Honoring Women Veterans and the “Rosies”
American women stepped up with such force during World War II that they changed the course of history for our nation, democracy, and equal opportunity across the world. The U.S. Department of Labor recently inducted into the Labor Hall of Honor the “Rosies” – women who supported the war effort by riveting, welding, or participating in other industrial occupations. The name “Rosie” came from Rosalind Walter, who went to work in a Corsair factory in 1942. Rosie became a household name due to the famous, archetypical depictions of Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell in the Saturday Evening Post and J. Howard Miller’s “We Can Do It!” poster commissioned by Westinghouse.
It was a great honor to recently meet June Robbins. We could not have won the war without June, the other Rosies and the millions of Americans both in and out of uniform who came together for a common cause. As the son and nephew of three Navy veterans who survived the Second World War, I am particularly grateful for June’s role in upgrading the fleet and making our ships less susceptible to naval mines. June helped write a truly inspiring chapter of American history.
During the war, America’s defense and commercial sectors were supported by approximately 5 million civilian women. Another 350,000 served in military uniform in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, the Navy Women’s Reserve, the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, the Women Airforce Service Pilots, the Army Nurses Corps, and the Navy Nurse Corps. The women in these units served with bravery and distinction. In the Army Nurse Corps alone, more than 1,600 nurses received awards for bravery under fire and meritorious service, and 16 were killed as a result of direct enemy fire near the front lines.
In August 1943, Under Secretary of War Robert Patterson applauded their efforts, saying:
The women of America have responded ably and gallantly to the call to service the war has made upon them. Nowhere is this more evident than in the plants operated by the War Department. They have supplanted men at the bench and the lathe; they are doing civilian work in the nine Service Commands efficiently and in increasing numbers. In the arsenals, in the ports of embarkation, in the motor centers, in all the War Department installations, their skills are invaluable and their devotion to duty is proven. They are testing guns, making ammunition, fixing motors, sewing uniforms, inspecting ordnance, driving trucks, doing many of the thousand and one jobs that are necessary to keep the machinery of war moving. I salute them for their faithfulness, their cheerful courage, and their patriotism.
Preparing for and fighting our nation’s battles has always required a team effort. The “Rosies” set the stage for future generations of American women and changed the way our country thinks about women in the workplace. Through their grit and determination, these women challenged the commonly accepted gender stereotypes of the day. Today, women make up 47% of the overall civilian labor force and there are nearly 2 million living women veterans. We are proud to honor the memory of the “Rosies,” our women veterans, and the women leaders and workers building on their legacy.
John Lowry is the Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service. Follow VETS on Twitter at @VETS_DOL