In the coming week, a few aging West Virginia women will join counterparts from around America to be honored both in Washington and Holland as “Rosie the riveters” — those 1940s workers who helped win World War II and also demonstrated that women can build aircraft, ships and tanks as well as men.
First, the delegation will be cited at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Dutch Embassy in Washington. They will be thanked for helping construct B-17 bombers that airlifted 200,000 tons of food to starving Holland in the spring of 1945 after Nazi forces were driven out. The rescue saved many Dutch lives.
Next, some of the “Rosies” will travel to Holland for similar honors at the National Liberation Museum at Groesbeek.
This project is led mostly by a Charleston organization called Thanks! Plain and Simple, headed by Anne Montague. A news release from the group said:
“Rosies are women who worked on the home front during World War II on all kinds of jobs called ‘men’s work.’ Factories, farms and the government were major employers. Rosies were riveters on airplanes, welders on ships, assemblers of parts, sheet-metal workers, farm hands, administrators, expediters, inspectors and more. The number of Rosies working on the home front equaled the number of men in combat. Most are now in their 90s.”
Like male veterans of that global war, the last survivors have reached old age and are slipping away by the thousands. Soon, none will be left.
During the patriotic fervor of World War II, a hit song titled “Rosie the Riveter” by the Kay Kyser band helped stoke national resolve and unity. Paintings by Norman Rockwell and others boosted the image. Recognition of tough, competent, female defense workers was branded into U.S. history.
Subtly, it had a profound sociological effect: It eroded the former notion that all significant work was done by men, while women stayed home to tend children or held only minor, secondary, low-paid jobs.
If women could build four-engine bombers that shattered Berlin into rubble, or battleships loosing thunderous salvos, it forced everyone to realize that females had more potential than previously thought.
It helped propel the women’s rights movement in America and elsewhere. Seventy years later, U.S. women finally are rising almost to the long-sought goal of complete equality.
Those 90-ish Rosies deserve thanks for their patriotic service in World War II, and also for helping transform U.S. life.