By SUE SUCHYTA
HEIGHTS – Recognizing and preserving the history and legacy of the World War II Rosie the Riveters and wartime volunteer women is the enthusiastic mission of the American Rosie the Riveter Association.
Speaking to a group of seniors and other attendees at the Eton Center July 27, ARRA Willow Run Chapter members Jeanette Gutierrez and Joy Rose shared not only the essential wartime support that the women provided, but the ways in which the women forever changed the social landscape for the generations that followed them.
Gutierrez said that when 15.5 million men were sent overseas during World War II, the government estimated that 5 million women would be needed to work in the factories to help with the war effort.
She said that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew that, unlike any other war in history, World War II would be one of machines, and the side with the most machines would win.
“Our factories would become the Arsenals of Democracy,” she said. “So, when you want that many planes, tanks and guns, you call Detroit.”
In 1940, General Motors President William Knudsen helped lead the nation to convert civilian plants to war production.
Gutierrez said the need for workers was a critical component, and the country’s women stepped up.
“Rosie the Riveter is a nickname for the many women who filled the jobs that the men left behind when they went to fight in World War II,” she said. “By September of 1943, 10 million men had already gone to war, and ultimately, more than 15.5 million men would go, so, clearly, the planes, tanks, ships and guns and everything else that we so desperately needed would have to be built by women.”
To get women to work in the factories, Gutierrez said attitudes needed to shift, so that men wouldn’t be upset about not being the sole breadwinners, and women wouldn’t be worried about venturing beyond traditional pink-collar jobs like waitress, laundress, nurse or teacher.
She said the government mobilized its potential female workforce with a patriotic propaganda campaign.
“The magazine publishers, producers and ad men cooperated with the government to make working women look adventurous, patriotic and even glamorous, because women workers were what our country needed to win the war, and women answered the call,” Gutierrez said.
By 1943, women represented, on average, half of the workforce in war production plants, and for the first time, many were wearing pants. By the end of World War II, 6 million women would have joined the work force.
Presenter and ARRA member Rose said she learned her values from her Rosie the Riveter mother, a member of the Greatest Generation. She shared her mother’s wartime journey in words and photos with the rapt audience.
For more information about the American Rosie the Riveter Association, go to rosietheriveter.net, call 888-557-6743 or email [email protected]
To contact the Michigan Willow Run Chapter, call 734-662-5787 or email [email protected]