminine underneath all of the dirt and sweat, these advertisements clearly demonstrated the duty that these women were serving for their country, again playing on a woman’s patriotic side.

Women were often concerned that they would not be able to work in manufacturing because of their lack of experience and skills. As well, many did not wish to leave their homes as they believed their absence would cause their home-life to crumble due to nobody doing the housework they were used to performing. To fight these fears, posters were distributed which equated factory work with regular housework. These types of advertisements quelled the fears that many women had as they assured them that the skills required to work in a factory did not differ greatly from those that they already possessed.

Also by showing how alike factory work and housework were, the government emphasized that a woman’s place was still in the home and by working in a factory, she was still supporting her household. The administration did not make war work look too easy as they wanted them to take it seriously. However, many men expressed an apprehension with letting their wives enter the labour force. As most of the war posters were directed at housewives with little or no experience to the war, the unwillingness of men to participate could really hinder the supply of women available to work. To combat this, the government distributed many war posters encouraging men to allow their wives and daughters to join the labour force. Propagandists painted it as a heroic and patriotic duty to the country.

It is in this area of propaganda that we see one of the most popular images which emerged from the war: the face of Rosie the Riveter. The term Rosie the Riveter was first coined in a song by the same name composed by Redd Evans and Jacob John Loeb. This gave way to the term “Rosies,” which was not only applied to those women who worked with rivets but any woman whose work helped to win the war. Many visual forms of this ideal exist, but the most famous version is the “We Can Do It!” poster. Although Rosie is heavily associated with the popular folk artist Norman Rockwell, the illustrator responsible for her was a man named J. Howard Miller. He worked for Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, a corporation which played a heavy hand in creating war propaganda geared towards launching women in the workplace. Miller used an actual riveter who lived in Detroit as a model. While still portrayed as quite feminine with her heavy eye makeup and painted red nails, Rosie was also quite muscular and strong. Her image was meant to present the ideal that should be strived for by everyday women: someone who was good at and very involved with her job, but who also remained her sense of femininity. Rosie was also meant to reflect the ideal attitude which was a mix of pride in herself and indifference to opinion. Rosie the Riveter became such an important symbol of World War Two that eight war bond sales drives focused around her image.

These are some partial lyrics to the original song:

All the day long,
Whether rain or shine,
She’s a part of the assembly line.
She’s making history,
Working for victory,
Rosie the Riveter.
Keeps a sharp lookout for sabatoge,
Sitting up there on the fuselage.
That little girl will do more than a male will do.
Rosie’s got a boyfriend, Charlie.
Charlie, he’s a Marine.
Rosie is protecting Charlie,
Working overtime on the riveting machine.
When they gave her a production need,
She was as proud as she could be.
There’s something true about,
Red, white, and blue about,
Rosie the Riveter.

And now the song itself:

 

 

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