During the World War II years more than six million women entered the workforce. Many were hired for positions that had up until that time been defined as “men’s jobs” in basic industries: automobiles, shipbuilding, aircraft manufacturing, electrical equipment manufacture, and transportation. At the peak of wartime employment, women constituted between one-third and one-half the workers in many basic industries. Some historians have called this change transformative as it swept aside opposition to hiring women workers and cleared the way for a massive expansion of the female workforce in the second half of the twentieth-century. However, a closer look at the evidence indicates that World War II never fully legitimized the entry of women into the labor market. Women were seen as being in the workforce on a temporary basis, for the duration of the national emergency. The types of social supports and day care facilities that would have had to be established for women to fully participate in the labor market were never put into place. Employers and many labor unions assumed that when the men came home from the service they would reclaim their jobs and women would return to the domestic sphere. These expectations were reinforced by the memory of the Great Depression with many policy makers, union officials, and business men thinking that unemployment would once again become a problem and that male heads of households needed to be assured that they could return to their jobs. Whatever the cause, at the end of the war the vast majority of the Rosies left or were forced out of their wartime production jobs. Many found other work, mostly in traditional female jobs. Others married and raised families in an era when the Feminine Mystique defined domestic relations in the United States.

Spargel Productions and New York University’s Tamiment Library are collaborating on a project to document the stories of Rosie the Riveter. These oral histories were created on digital video and portions of them will be used in the forthcoming Spargel Production new media project “The Girl With The Rivet Gun.” They are being preserved at the Tamiment Library. Most are full life histories describing early family history, education, employment experiences before the war, wartime work, and life after World War II. As one would expect, a complex picture that emerges from these interviews. Looking back the narrators found their wartime work experience transformative. It changed the ways in which they viewed themselves, instilling confidence, leading them to question the idea of separate spheres and providing a sense of pride and accomplishment that remained with them throughout their lives. This may be one of the reasons that most of these Rosies continued to work outside the home. Many went on to college and graduate school, and had very interesting careers. Beyond that the experiences varied. African American women faced particular challenges with racial discrimination. Class, ethnicity, and sexual orientation also defined the wartime and postwar experiences of many of the Rosies.

The intellectual scaffolding for the interviews presented on this site is based on a growing body of historical literature about Rosie the Riveter. Discussions between narrators and interviewers focused a wide range of topics including:

  • Transitions from farm to factory, rural to urban America
  • Relations with supervisors
  • Gender relations and discrimination at work
  • The development of new patterns of occupational segregation
  • Sex typing of jobs during the war
  • Images of femininity in the war plants
  • Equal pay
  • Ambiguities in job classification as gender definitions become malleable
  • Trade union experiences
  • Women’s role in the union movement
  • Ideas about seniority and aspirations for permanent jobs
  • How experiences vary between industries and job sites
  • Family roles
  • The continuing ideal of domesticity
  • Issues of child care and housework--the “double day”
  • Race relations
  • Sexual orientation and work experience
  • Getting, spending, and consumerism
  • Conflict and accommodation as pre-war sex segregation returns
  • Response to losing their jobs at war’s end
  • Post-war employment experiences- most of these Rosies continued to work after the war.

Spargel Productions is a documentary production company founded in 2002 by filmmakers and theater artists Anne de Mare and Kirsten Kelly. Their work has been supported by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Sundance Institute, The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The Michigan Humanities Council, The Michigan Arts Council, The Chicago Community Trust, Polk Bros. Foundation, The Hite Foundation and The Philip and Cheryl Milstein Foundation (among others). Their first feature, Asparagus! Stalking the American Life, about spirited farmers in rural western Michigan, premiered at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in 2006 and went on to win Best Documentary and Audience Choice awards across the country before broadcasting regionally on PBS. They are currently working on The Homestretch, a feature film about homeless high school students in inner-city Chicago, which is a co-production with the legendary Kartemquin Films (Hoop Dreams, The New Americans, The Interrupters). They have produced and directed documentary projects for New York University, The Juilliard School, The Park Avenue Armory, and Lincoln Center’s Beyond The Machine concert. Anne and Kirsten bring the unique storytelling sensibility of a theatre background to their film work. They share a deep commitment to projects that celebrate the transformative power of the human spirit, where the individual experience illuminates the face of society as a whole. For more information on additional projects, please visit www.spargelproductions.com

