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Real Rosie the Riveters: Rare Color Photos From WWII

Meet a few of the extraordinary women who kept the American war effort running.

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From our new special issue on WWII

This Real-Life Rosie story comes from our new special edition, on newsstands now or wherever magazines are sold, with never-before-seen stories, photographs, and moments of World War II.

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The origin of “Rosie”:

Following the mass enlistment brought on by the attack on Pearl Harbor, women started filling pivotal industry jobs in fields such as airplane or munitions production. Rosie the Riveter was born. Before the war, just one percent of the U.S. aircraft industry’s workforce was composed of women.

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The changing roles during the war:

6.1 million women joined the workforce at the beginning of World War II. By the end of the war, that number had jumped to 16.5 million.

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In the plane:

“Handling the gun was only half the job,” wrote Helen Kosierowski, who applied for a job in 1943 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard to rivet together the B-29 Flying Fortress. “You needed a partner to ‘buck’ (or flatten) the rivets, and that was draining work.”

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No experience necessary:

31 percent of all WWII factory workers were previously full-time housewives.

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It paid to be patriotic:

49 percent of women who joined the wartime workforce were earning their first paycheck.

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All hands on deck:

60 percent of women entering the workforce during WWII were over 35 years old.

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What the work was worth:

$31.21 was the average weekly wage of skilled women workers, which is about $427 today.

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Living history:

Proud of their place in American efforts, 200 WWII-era female factory workers attended the dedication of the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California, in October 2000.

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Badges of honor:

The following ID cards, pins, and skill certificates serve as mementos of the women who stepped up to become our country’s welders, electricians, and more. A Gallup poll taken at the end of the war revealed that 86 percent of the country felt women should no longer work in factories.

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Richmond Shipyard Number One, 56220

“Riveting made your whole body shake,” recalled Evelyn Robinson of South Bend, Indiana, who was sent to a plane-assembly plant to work on wing panels.

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Membership Card, Local Union 840

An Edith Whitsell got her union card on May 1, 1945. “This is a worker’s war,” it declared. “Produce to win!”

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North American Aviation, Inc. of Texas

Frances A. Heard, of Dallas, Texas, as seen in her identification card.

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Richmond Shipbuilding Corporation, 2088

Many of the workers signed up for after-hours shifts, such as midnight to 8 a.m.

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Richmond Shipyard Number 3 of Kaiser Co. Inc., 30163

How tall you were was important, recalled Josephine Juliano of Toms River, New Jersey: “In 1943, while my husband was serving overseas, I went to work at the Port Newark shipyard in New Jersey. I was assigned to drill holes on sheets of metal, using a radial automatic drill that stood well over my head. I had to reach up so high, my shirt would come untucked, exposing my stomach.”

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Qualified American Bureau of Shipping Welder

Some of the training courses were only two weeks long, and the women needed to learn how to use the rivet gun. When the instructor thought the women could handle the job, they were sent to rivet planes together. Here, S. R. Alvarez passed her course at the Pre-Fab Welding School to receive her certificate.

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Pratt & Whitney

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DeRossi and Son Co., 18

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More extraordinary stories:

Many more never-before-seen stories, photographs, and moments are in our glossy World War II special edition. On newsstands now or wherever magazines are sold.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest