Cake served to guests at “Celebrating West
Virginia’s Rosies”, on May 25 in Charleston
Submitted by Gary Coberly
Rosies Left a Mark
The mass introduction of women into the American workforce in civil and defense arenas initiated change on the culture of America and indeed on the western world. Cultural progress is never the result of single events – the Suffragettes gave women the vote – but financial progress for women rests more squarely on the WWII need and acceptance of women in the workforce. Their sweat and sacrifice changed the character of our nation.
After Pearl Harbor President Roosevelt called for accelerated industrial production. We had to arm not only ourselves but our allies as well – manufacturing was at a standstill in their countries. Employees of the Office of War went door to door asking women to take defense jobs. And they did!
With the men away at war, women stepped into defense work roles for several reasons. They were needed and it was a patriotic duty, but it also paid well. At the end many returned to their homes but as one Rosie said, “I would never be the same. I knew there were things you could use your mind for.”
Women of all ages sought to gain high level skills and salaries after years of being passed over for jobs. Here was a way to get training for better jobs free. They became riveters, welders, electricians, engineers, draftsmen and more. Phyllis Gould, now 95, was a Navy-certified journeyman welder at the Kaiser-Richmond shipyards from 1942-45. Florence Fogler was an engineer who figured out how to squeeze more power from coal by unraveling the complexities of thermodynamics at GE. West Virginia certainly owes a great deal to her.
In 1945 the men returned and most women were shut out of these jobs that they had come to depend on, but the knowledge that WE CAN DO IT was in their heads. The post-war reconstruction effort kept the need for an expanded labor force urgent. The number of working women never again fell to pre-war levels.
Now women had the skills and the will, plus they were as likely to go to college as men for further training. It became apparent that most of them could work and maintain a home. At the same time it opened the need for new jobs in child caring, transportation, clothing and support industries. Having jobs for women eased the burden on men who would otherwise have to foot all the bills and men were relieved to have a partner to halve the mortgage.
Post-war America was a time of record progress. Business boomed. Automotive manufacturers who had adapted to defense fabrication went back to cars with a vengeance – during the war women had learned to drive. Two-car families were all the rage. The higher standard we continue to enjoy was due in large part to the Rosie phenomenon.
Things did not go back to pre-war “norms.” Even entertainment changed. More money and more free time, not to mention the new freedoms and exposures farm girls found in big cities where their factories were called for more than long walks and sitting on the porch swing.
The girls and their now well-traveled mates had seen dance crazes take the nation - jitterbug, foxtrot, rumba, samba, waltz, and polka were now added to the old Virginia Reel and Grapevine Twist. The name "Arthur Murray" became a household word while the Rosies were filling precious time after defense plant work. Getting away from home had broadened horizons in many realms. Rosies had found new freedom, good money, and a chance to excel.
On December 6, 1941 Americans did not know that their world was about to change. Rosie the Riveter was a trailblazer opening doors for future generations of women entering the workforce. Rosies left a mark on America.
We can honor their effort now in Gilmer County by making a contribution to the WV Rosie the Riveter Bell project which will permanently install a commemorative bell in Glenville City Park. If you have questions, please contact Gary Coberly at 304-462-8346 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks! Plain and Simple, our state’s association to revere these women says, “We pull better if we pull together.” Please join us by making a donation for the bell in the name of Thanks! Plain and Simple or just “WV Rosie Bell” and send it to: WV Rosie the Riveter Bell, P. O. Box 163, Glenville, WV 26351