Editor’s note: This commentary was first published March 18, 2015.
WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. — As we recognize Women’s History Month this March, I am struck by the thought that heroes and role models do not have to be one single person but, in fact, can be several people. For me, this truth is especially relevant.
During World War II, many women opted to take on male dominated trades to support their families while their husbands fought in the war. This was a stark change from an era in which women typically held a position as housewives.
It was during this time that “Rosie the Riveter” was born. In 1942, Veronica Foster, who had in the previous year become the face of Canadian women in the war effort as “Ronnie the Bren Gun Girl,” donned the red bandana and rolled up her sleeves for Canada’s neighbors to the south.
“Rosie the Riveter,” as she was known in the U.S., was soon the iconic image of women entering the workplace and taking up industrial jobs in support of their nation.
Originally, it was meant to represent the millions of women employed at shipyards and manufacturing plants who were developing the nation’s military arsenal and assembling war supplies. The poster itself evolved into a multidimensional inspiration.
Shortly thereafter, Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb wrote a song in tribute to Rosie, which became very popular.
“All the day long,
Where rain or shine
She’s part of the assembly line.
She’s making history,
Working for victory
Rosie the Riveter”
Even today, Rosie’s signature expression and inherent strength are an inspiration to millions of Americans, myself included.
I first learned about Rosie when I was 7. My mom handed me a magazine to look through and I saw the bright yellow and blue background overlaid with a girl showing her muscles. I was so intrigued by the girl in the red polka-dot bandana.
From that moment on, I often asked my parents who she was, what she did and why she did it. I wanted to be exactly like her when I grew up.
I pushed myself hard in high school. During those years, we learned my mother had brain cancer, while my father’s health went from bad to worse. I needed to learn to support myself in any and every way possible. I needed to be independent. I applied myself at school, extra-curricular activities and several jobs.
My parents signed the papers for me to enter the Air Force at age 17. Three weeks after I graduated high school, I was on a plane headed to San Antonio, Texas, for basic military training.
Although I do not get my hands dirty on an assembly line every day the way Rosie did, I still pull my hair back tight and use my hands to get the job done for our military and to provide for my family.
Every time I felt I could not do something, whether in basic military training or at my duty station, I remembered the millions of women who rose above and conquered what others thought they could not.
My mother passed away while I was at my first duty station and shortly after that my father passed. During those times, I kept a positive attitude. I needed to; it was who I was and who I needed to be.
I had a can-do attitude and knew I was not alone. Thinking of Rosie helped me get back up on my feet and continue to do good things with my life and become a better Airman, a better me.
I am a single mother of two children, full-time student and a military career woman. I give 100 percent in every aspect in my life. I am a real-life Rosie.
I have a tattoo of Rosie on my right arm as a symbol of how I became who I am today. Rosie taught me that all people, not just women, can do anything they want as long as they set their mind to it — and history shows that.
World War II represented a major turning point for women as they eagerly supported the war effort. The long-term significance of the change brought about by the war provided the foundation for the contemporary women’s movement.
Although women have made tremendous progress during the past 50 years, Rosie the Riveter still stands as a beacon of inspiration and determination.
The “We Can Do It” poster means so much to women in America — a symbol that illustrates both a proud legacy and the challenges they will continue to face and conquer in the future.