BALTIMORE — Over the last few years, women have been reaching milestones, which a mere decade ago weren’t fathomable within the Army. These great accomplishments, such as serving in combat arms and becoming Rangers, that my sisters-in-arms have been achieving made me think of the popular propaganda figure during World War II, Rosie the Riveter. In many ways, these female soldiers are modern-day Rosies, flexing their muscles with a look in their eyes that says, “We can do it!” If only Rosie could see us now. While it is great to celebrate these women of valor, I think it is also important to remember where it all started.
Women were called to action during World War II. Elaine Tyler May, historian and author of “Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era” claims women were not only tolerated in the paid labor force but actively encouraged to take “men’s jobs” as a patriotic duty to keep the war economy booming while men went off to fight. Recruiting posters and propaganda were popping up all over the country. According to the 1950’s census, eight million, six hundred and thirty-five thousand married women hung up the apron and replaced it with work gloves and slacks during World War II, which doubled compared to the four million, six hundred and seventy-five thousand reported in the 1940s United States census.
Although many American women were not enlisting into the Army, they found their place in war production. Women Ordnance Workers, more commonly known as WOWs, would work in the factories making ammunition and explosives. The WOWs were civilians who were government contracted, unlike the uniformed ladies in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) and the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs). Just like depicted in the Rosie the Riveter poster, the WOWs could be identified by their blue coveralls and red and white polka-dotted bandanna wrapped around their head, which kept their hair from turning bright orange from handling explosives.
About an hour north of my home in Baltimore is Elkton, Maryland. There, one of largest munitions factories during World War II existed. The town had a population of approximately 3,500, but when Triumph Explosives Incorporated came to town, it brought in more than 12,000 workers. Approximately 8,000 of these were women doing their part in the war effort. The ladies who worked at the factory were known as the ‘Boom-Boom Girls.’ In a news article written about the Boom-Boom Girls, author Gene Herbener states, “Rosie the Riveter may have earned a place in a World War II song and legend, but the story of the wartime invasion of these valiant girls, who literally risked life and limb making ammunition, has been neglected.”
The explosives factory published a monthly news magazine. One of the segments, published in October 1943, asked the women of Triumph, “Why do you work here?” Among the many answers, a few read, “I want to try and do my part in winning the war,” said Virginia Williams. Minnie Ferguson said, “That’s a silly question. Of course I came here to help in the offense effort.” “I felt that, by working here I could help win the war. I’ll admit that the good wages were an added inducement, but the overall reason was to help win the war,” said Mary Wright.
The sense of patriotism these women had is still alive in the women who are serving our country today. From the women who served our country in many ways during World War II, to the girl who just enlisted at her recruiter’s office and the female Soldier’s making history in today’s Army, thank you, and together I’d like to say, “We can do it!”