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Giftshop

One of the more popular items in the Mare Island Museum Gift Shop is a small pendant with a picture of Rosie the Riveter on the front and the motto “Never underestimate the power of a woman” on the back. A poster of this same female is located in the museum near the display of women workers on Mare Island. Whenever school children visit the museum, we always emphasize what an important role women played in the defense plants of World War II, and how it changed the role of women in society thereafter. The amazing thing about this immediately recognized poster and “Rosie” is that she was NOT known as Rosie the Riveter during World War II. (And there were never Rosie the Riveters working at Mare Island; we did, however, have many Wendy the Welders.)

In 1942 Pittsburgh artist J. Howard Miller was hired by Westinghouse to create a series of posters for the war effort. One of those posters was entitled We Can Do It! with an image of an attractive young woman in a blue work shirt with her black curls peeping out from under a red bandanna with white polka dots, her right arm flexing its muscle. It is this image that is now called “Rosie the Riveter,” but she was never referred to as Rosie at that time. The model for the poster was 17 year old Geraldine Hoff (later Doyle) who worked at a metal stamping plant in Michigan; the poster was made from a photograph of Doyle which Miller had seen. Doyle only worked at the plant for six weeks because a co-worker injured her hand while using a machine, and since Doyle was a cellist, she was unwilling to put her musical ability at risk. This poster was seen for two weeks in February 1942 in the Midwest Westinghouse factory with the intent of encouraging other women to join the work force. It did not become famous until the 1970s and 1980s when it was rediscovered and became an icon for the women’s rights movement known as “Rosie the Riveter.”