Date of Award


Degree Type

Honors College Thesis

Academic Program

Journalism BA


Mass Communication and Journalism

First Advisor

David R. Davies, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

David R. Davies, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Sabine Heinhorst, Ph.D.

Advisor Department

Mass Communication and Journalism


Rosie the Riveter is a common feminist icon; however, few people know what happened to the Rosies after the war. Due to the Veterans Preference Act, women lost their jobs and went back to their home lives, which is contrary to the belief that women were incorporated into the workforce after World War II. Many women were laid off and had to fight to keep their jobs, resort to stereotypical female work, or revert to the caretaker of the home. While these women struggled for equality, there was a sustained increase in the number of women in the workforce in the years after the war, but not to the degree that it was during the war.

This thesis also argues that African American women were not typically considered Rosies and it was found that African American women were often turned away from factory work up until near the end of the war. This scholarly writing uses primary sources to show that women joined the workforce as a duty to the country and the war effort and that some of the women did not want to continue their work after the war. Other women wanted to continue working and earning their wages.

Industry leaders had varying opinions on incorporating women into the workforce. Henry J. Kaiser, who owned shipyards, defended women and their needs in the workplace. Kaiser also had an internal industrial magazine for his workers, called Bo’s’n’s Whistle that portrayed women in shipyards as sexual beings, oddities, and helpless. Cartoons and advertisements in the magazine make fun of women to boost male worker morale.

This thesis includes numerous first-hand accounts of real Rosies from Oral Histories provided by the National World War II Museum and the New York Times archives, including black women such as Betty Soskin. Soskin discusses the issues black women faced during the war. Fashion also took a turn during the war due to rationing and changing ideas of femininity. Women no longer needed heels and dresses, and instead needed overalls and work shirts.

After the war, most women wanted to continue working while men who had returned from the war returned to the role of being the providers of the family. Society was increasingly becoming middle class and the new American Dream was considered as white families shifted to neighborhoods in the suburbs and husbands got their college education, using the G.I. Bill. Women continued to work but transitioned to retail spaces and other more feminine industries as well as journalism and sales. While Rosie the Riveter helped women enter the workforce, equality in the workforce did not come until much later.

Keywords: Rosie the Riveter, women in the workforce, World War II, Henry J. Kaiser, Bo’s’n’s Whistle, wartime fashion