“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.
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.