Rosie the Riveter was Born

On June 25, 1924, Rosalind P. Walter (née Palmer) (1924-2020) was born. During her lifetime, Rosalind participated in a range of philanthropic activities and was a generous supporter of public television programming. Before her years of service to these causes, Rosalind was one of many young women who worked in the war industry during World War II.

Fuselage assembly in the Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, Stratford, Connecticut. Jack Delano, photographer, Nov. 1940. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-And-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division.

After high school, 19 year old Rosalind began working as a riveter on Corsair fighter planes at the Vought Aircraft Company in Stratford, Connecticut (pictured above).  After a newspaper article featuring Rosalind’s work was published, songwriters Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb were inspired to write the song “Rosie the Riveter.”

With the release of this song, the concept of Rosie the Riveter became a part of public consciousness. Some of the lyrics include:

“All the day long,
Whether rain or shine,
She’s a part of the assembly line.
She’s making history,
Working for victory,
Rosie the Riveter.
Keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage,
Sitting up there on the fuselage.
That little girl will do more than a male will do.”

The song concludes with:

“There’s something true about,
Red, white, and blue about,
Rosie the Riveter.”

Rosie the Riveter Song LyricsExternal. From Rosie the Riveter Lesson PlanExternal. Accessed through the Eisenhower FoundationExternal.

Riveter at work on Consolidated bomber, Consolidated Aircraft Corp., Fort Worth, Texas. Howard R. Hollem, photographer, Oct. 1942. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

It should be noted that while Rosalind may have been the first, there were many other “real life Rosies” throughout the war. Rosie the Riveter came to be a symbol of all women working in the war industries during World War II.

After the release of the song inspired by Rosalind, the image of Rosie the Riveter was further cemented in the public imagination in large part due to the circulation of illustrations and propaganda. On May 29, 1943, the  Norman Rockwell Rosie illustrationExternal was published on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. In the 1940’s the circulation of The Saturday Evening Post was estimated to be around 4 million, and they always printed extra copies when a Rockwell illustration was on the cover.

Today, perhaps the most famous of all the Rosie imagery is “We Can Do It,” created by J. Howard Miller and published by Westinghouse. Surprisingly, “We Can Do It” was not widely circulated during the war years, and there is no evidence to suggest that it was ever seen outside of the Westinghouse factory floors. The popularity of “We Can Do It” is largely attributed to its inclusion in a 1982 Washington Post Magazine article, “Poster Art for Patriotism’s Sake,” about the poster collections at the National Archives.

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Custer’s Last Stand

On June 25, 1876, George Armstrong Custer and the 265 men under his command lost their lives in the Battle of Little Big Horn, often referred to as Custer’s Last Stand.

Sitting Bull…Bismarck, D.T.. David Frances Barry, photographer, c1885. Prints & Photographs Division
Portrait of Maj. Gen. George A. Custer, Officer of the Federal Army. Brady’s National Photographic Portrait Galleries, [Jan. 4, 1865]. Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints. Prints & Photographs Division

Educated at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Custer proved his brilliance and daring as a cavalry officer of the Union Army in the Civil War. Major General George McClellan appointed the twenty-three-year-old Custer as brigadier general in charge of a Michigan cavalry brigade. By 1864, Custer was leading the Third Cavalry Division in General Philip Sheridan‘s Shenandoah Valley campaign. Throughout the fall, the Union Army moved across the valley—burning homes, mills, and fields of crops.

View of a Cheyenne Village at Big Timbers…. Daguerreotype by Solomon Carvalho, probably copied by Mathew Brady’s studio, between 1853 and 1860. Daguerreotypes. Prints & Photographs Division

This daguerreotype of an Indian village in Kansas Territory, taken during the Frémont Expedition in 1853, is one of the Library’s oldest images of the Plains Indians of the American West. Click on the image for a much sharper view of four large tipis (variant of teepees) standing at the edge of a wooded area.

The 3rd Custer div. on the 7th of Octr. retiring and burning the forage…Somewhere near Mt. Jackson. Alfred R. Waud, artist, October 7, 1864. Drawings (Documentary). Prints & Photographs Division

This sketch of Custer’s division retiring from Mount Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley on October 7, 1864, is by Alfred Waud, a Civil War sketch artist who documented the war for the press. Sketch artists provided the public’s only glimpse of battle at a time when the shutter speed of cameras was not fast enough to capture action. Waud routinely ventured dangerously close to the fighting, portraying more intimately than any other artist, the drama and horror of the Civil War.

Tapped to pursue General Robert E. Lee‘s army as it fled from Richmond, Custer himself received the Confederate flag of truce when Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House. At the end of the Civil War, he was commissioned to the western frontier as part of an army campaign to impress and intimidate hostile Plains Indians with a show of U.S. military might.

After gold was discovered in the Black Hills in 1874, white miners flocked into territory ceded to the Sioux less than ten years earlier. Although the second Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) clearly granted the tribe exclusive use of the Black Hills, in the winter of 1875, the U.S. ordered the Sioux to return to their reservation by the end of January. With many Indians out of the range of communication and many others hostile to the order, the U.S. Army prepared for battle.

On May 17, 1876, Lieutenant Colonel Custer led the 750 men of the 7th United States Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory. Commanded by Brigadier General Alfred H. Terry, Custer’s division was part of an expedition intended to locate and rout tribes organized for resistance under Chief Sitting Bull. Hoping to entrap Sitting Bull in the Little Big Horn area, Terry ordered Custer to follow the Rosebud River while he brought the majority of the men down the Yellowstone River. After meeting at the mouth of the Little Big Horn, they planned to force the Lakota Sioux and the Cheyenne back to their reservations.

Custer found Sitting Bull encamped on the Little Bighorn River in Montana. Instead of waiting for Terry, the lieutenant colonel chose to wage an immediate attack. He divided his forces into several groups and headed out. Quickly encircled by their enemy, the five companies under Custer’s immediate command were slaughtered in less than an hour. Over the next two days, the remnants of the 7th Cavalry fought for their lives as they waited in vain for Custer to relieve them.

On June 27, the Indians retreated as reinforcements arrived. Expecting to meet Custer and prepare for battle, General Terry discovered the bodies of Custer and his men. Nearly a third of the men of the 7th Cavalry, including Custer and his brother, died at Little Big Horn. A stunning but short-lived victory for Native Americans who were bravely defending themselves and the territory set aside for them through the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, the Battle of Little Big Horn galvanized the U.S. government and military against the Indians. In response, federal troops poured into the Black Hills.

While many Native Americans surrendered to federal authorities, Sitting Bull sought refuge in Canada in 1877. Four years later, with his supporters on the brink of starvation, Sitting Bull returned to the U.S. at Standing Rock Agency in North Dakota. There, he fought the sale of tribal lands under the Dawes Severalty Act and participated in the Ghost Dance Movement—a cultural and religious revitalization among Native Americans. Threatened by a religious awakening that promised the end of white dominance, federal authorities attempted to take custody of Sitting Bull in 1890. He was killed in the affray sparked by the attempted arrest.

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