"GOOD WORK, SISTER"

Patronizing WWII posters show how extraordinary Rosie the Riveter really was

Patronizing WWII posters show how extraordinary Rosie the Riveter really was
Image: Library of Congress
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Rosie the Riveter, the World War II-era icon that symbolized the can-do spirit of American women filling factories during wartime, has become one of the most recognizable feminist images in recent history. But truth be told, she faced very little competition back then.

The United States Post Office presented an enlargement of the Celebrate the Century, Women Support the War stamp depicting Rosie the Riveter to the Portland Harbor Museum in South Portland, Maine, Friday, June 25, 1999. The stamp is part of a 15 stamp set honoring people, events, and lifestyles of the 1940's.
A 1999 United States Post Office stamp depicting Rosie the Riveter. The stamp is part of a 15 stamp set honoring people, events, and lifestyles of the 1940’s.
Image: AP/Joan Seidel

Images of American women in the war effort abounded in the 1940s—but mostly with passive-aggressive slogans like, “We never figured you could do a man-size job!” Some government-issued posters of the era are good natured, but it would be an understatement to say many haven’t aged well.

A look back through the collections of the  Library of Congress and National Archives underscores the limited role that women were offered at the time in the armed forces, workplace and home. Some of the posters preserved are simply condescending.

The famous Rosie, commissioned by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation, therefore had a pretty low bar to clear in terms of messaging. Her statement of inclusivity and empowerment was only recognized decades later, according to the New York Times.

“Good Work, Sister We Never Figured You Could Do A Man-Size Job!”
“Good Work, Sister We Never Figured You Could Do A Man-Size Job!”
Image: National Archives
“It’s a woman’s war too!”
“It’s a woman’s war too!”
Image: Library of Congres
Are you a girl with a Star-Spangled heart?
Are you a girl with a Star-Spangled heart?
Image: Library of Congres
“Soldiers without guns”
“Soldiers without guns”
Image: Library of Congres
“‘The girl he left behind’ is still behind him”
“‘The girl he left behind’ is still behind him”
Image: Library of Congres
“I’m Proud … my husband wants me to do my part”
“I’m Proud … my husband wants me to do my part”
Image: Library of Congres
“Secretaries of War”
“Secretaries of War”
Image: National Archives
“Become A Nurse, Your Country Needs You”
“Become A Nurse, Your Country Needs You”
Image: National Archives