Friday, October 18, 2013

"Rosie the Riveter" was from Michigan, Part II: Rose Will Monroe

Yesterday, I wrote about Geraldine Doyle, a "Rosie the Riveter" from Michigan. Here's a link to that post:  "Rosie the Riveter" was from Michigan, Part I: Geraldine Doyle

Doyle wasn't the only "Rosie" to hail from the Great Lakes State. Rose Will Monroe, who helped build Air Force bombers at the Willow Run aircraft factory in Ypsilanti, was another one. Unlike Doyle, whose face appeared on the "We Can Do It!" poster that shows a female factory worker flexing her muscle, Monroe earned her fame by appearing in a short film that promoted war bonds.

Rose Will Monroe

Born in Kentucky in 1920, Monroe became a young widow when her husband died in a car accident in 1942. Suddenly, Monroe needed a way to support herself and her two young children. She found it at Willow Run, where she hoped to become one of the women whom the Ford Motor Company employed to fly armaments across the country. However, because Monroe was a single mother, her request to become a pilot was denied, and she was placed on the assembly line, where she riveted pieces of B-24 bombers.

See where this is going? ROSE Monroe was working as a RIVETER.

One day, actor Walter Pidgeon, star of several Hollywood movies, was touring Willow Run during a war bond drive when he heard about Monroe. In 1942, the song "Rosie the Riveter" had introduced the title character to Americans, describing a woman who was "making history, working for victory" by building military vehicles while "smeared full of oil and grease." A video of the song follows this paragraph. I've got to warn you: it's very catchy, and will probably stick in your head all day.

In addition to working for victory, Rosie the Riveter was kind of obsessed with war bonds, as the lyrics note:
Rosie buys a lot of War Bonds
That girl really has sense
Wishes she could purchase more Bonds
Putting all her extra cash in National Defense

Inspired by the fact that he had met a real-life "Rosie the Riveter" (or "Rose the Riveter," which apparently was close enough), Pidgeon asked Monroe to star in a film that promoted war bonds. She agreed, and became the face of Rosie the Riveter to millions of Americans who saw the short in movie theaters. (I've searched the Internet, but can't find clips from the film, or even still pictures from it, so unfortunately, I can't show you what Monroe looked or sounded like as her alter ego.)

When the war ended, so did Monroe's position at Willow Run, and she moved to Bloomington, Indiana, where she worked a variety of jobs, including driving a cab, owning a beauty shop, and even starting her own construction company. At age 50, Monroe realized a lifelong dream when she earned her pilot's license (an opportunity she had been denied at Willow Run). Unfortunately, her dream ended in 1978, when she crashed her plane and suffered injuries so severe that she could no longer fly. Monroe died in 1997 at age 77 and is buried in New Albany, Indiana, under a headstone that reads "Rosie the Riveter."

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