1944 was a different kind of summer.
It was a sweltering July and along with most war-weary Americans, Rosie the Riveter needed a day off.
In the heat and stickiness of summer everybody was tired, dog tired, completely fed up with neckties, girdles, time clocks, cook stoves, typewriters, telephones, ration coupons, endless shortages and war work.
Americans were working overtime as never before.
There was only one way to win the war and get the job done – each of us had to give everything whether it was on the home front or in a war plant making the ammunition and tools our men needed to win
WWII Man Shortage
As men left civilian jobs to join the armed forces, in their place marched in women, who were “carrying on” work that had to be done to keep America’s war program going at top speed. Doing tasks men considered unladylike such as tending furnaces in steel mills, working overtime on the riveting machines and welding hulls in shipyards.
My family’s own Rosie the Riveter, my mothers cousin Rochelle – who would forever be known as Rosie was in the thick of things working at the Brooklyn Naval Yards.
At the height of WWII, the Brooklyn Naval Yard was employing close to 71,000 workers on three shifts. Blue flashes from the arc welders torches were visible day and night. Shipbuilders were busy with the keels of battleships that would be outfitted there.
Rosie was always proud that she could claim she worked on the USS Missouri which was launched on January 1944. She got an extra thrill knowing that the Japanese signed the WWII surrender documents on the deck of the ship she helped build.
But that victorious moment was a full year away.
Like all Americans, Rosie’s frayed nerves had yet to recover from the nerve-racking anticipation of D Day, only a month earlier when everyone was in a constant state of jitters.
Now working day and night, there could be no letting down, no slacking until the peace was signed, until our men returned.
War weary Rosie was ready to ditch her grimy coveralls for a curve hugging new swimsuit.
For overworked Rosie the Riveter, the romance of the beach beckoned.
“But,” she would sigh to her gal pals, “what good was the beach without a beau to rub suntan oil on her or admire the curves of her swim suit?”
Rosie had learned to live with less butter, eggs, and meat, but it was the darn man shortage that drove her batty.
The absence of an entire generation of men between the ages of 17 and 30 left a lonely void.
Rosie couldn’t help wondering if they were not rationing love too.
Last Word in Swim Suits
Rosie knew she needed some ammunition to attract whatever available men were still around. Squirreling away a few extra dollars each week she decided to splurge on a new swimsuit.
In her summertime campaign to land romance she was glad she could still enlist the help of Jantzen.
The swim suit ads not only prompted you to be patriotic and “buy war bonds today to be free to enjoy tomorrow” they reminded you “to make each moment something to remember because this was a different kind of summer”
Like most industries Jantzen had retooled to manufacture military items to support the war effort manufacturing sleeping bags, and gas mask carriers but thankfully some swimwear still rolled off their assembly lines.
Luckily Macy’s still stocked the new curve-allure Jantzen swimsuit advertised in Life Magazine that promised not only to give you “lines that were thrilling” but “make you the most radiant star of summers bright stage.”
Gazing in the three-way mirror her reflection made good on the promise. Rosie the Riveter dazzled.
Empowered by the uplifting capability of her new Jantzen bra, along with the heavenly slimming magic of Lastex fabric , she was ready to catch the eye of any beach bound man!
With a sense of adventure she and her pals hopped into her pre-war De Soto and headed to the beach, having carefully saved her dearly rationed gas allotment so she could make the excursion to Jones Beach, a NY State Park on Long Island close by the hot pavement of Manhattan.
The crowded beach was a picture of muscular grace and bulging waistlines, of smooth tans and freckles, of sunburn oil, and bathing suits which had obviously been in mothballs since the early 1920s
After 3 straight summers of crisis, war-weary Americans needed a little relief. So they undid their stays, let their hair down and dug their toes happily in the sand- without dignity, without care.
Stodgy newspapers filled with sobering war stories got put to good use. Folks folded the papers into triangles, fastened them at the corners and wore them as hats to keep off the summer sun. They spread them on beaches and covered them with frankfurters, potato salad, pickles and thermos bottles.
To a beach goer who could sit down and cool off and maybe have somebody bury him up to his chin in the sand, things weren’t nearly so bad as they seemed in the hot city and the war seemed far away.
