Perhaps one of the most recognizable figures in America, Rosie the Riveter became a cultural icon during World War II. Commissioned by Westinghouse Company’s War Production Coordinating Committee, artist J. Howard Miller designed several posters depicting women at work—one of which became the famous “We Can Do It!” print. Westinghouse used these uplifting, empowering images of women in the workforce to boost morale among its many female employees.
More than six million women joined the workforce during the war, while countless numbers of the 12 million women already in the workforce left low-status and low-paying jobs to take advantage of the unprecedented opportunities in the defense industries.
Women, reported Newsweek in August 1943, “are in the shipyards, lumber mills, steel mills, foundries. They are welders, electricians, mechanics, and even boilermakers. They operate streetcars, buses, cranes, and tractors. Women engineers are working in the drafting rooms and women physicists and chemists in the great industrial laboratories.”
Though the war ended and women handed their labor-intensive jobs over to able-bodied veterans, Rosie the Riveter didn’t go away. Because of the role this female factory worker played during the war—that of strength and solidarity—women adopted her as a symbol of empowerment as feminism and Women’s Liberation gained steamed.
The resounding, positive message of “We Can Do It!” continues to hold the same power today. The industrious spirit and skill of the women Rosie represents is still alive and has inspired the generations of women who succeeded them.