129 – Rosie the Riveter
Cover illustration for the Saturday Evening Post (May 29, 1943)
Oil on canvas
[NARRATOR] During World War II, the character of “Rosie the Riveter” came to represent all women who took over previously male-only jobs on the home front. Rockwell’s “Rosie,” from 1943, became one of the best known. Sitting on a lunch break, rivet gun on her lap, she’s a proud and monumental presence.
[HENNESSEY] She’s based on the figure of the prophet Isaiah from the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and so she has these massive forearms, very, very muscular… but in fact, while she has this extraordinarily masculine build, she herself has a very feminine face, and there are all these little touches that show you that she’s still a woman.
[NARRATOR] Rosie wears lipstick while she works. Look at her hand holding the sandwich. Her fingernails are polished. And look in her pocket, near the middle of the painting. Peeking out is a lacy handkerchief and compact. These feminine touches suggest that her male job is only temporary. The U.S. government pointedly emphasized to women that their new roles were for the duration only. After the war, they were expected to return home.
Look under Rosie’s feet.
[HENNESSEY] The other thing that I love is she’s got her foot firmly planted on “Mein Kampf,” Hitler’s manifesto. …. again, it’s the kind of little detail that often doesn’t get picked up when you’re just looking at that image reproduced on the cover.
[NARRATOR] Now, look up at Rosie’s head.
[HENNESSEY] She also has a halo, which I think is lifted from Isaiah, but which I think gives an indication of how Rockwell viewed these women who had gone into the factories and were doing this kind of work, which in that day and age was a very new experience.
[NARRATOR] Did you ever hear about Rosie the Riveter? She’s a character from back in World War Two. What’s that on Rosie’s lap? It’s a rivet gun–
[NARRATOR] –(shouting) it’s used to build things.
[NARRATOR] There were thousands of women like Rosie that built big ships for the Navy, airplanes for the Air Force and tanks for the Army. It was tough, hard work.
During the war, women didn’t have a lot of choice about what kind of jobs they could get. When all the men went away to fight — women took over their jobs at home, including jobs like this, that people thought were “men only.”
Look up behind Rosie’s head. Did you notice she’s got a halo?
[NARRATOR] I made my Rosie look like a famous painting of a prophet from the Bible, and I kept in the halo. I guess I wanted to show that women like Rosie were special — that they were fighting the war just as hard as the men, helping any way they could at home. Women like Rosie changed people’s ideas about what was “men’s work” and what was “women’s work.”