They served on the home front during World War II, building tanks, ships and airplanes or assembling munitions.
Their work was celebrated in photographs and posters, and songs like one from the group The Four Vagabonds in 1943:
All the day long, whether rain or shine, she is a part of the assembly line.
She is making history, working for victory, Rosie the Riveter ...
That was the name by which female factory workers collectively were known, based on a popular magazine illustration by artist Norman Rockwell. Now, a new photo exhibition in Los Angeles celebrates the contributions of Rosies past and present.
Some of today's modern Rosies, who are building trains and light-rail cars at places around the country, came to Los Angeles Union Station, the city’s main transit terminal, to see “Women Can Build!”
The exhibit, subtitled "Re-envisioning Rosie," shows World War II workers and 15 of their contemporary counterparts on the job.
Benefits of the job
Connie McCoy, one of the photo subjects, installs train car gears and motors at a Siemens Industry plant in Norwood, Ohio. Heavy manufacturing pays well, she said. "That is always nice, too, but I enjoy working with my hands."
So does mechanic Ami Rasmussen, who installs interiors in light-rail cars at the California plant of the Japanese company Kinkisharyo. Most of her co-workers are men, and she was promoted to become their supervisor.
"I have never had a major issue or anything like that," she said. "There was just a little hesitation at first, and when they saw that I can produce, they were like, all right, cool. This chick is for real."
Pulitzer Prize-winner Deanne Fitzmaurice, who photographed the modern-day Rosies, empathized with her subjects.
"As a photojournalist, I work in a very male-dominated field, and so I feel like I was able to relate to them," she said. "The symbol of Rosie is about resilience and being hardworking and empowering."
A University of Southern California study shows that modern Rosies make up just 13 percent of the workforce in rail transit manufacturing and 30 percent in U.S. manufacturing overall.
But Madeline Janis, director of the Jobs to Move America coalition, said they are making a mark: "The welders, the electricians, the assemblers – these women … have braved all odds and conquered all odds to actually get hired into these positions."
Women are still underrepresented in top jobs, said Hilda Solis, former U.S. secretary of labor and current Los Angeles County supervisor.
"They should also be running for high-level political offices and serving in Fortune 500 corporations and helping us to build that capacity," Solis said.
Michelle Boehm, a regional director of the California High Speed Rail Authority, cited job growth in the transit manufacturing industry.
"An amazing, multibillion-dollar construction program is under way in California," she said, "and this is really the rising tide that will lift all boats, and hopefully many, many women’s boats."
The exhibit, meant to inspire more women to work in heavy manufacturing, runs through June 19.