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Rockwell’s Rosie Turns 70

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In her book, Our Mothers’ War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II, Emily Yellin quotes one ordnance worker as saying,” There is no glamour in pressing a lever five thousand times a day.”

This sentiment was illustrated on the cover of the  1943 Memorial Day issue of the Saturday Evening Post. On 29 May 1943, Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter made her debut. Rockwell’s inspiration was a 1942 song written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb, and recorded by Kay Kyser. Rockwell often used his neighbors as models for his works and his Rosie was a 19-year old telephone operator from Arlington, Vermont, Mary Doyle.

Rockwell’s Rosie is a true multi-tasker. She balances a rivet gun in her lap, eats a sandwich, and nonchalantly steps on a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Rockwell ultimately illustrated over 300 covers for the Saturday Evening Post with the “Rosie” issue becoming one of his most popular. The original painting would go on the auction block at Sotheby’s and would sell to a private collector for close to $5 million. Fan correspondence and images of Rockwell’s work can be seen here in the Collection Highlights from The Normal Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

J. Howard Miller’s “We Can Do It” propaganda poster is the image that is most often associated with Rosie the Riveter—a little thinner and a little more made-up.

Whichever image of Rosie you prefer, the idea of Rosie the Riveter continues to inspire and also continues to adapt.

Make your own Rosie poster (J. Howard Miller’s version) in our Kid’s Corner!

Post by Curator Kimberly Guise.


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