We Can Do It!

What's the Deal? 

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and woke the "Sleeping Giant". The United States was now a part of the Allied Forces and dedicated to defeating the Germans and the Japanese.  

World War II was pivotal for the U.S. in so many ways. Least of which was its workforce. President Roosevelt's focus was on pulling the country out of the worst recession in our history, and the majority of the funding of the 1933 New Deal went to public works projects. This package included public buildings (municipal buildings, schools, hospitals), transport infrastructure (roads, railroads, bridges, pipelines, canals, ports, airports), public spaces (public squares, parks, beaches), public services (water supply and treatment, sewage treatment, electrical grids, dams). However, now he needed to shift his focus to war, and in doing so, he created a new term, the military-industrial complex.  

Roosevelt knew that the U.S. had a small and depleted military and needed to build it up fast. He turned to the top industrial leaders of the time, Henry Ford (plains), Pierre Dupont (munitions), William Knudsen, Chrysler Co. (tanks), and Henry Kaiser (ships).

He Helped Us See

William S Knudsen was the a lieutenant general in the US Army, the only civilian ever to join the army at such a high initial rank.

These men were all competitors for most of their lives but had decided that it was in the country's best interest for them to unite. This collaboration was led by lieutenant general, William Knudsen (born in Denmark), the former President of GM, to manage all aspects of war production.

No civilian ever held this rank, for instance, he had to be hand-picked by F.D.R. to manage each team and to leverage their individual expertise to benefit the whole. This was a entirely new way of doing things. One of their most significant gains, as an example, was in allowing women to join the workforce.

Over There

In 1942 war production was ramping up, and jobs were plentiful, but skilled workers were not. The main issue was most of the eligible working men were off fighting the war. There were more jobs than there were men. As a matter of fact, 16 million men were mobilized for the war effort.
Before 1941, only 1% of women accounted for the workforce in the U.S. After 1945, that number jumped to 37%. That number equates to 1 in 4 married women were working in high-paying factory jobs. But how did this all come about? What was the spark that gave women the idea to work in a male-dominated field like factory work?

When you think about the term, factory worker, what comes to mind? Yes, a man in overalls, dirty and usually a bit grumpy. Or am I just describing your dad? In any case, this was the picture of the typical factory worker in the 1930s. Roosevelt knew he needed a good marketing campaign to appeal to women, and in addition to the higher pay companies offered, he needed a hook. Enter the War Advertising Council, which implemented a massive national campaign to usher women into the workplace through patriotism and beauty. Rosie the Riveter is born.

Everything is Coming up Rosie

There are two claims to the famous Rosie the Riveter poster that I found in my research. The first is that J. Howard Miller took a picture of Naomi Parker Fraley, working on a lathe at Alameda Naval Air station in 1942. He saw a beautiful young woman in overalls and a bandanna bent over a machine and thought, beauty makes the clothes, not the other way around. He knew if he could capture her femininity while working a tool and die machine, other women would feel comfortable doing the same. 

In an interesting twist, for about 40 years, historians claimed Naomi's picture was Geraldine Hoff Doyle as the model for the poster.  The debate is still out on the web, even after Seton Hall University professor James J. Kimble had tracked down the original photo and found that it was credited to "Naomi Parker" in 1942.

The second version is that Norman Rockwell's image of "Rosie the Riveter" on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on Memorial Day, May 29, 1943, is the real woman behind the campaign. Rockwell's illustration features a brawny woman taking her lunch break with a rivet gun on her lap and beneath her penny loafer a copy of Adolf Hitler's manifesto, Mein Kampf

Norman Rockwell's image of "Rosie the Riveter" 1943 Saturday Evening Post

The Me Generation

An interesting side note is that the iconic Rosie the Riveter poster was only displayed for about two weeks and then replaced with a new poster. The image stayed dormant for a while and came back to national prominence during the 1980s. The image was adopted as a feminist symbol of strength and an icon of American resilience. Women instantly identified themselves as Rosie the Riveter, and the 1942 poster of Naomi Parker Fraley quickly became the most widely recognizable “Rosie.”

Together We Stand

There are many people responsible for Rosie and her impact on our lives. However, in my opinion, it is not the image that matters most. I believe it is the idea of her strength and power that captures men and women alike.  I also think it struck people that it took individuals from many different backgrounds, ideologies, religions, and ethnicities to come together in order to defeat the Axis Powers

The narrative I see played out today is that we must isolate ourselves and draw lines of distinction between us and them. Only, there is no them. We are the human race, and no matter how others try to divide us, we all come from this planet and have a common need to be connected. If you doubt me, check and see if you have a contact list or social media app on your phone. If so, I rest my case.

Trust in What You Don't Understand

We don't need a world leader to declare war in order to bring us together. We are at a critical change point right now, and we can choose to connect with our feelings, thoughts, and intentions and release our anxiety and fear. No major industrial production is needed, just the idea of unity and common good will do. If you decide to do this work, you'll see a change in yourself first and then in others. Just like Rosie said, "We can do it!"

As a side note, I'd like to wish my daughter Sophia a Happy 14th Birthday today.  I love you! 

Sophia Kies is born!


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