I was amazed to read NBC News Correspondent, Mike Taibbi’s, report “A Rosie the Riveter Still on the Job at 93” and learn that one of the original Rosies continues to work and not just at any job but at the Boeing plant in Long Beach California. Taibbi interviewed, Elinor Otto, 93, who still gets up at 4 a.m. each morning and drives to the Boeing plant, where she inserts rivets into the wing sections of C-17 cargo planes. It’s a job she’s been doing at various aircraft assembly plants since 1942 when she was part of the original Rosie Brigades.
“We were part of this big thing,” Otto said. “We hoped we’d win the war. We worked hard as women, and were proud to have that job.”
Otto’s first job paid 65 cents an hour, about $38 less than she makes now, and she had to pay $20 a month for her young son’s childcare.
At war’s end, the “Rosies” disappeared. “Within days we were gone,” Otto said.
And with bills still to pay, Taibbi notes, Otto tried other lines of work. But office jobs didn’t appeal to her, and a short stretch as a carhop fell by the wayside when they told her she had to do the job on roller-skates. A stroke of luck though: Southern California had come out of the war with a booming aircraft industry and Otto’s skill set — she was an ace with a rivet gun — brought her back into the game.
Otto’s story inspired me to do a little more “Rosie Brigade” research and I discovered there really was a riveter named Rose who worked in the Willow Run Aircraft Factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Neither that Rosie or our Otto, however, was the famous character depicted in the well-known 1942 poster by J. Howard Miller with the title ”We Can Do It.” Miller’s character was a fictional representation of all the Rosies, and his bandanna-clad Rosie became one of the most successful recruitment tools in American history, and remains an iconic image of working women.
Another iconic, albeit far more political, Rosie poster was created by Norman Rockwell for The Saturday Evening Post May, 1943, cover. Rockwell portrayed Rosie with a flag in the background and a copy of Adolf Hitler’s racist tract “Mein Kampf” under her feet.
Though the images are fiction the working Rosies were certainly real. American women entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers during World War II, as widespread male enlistment left gaping holes in the labor force. More than 310,000 women worked in the U.S. aircraft industry in 1943, making up 65 percent of the industry’s total workforce (compared to just 1 percent in the pre-war years).
So why is Elinor Otto, one of the original Rosie’s still working today?
She says, “I’m a working person, I guess. I like to work. I like to be around people that work. I like to get up, get out of the house, get something accomplished during the day.”
One of the things she’s accomplished, Taibbi reports, is to serve as an inspiration — to her co-workers, her boss, and to those who honored Otto when they founded the Rosie the Riveter Park in Long Beach, CA this past September.
Perhaps the greatest accolade came from her boss, Don Pitcher, who said, “Otto is still on the job because she can still do it!
To remain so relevant at age 93 – that’s truly an inspiring accomplishment!