“Rosener the Riveter”: The Unsung WWII Photojournalist

Most of us have heard of the infamous “Rosie the Riveter.” A strong-faced woman flexing her arm in work clothes, her image was made the face of the United States’s home front campaign during World War II. This campaign attempted to boost national morale and encourage U.S. workers and citizens to participate in war efforts like rationing supplies. However, because the country’s eligible men were sent away to war, the US faced a dire shortage of workers in essential industries. They eventually turned to women, as well as other typically overlooked groups.

“Rosie the Riveter” poster | “Rosie-the-Riveter” by SBT4NOW is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Ann Rosener (1914-2012) was an American photographer who captured intimate shots of these homefront workers. Born in 1914 to affluent parents, she graduated Smith College in 1935 and, in the early 1940s, photographed for the Farm Security Administration. Her work, ahead of its time, specifically focused on capturing the movements of female workers, handicapped workers and workers of color that had taken over traditional men’s jobs. She highlighted the collective labor done by a diverse workforce, the effect of such unprecedented photos arresting. As Jeff Bridgers notes, “Rosener showed women learning aviation science from a nun; former actresses producing aircraft motors; former professional baseball players building ships; and people crippled by polio manufacturing small machine parts.”

Like other black girls and women, 20-year-old Annie Tabor (pictured left) had no previous industry experience. However, she was considered one of this Midwestern supercharger plant’s best lathe operators. She worked with metal and wood to craft airplane parts. Wong Ruth Mae Moy (pictured right) also works on an aircraft engine part. A Chinese girl, she survived the Canton bombings by the Japanese.

The white woman (pictured left) is captured reading a government information manual on how to conserve materials. “Save, Simplify, Substitute,” it reads. Citizens (pictured right) line up to buy defense bonds and stamps for insurance against the Axis. The bonds and stamps could be found in your nearest bank, post office or department store; or, you could purchase them from your newsboy. 

Baseball players George Stovall and Vince DiMaggio during their lunch break at California Shipbuilding Corporation shipyard | Ann Rosener 1943, from Library of Congress, public domain https://picryl.com/media/baseball-players-in-war-production-safe-signals-george-stovall-retired-manager-8ba2d0

Former baseball players George Stovall and Vince DiMaggio play a softball game during their lunch break at the California Shipbuilding Corporation shipyards. Many former athletes contributed to the home front efforts.

After her years spent preserving the legacy of the home front forces, Rosener became a fashion photographer and then worked for Stanford University designing exhibition catalogues. From 1977 onwards, she spent her days publishing the work of little-known writers. She died in 2012 in Menlo Park.

You can view more of Ann Rosener’s work at the Library of Congress.

References

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