The famous World War II propaganda image of ‘Rosie the Riveter’ may have been directly inspired by women like Norman Rockwell model Mary Doyle Keefe, who died in 2015, and actual riveter Rose Monroe. But Rosie’s enduring power was the result of her universality.
As America’s men were called away to fight in World War II, women filled their industrial jobs as never before. When the federal government launched a plan to streamline the entire American workforce for maximum efficiency in 1942, the White House said it “definitely includes woman power.”
These photos are just a few of the hundreds that were taken by photographers who worked for the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information in the years leading up to and during World War II. Their earlier work was focused on preserving a picture of American rural life as the nation struggled through the Depression— some of the most iconic images of the Depression were taken under the auspices of the FSA—but by the time the U.S. joined the war, their new goal was to show the world what it looked like when the nation mobilized for war.
The unit lost its funding midway through the war, but the images its photographers had already managed to create help shape a picture of what it looks like when all hands—regardless of gender—pitch in for a larger cause. As the world marks International Women’s Day on Tuesday, an event that originated with women workers, they’re also a vivid and striking reminder of the importance of that history.