Women working a Ford factory in 1942

Rosie the Riveter

A symbol of strength and determination for all women, Rosie the Riveter was born at Willow Run.

Rosie the Riveter is the muscle-flexing woman exclaiming “We Can Do It” in the famous World War II poster. She has become an icon not only for women who kept the U.S. factories rolling during wartime, but for all women of strength and determination. The original Rosie was a Ford employee from Ford’s Willow Run bomber plant named Rose Will Monroe.

The history of Rosie the Riveter begins when Monroe became the nation’s poster girl for women joining the labor force during World War II. The term “Rosie,” taken from her first name, came to symbolize all women who continued to fill what had previously been men’s factory jobs, maintaining the company’s labor force as thousands of men fought overseas. During peak production at Willow Run assembly plant, up to one third of the workforce consisted of women.

Rose Will Monroe worked on the Willow Run assembly line building B-29 and B24 “Liberator” military planes. While on duty, she caught the eye of Hollywood producers who were casting the part of a “riveter” for a promotional film encouraging Americans to buy war bonds. Her exposure in that film resulted in the popular “We Can Do It!” poster by J. Howard Miller.

Women of today have the Rosies to thank for ground gained in women’s empowerment. The Rosies are often credited with being the first substantial force of working women, and for creating the modern model for child daycare. The Rosie phenomenon broke race barriers, as women of all races worked side by side in the factories. The war presented the opportunity for roughly six million women to prove they could do a man’s job, performing plant operations that were high risk and physically taxing even for men.

The Rosies also created a new model of economic freedom for women, because many were earning a paycheck for the first time in their lives. As a result, while some Rosies returned home to their previous lives following the war, many did not. The percentage of women in the workforce grew from 20% in 1941 to 36% in 1945. These industrious women would go on to start businesses, fulfill vocations and to balance work and home life, opening the doors for the generations of working women to follow.

Honor Flight for RealLife Rosies infographic
Honor Flight for Real-Life Rosies

In 2000, the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park was established in Richmond, California to commemorate these remarkable women. In 2003, Ford Motor Company gathered select Rosies and their direct descendants at Rosie the Riveter National Park as part of a ceremony to announce a nationwide effort to collect stories and memorabilia commemorating the World War II Home Front effort. In 2016, Ford Motor Company Fund and others sponsored a flight of 31 original Rosies to Washington, DC for events in their honor at the World War II memorial and the Library of Congress.