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Descendants keep Rosie the Riveter’s patriotism alive

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Posted on: April 11, 2024

By JESSIE NEWBURN 

The iconic Rosie the Riveter image is a well-known one: A dark-eyed woman wearing a red-and-white polka dot head scarf rolls up her sleeve, ready for work, the words “We Can Do It!” printed boldly behind her.

As many of the nation’s young men enlisted in the military during World War II, their jobs at home were left vacant. For both basic commercial functions and national security, America’s businesses, and particularly its factories, needed to not only keep working, but produce at even higher levels to support the war effort. 

Business and government leaders soon realized they needed women to fill these vacancies, and a number of promotional campaigns began, urging women to fulfill their patriotic duty and enter the workforce.

And they did. Millions of women supported the war effort by working in factories, shipyards and defense-production jobs — and in a host of other roles, too. They were known then, and are still known today, as Rosie the Riveters. Those Rosies kept farms going, drove trucks to deliver goods and supplies and managed war-effort factory production. They essentially did whatever needed to be done. 

“As a girl in school, we made toiletry bags and gave them to boys in the services,” Ann Marie Miller said. Miller is president of the Laurel Chapter of the American Rosie the Riveter Association (ARRA), a nationwide organization dedicated to honoring and expanding the memory of Rosie the Riveters’ contributions and lives. “We’d put shaving equipment, deodorant and a toothbrush in the bags … those kinds of things. Other school-aged girls wrapped bandages to be used in the field. Basically, if you worked in support of the war effort, as a volunteer or employee, you were a Rosie.” 

The Birmingham-based ARRA was founded in 1998. Members are either direct descendants of Rosies (daughters are called Rosebuds, and sons are known as Rivets) or have married a Rosie or Rivet. Members in various chapters work both together and independently to keep Rosie memories alive, telling stories of women who repaired airplanes, worked as laboratory technicians, rigged parachutes, served as radio operators, analyzed photographs, flew military aircraft across the country, test-flew newly repaired planes — and undertook any manner of other work in support of the war effort.

Laurel has one of two ARRA chapters in the state (Baltimore has the other). Members bring presentations, artifacts and stories to local libraries, schools, Scout meetings, and other groups and events. (And, yes, they’re always looking for good opportunities to speak locally and introduce more people to the Riveters’ stories.)

Pat Farmer, secretary of the Laurel ARRA chapter (and the only person in the organization who is neither a Rosie nor married to a descendant), attended such a public meeting in 2011. “I felt as if I were witnessing living history as I listened to several of the Rosies speak,” Farmer said. “I felt truly inspired and motivated by their stories, and I wanted to be a part of ARRA and keeping their stories alive.”

Millions of women — many of them with brothers and husbands in the war — left their hometowns and moved to war-production factories throughout the nation, where they received training in welding, riveting, munitions production and more. 

“To hear the Rosies speak,” Farmer said, “they had good times and bad times, for sure; though for the most part, they loved the work and the friendships they developed. They were all new in town and new to their jobs, so they helped each other a lot. They were happy when the war was over and their men came back, though many were sad to leave the friends they’d come to know and the interesting, well-paying work, too.” 

On April 10, Miller, along with ARRA chapter members from throughout the nation, was to attend an award ceremony held in the U.S. Capitol where a single Congressional Gold Medal would be given collectively in the names of 16 million civilian women and girls who held employment or volunteered in support of the war efforts during World War II. 

“We’re all so very proud of what our mothers did, and while not one of them did what they did for recognition or fame, it means a lot to see them now receive this Congressional Gold Medal in honor of their patriotic service and support,” Miller said.

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