Elizabeth Hemmerdinger began her career as a playwright, winning the NYU Tisch School of the Arts MFA Goldberg Prize for We Can Do It! which she is now adapting as a musical. Her play Squall was the winner of the U.S. West Theatre Festival. That and two other plays, Fine Family and The National Treasure, have been produced from Williamstown Theater Festival to Europe. Her growing cycle of 10-minute Rage Plays, some published by Playscripts, Inc. – including Rug Rage, Road Rage, Pissed Sister (from which GOOD SISTER is adapted) and The Pier Group – are produced around the country. Hemmerdinger is Producer/Writer on an animated, interactive, new-media project, THE GIRL WITH THE RIVET GUN, based on these stories. In collaboration with award-winning documentary filmmakers Anne de Mare and Kirsten Kelly, this project is in the early stages of development, supported by funding from the Hite Foundation and the Philip and Cheryl Milstein Foundation. GOOD SISTER, a short film written and produced by Hemmerdinger, is an official selection of the Boston International Film Festival (April 2013) and New York New Filmmakers (December 2013). ELAINE: SHOOT ME, produced and directed by Chiemi Karasawa and produced by Elizabeth Hemmerdinger, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. This film has already been shown at the Berkshire International Film Festival, will be shown at the Traverse City Film Festival and has been named one of the 5 most essential documentaries of 2013. It will have a major theatrical release in the coming months. Hemmerdinger is Executive Producer of LOST AND SOUND, an award-winning British documentary that follows 3 artists over 2 years, as they journey deep into silence and sound to re-discover music after deafness. In October 2013, Elizabeth Hemmerdinger and Anne de Mare, who also collaborated on BEYOND THESE WALLS, a film about the experiences of Baroness Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò during World War II, screened their film and participated in a symposium entitled Women and War in a prestigious “La Pietra Dialogue,” at Villa La Pietra, New York University’s campus in Florence, Italy. Hemmerdinger, currently Visiting Artist at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, has written for Ms. Magazine; is a member of the Board of Directors of Women's Voices for Change, and a regular contributor to its website. She was a founding board member of Dancing Dreams, which teaches a unique collaboration between high school girls and children with severe physical disabilities.


For The Real Rosie The Riveter Project:

  • Dr. Michael Nash, Chief Historian and Curator
  • Elizabeth Hemmerdinger, Executive Producer
  • Anne de Mare, Director and Producer
  • Kirsten Kelly, Director and Producer
  • Brian Hoffman, Manager of Publications and Access
  • Mark Reilly, Site Design
  • Melitte Buchman, Digital Content Manager
  • Alexandra Naides, Associate Producer
  • MiMi Rose Hall, Associate Producer
  • Sacha Schwimmer, Associate Producer/Historical Research

Special Thanks to Carol Mandel; Donnaleen Lanktree and the American Rosie The Riveter Association; Frances Resheske; Dale Hemmerdinger; Alice Moscoso; and to all our funders:

  • Mr. Robert H. Abrams
  • ACC Construction
  • Benjamin and Susan Winter Foundation
  • Bernard & Anne Spitzer Charitable Trust
  • Senator Richard and Mrs. Cynthia Blumenthal
  • Consolidated Edison Co. of New York
  • Denise & Andrew Saul Foundation
  • Heidi Ettinger
  • Charlotte K. Frank, Ph.D.
  • Schiff Hardin
  • Ruth Sulzberger Holmberg
  • Michael Katz
  • Mrs. Naomi B. Levine
  • Chris McGuinness
  • PLM Foundation
  • Palisades Media Corp
  • Peter Malkin Fund
  • Jack and Valerie Rowe
  • Mr. Judith Seslowe
  • Silverstein Properties, Inc.
  • Susan and Elihu Rose Foundation
  • Town Hall Foundation, Inc
  • Lillian Vernon Foundation

and A Very Special Thanks to all the Rosies who participated in this project.