A cultural icon birthed as propaganda for the United States’ integrative industrial efforts during World War II and later popularized as an image of American feminism, Rosie the Riveter first appeared in a 1942 song by the same name written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb.
The next year, Saturday Evening Post cover artist Norman Rockwell drew the renowned image of Rosie with her red polka-dotted bandanna, determined facial expression with red lipstick, rolled sleeve revealing her flexed right bicep and a speech bubble boldly proclaiming “We Can Do It!”
In honor of Labor Day on Monday and women in the workforce around the country, the women at Hermiston’s Marlette Homes wore that image proudly on Friday. Literally.
Organized by Kristi Brown and Imelda Tejeda, nearly two dozen women showed up for work at the housing manufacturer Friday donning the iconic red bandanna, denim jackets with rolled sleeves and red lipstick. During the lunch break, the women stood together holding a “We Can Do It!” sign as their coworkers laughed, cheered and took several photos in the cafeteria.
“I thought it was amazing because…” Tejeda started to say as the room cleared to return to work.
“It’s our history,” Brown said, finishing the thought as Tejeda nodded.
While Marlette’s employees have been throwing holiday costume contests at work for years, this was the first time one was held for Labor Day and the first time the contest transformed into a moment of empowerment.
Originally, the idea was to hold a regular costume contest with a theme of famous women in history. But as the workers started to discuss their costume plans for Friday, it became clear the contest would be hard to judge because almost everyone wanted to be Rosie the Riveter.
So it was decided that everybody would dress up like Rosie, and Brown and Tejeda took the initiative to make sure it happened.
“We believe it’s important for women to be in the workforce,” Brown said of their motivation.
Brown purchased fabric earlier in the week and Tejeda began turning it into bandannas. After about two days of work, Tejeda had enough for the women who wanted to participate while everybody was responsible for putting together the remainder of their outfit.
Other than making the bandannas, the plan went off without a hitch.
“All it took was communication,” Tejeda said.
According to David Campana, Marlette’s training and hiring manager, the manufacturer employs 215 people between the office and production floor, roughly 70 of whom are women. Many of those working the floor, such as Brown and Tejeda, participated on Friday.
Tejeda, 34, has built cabinets while working on and off at Marlette for the last five years. And Brown, 52, has spent the last six months wiring main panels but has worked on the manufacturing floor for five years in total.
“We’re doing some of the same work as the women who were doing the men’s jobs while they went to war,” Tejeda said.
Generations later, the idea that Rosie the Riveter represented still resonates with American women who have progressively filled a greater portion of the labor force and continue to integrate into manufacturing jobs that had once explicitly excluded them.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women’s participation in the workforce has grown from 32.7% in 1948 to 56.8% in 2016. But while women’s employment in manufacturing jobs rose constantly until peaking in 1990 at 33.2%, a 2016 U.S. Census Bureau report showed that figure has fallen to 29% since.
For Tejada and Brown, however; they’ve found a place where they feel valued and respected as women in manufacturing.
“I love working here and the way we treat each other,” Tejada said.
“We get pats on the back when we deserve them,” Brown added, laughing.