Rosie the Riveter Learns To Fly

Rosie the Riveter Learns To Fly

“Everyone stops to admire the scene / Rosie at work on the B-Nineteen / She’s never twittery, nervous or jittery / Rosie the Riveter…”

But there was one Rosie who dreamed of flying that B-19, not just building it.

Rose Will Monroe (1920-1997)  lost her husband in a car crash at the onset of World War II.

She struggled to feed her two children in rural Kentucky until, perhaps, she heard that 1942 hit “Rosie the Riveter” by big band leader Kay Kyser.

She took the kids and traveled to the Willow Run Aircraft Factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan, which built bombers for the U.S. Army Air Forces. She chose Willow Run for a  reason — they also trained female pilots.

Rose Will Monroe had no intention of becoming a riveter. But Willow Run disqualified her from the pilot training program for being a single mother.

So Rose ended up on the assembly line, just like her pop counterpart:

All the day long,
Whether rain or shine
She’s part of the assembly line.
She’s making history,
Working for victory
Rosie the Riveter

One day, actor Walter Pidgeon visited the factory to make a promotional film. When he discovered they employed a real woman named Rose who was a riveter, he knew he’d found his star.

Rose Will Monroe became an overnight sensation as Rosie the Riveter. Her film played between features in theaters across America, encouraging viewers to buy war bonds. She became the poster girl for recruiting women into the workforce.

But what about the children of all those female factory workers during World War II? What did they do while their mothers toiled on the assembly lines?

The answer surprised me.

The factories provided on-site child care. But when thousands of veterans returned, employers assumed women would return to the kitchen. They hung government-issued signs that warned “Your Baby or Your Job.”

Rose didn’t have a choice. After the war, she drove a cab, operated a beauty shop, and founded Rose Builders, a construction company that built luxury homes. She became very successful.

But she never gave up her dream.

Rosie the Riveter Learns To Fly at Debra Eve's
Rose Will Monroe

At age 50, Rosie the Riveter learned to fly

“She was quite a good pilot,” her daughter Vickie said. “She taught me how to fly.” What more can a mother do?

(Vickie was Rosie’s third child, born in 1954. Please check out her comment below with other interesting notes.)

Eight years later, Rose took a small propeller plane out for an afternoon with Vickie and some friends. But it stalled on takeoff and crashed. Her passengers escaped unhurt, but Rose lost a kidney and the sight  in her left eye. It ended her solo pilot career, but not her passion for flying.

At age 77, Rose’s remaining kidney failed. She died peacefully at home with her family.

Don’t be sad for Rose Will Monroe or how her dream ended. She made it happen—and she’s probably still flying out there somewhere.

Women’s History Month ends Saturday. Enjoy this short pictorial tribute to all the “Rosies” set to the original tune. Each and every one transformed the world by defying expectations.

So can you.


22 Responses

  1. Lindsay
    | Reply

    I didn’t know this story and it is amazing from first to last. What a well-lived life.

    • Debra Eve

      Truly, Lindsay. She only flew for eight years, but never let what went before or after dim her zest for life.

  2. florence fois
    | Reply

    Debra, I love this story and was vaguely familiar with the history behind the campaign. There were a couple of movies highlighting the work done by women during WWII. I admire Rosie’s determination and I can imagine her flying off into the sunset somewhere out there 🙂

    About women and the work force. The truth is that they were always there, but had to find willing granny’s or older women to watch the kids. I came from a blue collar family where mom had no choice. During the war, in the famous Bush Terminal Factory district in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, a group of wealthy women from neighborhing Bay Ridge established a day care for working moms. It was later designated as a Brooklyn landmark and is on the “register” of landmark buildings in NYC. A tiny little “campus” of three small houses gathered in a beautifully landscaped yard, with sand box and outdoor play areas, it is circled with a fence, has a red brick house for administration (two stories, where on the second floor the director and later the caretaker and his wife, the cook lived) … Two Irish cooks made fresh baked muffins and cookies and homecooked meals. It was a tiny little piece of heaven and 25 years after I attended, I brought both of my kids (I was a working single mother at that time) and became the only second generation at that time. Women helping women … I was asked to join their Board of Directors and as a result of these experiences, I chose a career in community development and later became the Exec. Director of a children’s agency in Northern Manhattan. Women working to help other women.

    I love your stories because they highlight the rich history not only “later boomers” added to our culture, but also of the dogged determination of so many to follow their dreams no matter how long it takes. Thanks so much 🙂

    • Debra Eve

      You’re welcome, Florence. You’ve just answered another question I had — if the factories supplied child care, who did the caring? The women were all working, so I figured it must have been grandmas. Your story is fascinating! I know you mainly write fiction, but have you contemplated memoir?

  3. Barbara McDowell Whitt
    | Reply

    Debra, your story about Rose Will Monroe is fascinating. I did not know she accomplished all that she did. She truly was a woman with grit and determination plus a tremendous drive for turning her beliefs into results.

