Generations at War: A local ‘Rosie the Riveter’ on women’s roles during WWII

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We Can Do It. ( National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution)

The iconic symbol of Rosie the Riveter inspired the patriotic pop song “Rosie the Riveter” in 1943, emboldened about five million women to fill the vacuum left by the rush of soldiers headed to World War II.

Fort Myers resident Marvis Long was one of them.

Growing up in Meadville, Pennsylvania, she helped make airplanes during wartime when she was 18.

“You had to pull it tight over the wing and you had to rivet it,” Long said. “You had to use the riveter all along the wing.”

Then she moved on to work with explosive materials, like TNT, which were widely used to make bombs at the time.

“It was all a secret. They picked us up by bus,” said Long. “We worked in the labs and we had to wear coveralls and cover up our hair, because the TNT, something in it would make our hair turn orange if we let our hair out, and one time I did.”

It was a drastic change in women’s roles at the time. Videos documenting their contributions pictured an easy transition.

As for Long, she embraced the work, especially knowing she played a part in helping her country.

“It was a lot of fun, even though it was wartime,” she said. “I really think it did help the women because, for a long time, it was hard for women to get a job.”

Ultimately, those opportunities created a sense of independence women had not experienced before.

The important role of women went far beyond civilian jobs.

US National Archives

In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Women’s Army Corps and women’s branches of the Naval, Marine and U.S. Coast Guard Reserves to free up even more men for combat.

The recruitment ads inspired so many women to enlist, and not just in traditional roles like nurses. They also did everything from mechanical work on planes, to flying military aircraft across the country.

At the time, it was seen as considerable progress for women.

In total, more than 350,000 American women served in the Armed Forces during WWII.

Credit: “Rosie the Riveter” song in the attached video, is performed by The Four Vagabonds; Wo​rds and Music by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb.

US National Archives

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