By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor
When the iconic Rosie the Riveter poster was first published in 1943, the primary goal was to change American perceptions about women’s work. As men went to fight in World War II, American women joined the industrial workforce by the millions, taking jobs in defense production plants and building weapons and warplanes, work that historically had been done by men.
The muscle-flexing, bandana-wearing Rosie is an enduring symbol of the six million women who strengthened the U.S. industrial economy during and after, attaining new roles in everything from chemistry to breaking codes. Rosie was a model of strength, independence, and self-sufficiency.
The original Rosie, Rosalind P. Walter, died last week at age 95, but her legacy lives on. As the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII is commemorated this year, the contributions of the Rosies will be on full display.
Born into privilege, prep school raised, 19-year-old Walter delayed Vassar to drive rivets on an assembly line for fighter planes.
A newspaper column about her turned into a 1942 popular song, and other women later sat for a Norman Rockwell portrait (above, paired with the Michelangelo image he modeled it after) and for the Rosie posters, which have rebounded in America’s consciousness the past four decades.
Like many women of impact on history, the original Rosie the Riveter was more than a two-dimensional character. Heiress of one fortune, married into another, Walter spent the later part of her life on another patriotic effort: bankrolling public TV documentaries and shows that round out the education of fellow citizens.
And of that nickname bestowed upon her by that newspaper columnist and the musicians who made her famous? Well, the New York Times reports, the first Rosie preferred to be called Roz.
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Today in a minute
Old virus, new clues: It has been more than a century, but researchers are still probing aspects of the deadly Spanish influenza of 1918-1920. Leaders hid the effects and reach of the terrible virus from their people, leading to its spread, writes Toby Saul for Nat Geo's History magazine. Interest in the pandemic, which killed 50 million people worldwide, has surged with the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Forgotten no more: Behind a pioneering deep-sea exploration in 1930 was a deep field of women scientists, despite ridicule of explorer William Beebe for his inclusion of the worthy, adept colleagues. Gloria Hollister Anable was Beebe’s connection to the above-the-sea world via a phone line and made sense of his remarks on the dive; Else Bostelmann transformed Beebe’s crude sketches into images of deep-sea life that transfixed explorers, writes Nat Geo’s Nina Strochlic.
A week of adventure: The assignment led Nat Geo’s Don George to giant statues of the Buddha before they were dynamited; to Machu Picchu “when it was a jumble of vines and trees and rocky ground.” George’s week in Nat Geo’s vast archives, for a story, inspired him more broadly. “How vast and fleeting and precious is this terrestrial sphere, our own sacred place,” George writes. “We can explore it with care or ignore it at our peril.”
Hire this intern: 19-year-old Nico Calman unearthed a 2,000-year-old silver dagger that may have helped the Romans battle a Germanic tribe in the first century A.D. The intern was working for the Westphalie Department for the Preservation and Care of Field Monuments in Germany when he recovered the 13-inch dagger, still in its sheath, at the grave of a Roman soldier, Smithsonian reports.
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New people, old cameras: Nat Geo asked Richard Barnes to photograph Civil War reenactments using equipment akin to those that used back then by pioneering documentary photographers Alexander Gardner, Mathew Brady, and Timothy O’Sullivan. “By photographing reenactments,” Barnes writes, “I got as close as I could to what it must have been like on the battlefield.”
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The big takeaway
Don’t mess with Eleanor: She ruled two nations. Led a crusade. Was a mother to kings and queens. Eleanor of Aquitaine gained uncommon prestige and power in 12th century Europe, with wiles and boldness that would be appreciated today. “Eleanor was a savvy player on the political stage,” writes Marina Montesano for Nat Geo’s History magazine, “unafraid to exercise the power she held.”
Subscriber exclusive: This mighty medieval woman outwitted and outlasted her rivals
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The last glimpse
Not that scary: For centuries, the only ways to reach these impressive clifftop monasteries in Greece was to climb a retractable ladder or be lifted in a net basket. These days, new tunnels, steep roads and staircases lead contemplative tourists (with little fear of heights) to the Greek Orthodox monasteries of Meteora, Daniel Stonewrites.
Subscriber exclusive: The (surprisingly accessible) route to a once-forbidding place of worship