    • Debra Eve

      Thanks, Barbara. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to be a widow in those times. She’s one of my favorites.

  4. Jennette Marie Powell
    | Reply

    What a wonderful, inspiring story! I never knew there was a real-life Rosie the Riveter. It just goes to show that it’s never too late to follow your dreams – something I’m glad to be reminded of as I hope to be a “later bloomer!”

    • Debra Eve

      There were actually several real-life Rosies, Jennette, but Rose Will Monroe became the most famous. I think late blooming is something everyone can aspire to!

  5. David Stevens
    | Reply

    Great read Debra,
    be good to yourself

    • Debra Eve

      Thank you, David! Glad you enjoyed it.

  6. Julia
    | Reply

    This hits a sentimental place in my heart. My Mom worked in the shipyards, and she had the same hairstyle as Rosie — never learned to fly, but started a new career in her fifties after raising six of us. I’m glad to put a story with the legend, and glad to know that Rosy was much more than a pretty face!

    • Debra Eve

      Hi, Julia. After researching Rose, I was just blown away by the fact that women truly ran the country during WWII. It’s almost a forgotten history now. At least there’s film footage. Florence also told the story of her mom in an earlier comment. If I didn’t have so many projects on the back burner, I’d be tempted to collect them for a website or book. Thank you!

  7. Rachel Funk Heller
    | Reply

    Hi Debra, my mother wasn’t Rosie the Riveter, she was Evangline the welder. When she was 18, she went to work as a welder and helped build airplanes, I think it was for Martin McDonald, I’ll have to check on that. They paid better. Really great article and those wonderful women paved the way for the rest of us.

    • Debra Eve

      So cool to here your mom’s story, Rachel! Along with Julia and Florence, that’s three. So wish I had time to collect them all. I just may have to do it, maybe set up a website where women can just write them in. Thanks!

  8. Lynette M Burrows
    | Reply

    Wonderful post, Debra! I absolutely love your posts about these amazing women. Thanks for preserving these stories.

  9. Debra Eve
    | Reply

    You’re welcome, Lynette! It’s my absolute joy.

  10. Don Mittelstaedt
    | Reply

    I am so impressed with your blogs, Debra. You bring back so much nearly forgotten history, and honor so many late bloomers.
    I hope your story of Rosie ” the Riviter” Monroe will help later generations appreciate how much our country owes the women of World War 2, whether building tanks.,trucks, ships or planes…..or serving as WACs, Waves, or other armed force members. I especially honor the first women ferry pilots that flew new bombers across the ocean to far away places where our men were fighting, places like Africa and southern Europe…even to Turkey. What a tremendous responsibility, but also what strong shoulders these women had. I concur that if you want a job done well, assign it to a woman!

    • Debra Eve

      Thanks, Don. That means so much coming from you. I love history and it’s a joy to bring so many late bloomers from obscurity. (Or to acknowledge how hard and long the famous ones worked before we heard of them.)

  11. Victoria Croston
    | Reply

    Debra… might like to know that Rose Monroe was my mother. Yes, the real Rose “Rosie-the-Riveter” Monroe. Mom had two children in WWII, my sister Connie and brother Troy. I came along in 1954, so she had three children in total.

    She did indeed learn to fly, and told us it was her therapy to escape any of life’s stresses! I have followed in her footsteps by becoming a pilot as well, and found I could share in and understand her love for the air. Mom truly exemplified the We Can Do It spirit as we’ve all come to know that famous poster. However, that poster was not associated with Rosie until many years after WWII, but was simply an excellent Westinghouse production poster. Never the less, we all call her Rosie and love to live by that same spirit.

    Thank you for your website. I just found it, and am quite impressed and will peruse it more deeply in the near future. Keep up the good work!!

    • Debra Eve

      Hi Vickie! I’m so glad you dropped by and like the site. I was so impressed by what I read about your mom, especially how she became a pilot later in life. As you can see by the other comments, she’s been a great inspiration to all of us! It’s always been one of my dreams to learn to fly, too.

      P.S. I’ve corrected the spelling of your name (which I got from a newspaper interview) and made reference to your comment.

  12. Beckie Voyles
    | Reply

    Hi Debra,

    I just found your blog as I like to look up”new” articles about my grandmother. Rose Will Monroe. My mom Connie Gibson was her oldest daughter. My mom told us that she and my uncle Troy use to say on a farm with a elderly couple who keep children of the workers during the week. Grandma would come and visit on the weekends. Mom said she had a lot of fun while there. Thanks for the nice article about Grandma, she was a amazing woman.

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve

      You’re welcome, Beckie. I only wish there was more original material about your grandmother out there. I think all of us who’ve written about here are using the same few news articles as sources. If you would ever consider interviewing your mom and catching her recollections, I’d love to publish it here on the blog.

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