World War II’s real-life Rosie the Riveters look a lot like the ads themselves — only way cooler. Rosie first came to be as a character in 1942, and during the war, three million women worked at plants building tanks, guns and aircraft bombers. The campaign didn’t exist solely to motivate women to work — a lot of effort was also put into encouraging men to accept the idea of their wives taking on jobs in male-dominated industries, because apparently, some dudes at the time had a serious problem with it. A lot of us heard about this stuff in fifth grade history class, but what I didn’t know is that there are lots of real pictures of these hard-working ladies out there. I always associated the women’s war effort with those famous propaganda posters, but the real-life photos preserved by the Library of Congress are way more interesting to look at (and I know it’s not the most important part, but I have to admit, I freaking love their style). The pictures make me stop and think in a way that my childhood textbooks could never quite conjure up. As much as the turbulence of today’s world scares me, I can’t fathom what it must have been like to make the kinds of tough choices these ladies did in a time that was even more uncertain than right now — and in a society that was much more closed off to women.
A slideshow of the pictures on Stuff Mom Never Told You features women commanding power tools like total badasses. After all, as some of the posters said, if a woman could use an electric mixer, she could surely learn to use a drill. Many of the pictures were used by the U.S. government as part of the campaign. The hard part, which the pictures don’t quite touch on, is what it must have felt like for the women to be pressured to return to lower-paid, traditionally “female” jobs when the war concluded. In an age in which we’re still confronting the gender pay gap, it’s worth thinking about what has — and hasn’t — changed since the ’40s.
[Image via Library of Congress, LC-USW361-142]