Rosie the Forger
The passing of Mary Doyle Keefe in late April at 92 was not lost on us and, combined with another event, prompts the topic for this month.
In her own identity, Keefe was known to almost none of us. But after two mornings modeling for Norman Rockwell in his Arlington, Vt., studio in 1943 (for which she received $10), she became “Rosie the Riveter.” Keefe, a petite woman, saw herself as a bulky and brawny “Rosie” only after the painting was done. Rosie made her debut on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on May 29, 1943, and from then on she became the cultural icon for a generation of women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II.
These women did more than their part in the war by working in the traditionally male-dominated factories that produced war equipment and material in support of the nation and the men who went off to fight as soldiers in the European or Pacific theatres of the conflict. A similar labor shortage of male workers occurred during World War I, but it wasn’t until the 1940s and Rockwell’s portrait that Rosie’s time had truly come. During WWII women were turning lathes, running drill presses and, of course, riveting aircraft frames, tanks, ordnance and so much more.
Rosie’s role changed when peace came in May and August of 1945, and she became a feminist symbol in a broader cultural context. More than 70 years after Rosie’s Post cover, her reputation is still known to young and old alike of both sexes. More importantly, Rosie opened the entire workplace to female employment and did away with the issue of gender as a limiting factor in the types of employment a woman could realistically seek.
Or did she?
The fact is that women within the manufacturing sector comprise only 29% of total employment, which is nowhere near representative of their proportion in the general population. Biological and cultural roles can explain part of the difference, but those roles cannot explain all of it. Women in the “forgings and stampings” industrial cohort comprise only 25% of the workforce. Only 13% of the foundry workforce is female, and my guess is that if forging was its own category the number of female employees would be closer to that percentage – a lot closer.
In three decades covering the metalworking beat I have observed firsthand the dearth of women within its ranks. But I have also observed an increasing percentage of female students (and faculty) drawn to career paths in metalworking technologies and processes.
And so we come to the second event that inspired this topic.
Some months ago, Sharon Haverstock, a retired executive from Scot Forge turned benefactress, endowed a new Forging Industry Women’s Scholarship designed to attract and train women who could well become this industry’s future leaders. Details about this scholarship are given in this issue’s FIERF Forum on page 10, but for now let’s suffice to say that her investment in the forging industry’s future is a much needed and visionary one.
Thank you, Ms. Haverstock, for your generous gift. For that, you have earned the gratitude of an industry … and the last word in this column.
“The bottom line is I passionately would like to see more women take advantage of the opportunity to experience what I did – a fun and rewarding career with leadership roles in an exciting industry. I believe ‘paying it forward’ by establishing this women’s scholarship can help make that happen.”
Dean M. Peters, Editor