What It Was Like to Be Rosie the Riveter During WWII

Three women share their stories of the American war effort—and prove that the real Rosies were even more inspiring than the legendary poster.

Rosie the RiveterFor Love of Country
I applied for a job in 1943 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. My patriotism must have been running awfully high back then because I would be working as a riveter on the midnight to 8 a.m. shift.

An instructor taught me and my coworkers how to use a rivet gun. It was tough at first, but when he thought we could handle the job, he sent us to rivet together the B-29 Flying Fortress.

The rivet guns were noisy and tough to hang on to, and some of us were afraid of them at first. You had to grip your gun very tightly as you worked. If the gun got away from you, it would fly all over the place, making everyone jump for cover until someone shut it down.

But handling the gun was only half the job because you needed a partner to “buck” (or flatten) the rivets. That person would stand inside the plane, holding an iron bar against the metal being fastened. If the bar wasn’t held tightly against the metal, the rivet wouldn’t be properly flattened. Bucking rivets was draining work, and my partner and I would switch off when either of us got tired.

When my partner and I arrived to work on the B-29, we were astounded at the size of the plane. It was huge. The tail, of course, was the tallest part of the plane, and my partner and I had to stand way up high on a plank to rivet together the tail section. When we started the rivet gun, the whole plank shook like mad. After our shift was finished, inspectors would come through and draw a red circle around any rivets they wanted done over. When we returned to work the next night, we always checked for any circles the day-shift inspectors had left for us.

I guess we did all right, though. Those B-29 bombers sure seemed to fly OK in action. And one, named Enola Gay, eventually dropped the bomb that ended the war. —Helen Kosierowski, Upland, Pennsylvania

Also on RD: Rare Color Photos of Real Rosies »

Rosie the Riveter Cartoon
“…and then in my free time…”

My Unusual Sacrifice
In 1943, while my husband was serving overseas, I went to work at the Port Newark shipyard in New Jersey. I was assigned to drill holes on sheets of metal, using a radial automatic drill that stood well over my head. I had to reach up so high, my shirt would come untucked, exposing my stomach.

One day, as I drilled a hole close to the edge, I noticed the drill was forming a spiral of hot metal. The spiral got longer and heavier and finally fell off—onto my bare stomach! I didn’t want to ruin that whole sheet of metal—materials were costly and scarce, and we’d been warned to be careful—so I kept working, wiggling my body frantically to try to shake off that hot spiral. My coworkers must have thought I was a belly dancer! That was my sacrifice for the war effort, and I’m still proud of it! —Josephine Juliano, Toms River, New Jersey

The Pride of Purpose
I was one of many Rosie the Riveters. After two weeks of training, I was sent to a plane-assembly plant to work on wing panels. We drilled the panels first, then put in the rivets.

Riveting made your whole body shake—good for reducing, only I didn’t need that. I was thin to start with, and the longer I worked, the thinner I got.

Finally my boss said, “Evelyn, I’m going to put you to work in the tool crib, handing out rivets and tools. You’re getting so thin, I’m afraid someday you’ll go right in with the rivet!” So there I stayed until the war was over.

Handling a drill came in handy years later when I helped my husband build our house. I drilled every hole in the hardwood floors before the nails were put in, any my husband was very proud of me! —Evelyn Robinson, South Bend, Indiana

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