Friday, November 03, 2006

Rosie the Riveter: Isaiah, with lipstick

Norman Rockwell's cover for the Memorial Day 1943 issue of the Saturday Evening Post is rarely seen because it is vigilantly copyright-protected (but you can see it here, with a story about the auction of the original for almost $5 million). More familiar is the 1942 "We Can Do It!" poster created by J. Howard Miller for the War Production Co-Ordinating Committee and therefore in the public domain.

For the Library of Congress, Sheridan Harvey examines the myth of Rose the Riveter as it played out across various media and in real life. By the time Rockwell got around to his task, she notes, "Rosie" had been popularized in song:

All the day long,
Whether rain or shine,
She's a part of the assembly line.
She's making history,
Working for victory,
Rosie the Riveter.
Keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage,
Sitting up there on the fuselage.
That little girl will do more than a male will do.

Interpreting Rockwell's image, Harvey writes,

I was first struck by the fact that she is big and dirty. She's oversized, with working-class brawn. She wears goggles and a shield. In reality, it's unlikely that she would have worn both.
The leather arm-band provides protection on the job.
She has no wedding ring.
On her lapel you can see various pins--for blood donation, victory, her security badge.
She's wearing overalls. Women didn't wear pants in public much before World War II; but during the war it became common to see women on the way to and from work in overalls or trousers.
She's wearing loafers. Only after July 1943 were safety shoes with metal toes produced for women. There had been no need to manufacture these shoes in women's sizes before because women didn't customarily work in dangerous jobs where such shoes were needed. Most women wore their own shoes.
She cradles a very large riveting gun in her lap, and it links visually to Adolf Hitler's book, Mein Kampf, beneath her feet. The implication is clear: through her defense job, she will help to crush Hitler.
The American flag background, red, white, and blue, adds to the patriotism of the cover.
Rosie is powerful, competent, and womanly.

Womanly and manly, Harvey continues: Rosie has huge arms, a heavy gun, and she's wearing overalls. But she's also wearing makeup, which was "essential to women's mental health, according to some articles of the time."

At the time, Harvey notes, people caught the resemblance of this Rosie to Michaelangelo's Isaiah in the Sistine Chapel. She applauds the way Rockwell gives this this Isaiah a ham sandwich. Read more about Rosie in myth and reality at the Library of Congress site. What a different time it was.

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