Establishing her beachhead among the other brown backs on the pristine white sand, Rosie settled in for a healthy burn.
So long pale face.
As the sun beat down hot and clear from overhead, the queerest of prickly feelings nipped at the back of her neck. It was as if someone were staring at her hard! She twisted and there suddenly like a mirage in a desert devoid of men, a dreamboat, trim in tailored trunks, seemed to appear out of thin air.
A soldier stationed at Manhattan beach, Rusty was a khaki Casanova who swept her off her feet.
The hot day sizzled with romance.
At the end of the day as the flag was lowered to the strains of the national anthem, Rosie joined many of the bathers picnickers and onlookers within hearing and stood at attention proudly facing towards where the flag was being lowered.
As the last strain of the Star Spangled Banner played in the distance, Rusty bent his head and kissed her. She felt filled to the brim with little bubbles of happiness
This was indeed love! It all added up…the starry eyes…the fireworks in the bloodstream…this was what the songs sing about…this is what little girls are made for…
…this was why she scrimped and saved to buy a Jantzen suit !
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
A little strange that the American women didn’t hold on to their increased status after the war – they seemed have been happy to get the men back and take the role of housewife – home-maker and mother?
Could that be due to the lack of organization? Both “leftish” politics and feminism seems to have been confined to the academics, the writers and other kinds of artists. Or did the trade unions allow the employers to fire the women and hire the demobilized men instead?
The policy was very similar to that of the Third Reich – “Kinder Küche Kirche” – that is, Chilldren, Kitchen and Church. But of course – social roles 3 to 5 millions of years old maybe can’t be easily changed over night?
In the defeated Germany – the men were either dead or lost, wounded or disabled, or still in POW camps. Much the same situation as in 1918. With all major cities destroyed by carpet bombing, the women were put to work as construction workers with little or no equipment. Sorting out brick-stones that could be used, hacking off the mortar, and then making new walls, die Trümmerfrauen. Must be very hard, with severe shortage of everything, and very poor housing, living in damp cellars and the like.
“Between 1945 and 1946, the Allied powers, in both West Germany and East Germany, ordered all women between 15 and 50 years of age to participate in the postwar cleanup. For this purpose, previous restrictive measures protecting women in the labor force were removed in July 1946. Recruitment of women was especially useful since at that time, because of the loss of men in the war, there were seven million more women than men in Germany.”
In Western Germany, BRD, the women seems to have returned to their traditional role as soon as possibly, but in East Germany, DDR, they kept on working outside their homes. And the other day I stumbled upon a full length movie with the somewhat provocative title: “Do Communists Have Better Sex?” — https://youtu.be/Fl_r7rIcds8 — giving the subject a new and maybe unexpected twist. Are independent women better sex partners? I can imagine that there are several groupings that wouldn’t like that conclusion very much! 🙂
A little comedy – in this WW2 (post Pearl Harbor) cartoon movie, the night club dancer – singer doubles as a welder at the “Lockweed” Aircraft factory – shown in the very last scene. https://youtu.be/YtcJ7gvJP0Q
Right after WWII Rosie the Riveter got her pink slip. With the the lightning speed of a blitzkrieg working women would be obliterated replaced by the happy homemaker in a campaign I called Operation June Cleaver. During WWII dedicated working women were glorified in the media, but with victory they vanished, replaced by dewy eyed brides and happy homemakers.
Most of these women didn’t opt out of working it was more like they were pushed out by Uncle Sam in an all out effort to get the working women back home- it was all out war in the media to get these ladies back into the kitchen and into high heels. It is a time worth remembering and you might enjoy a post I did on this topic
What happened to Rosie and Rusty!?! Did they marry? Was it just two ships passing in the night? (Yes I know, I’m a hopeless romantic) 😉
Sadly, like many war time romances theirs eventually faded. While Rusty went on to own a very successful TV Repair shop, Rosie married, was an original resident of Levittown, and had a life long affinity for the beach ( always insisting on wearing a Jantzen) The closest she ever got to using her war time boat building skills was helping her son on his model ship kits.
So in the end it all worked out. A fond memory to look back on. 🙂
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A great post as always. Love the way you weave the images into the story. 🙂
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Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for letting me know
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