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Active Viewing: The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter

In this activity, students watch film clips from the documentary The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter, decode a propaganda poster, and analyze statistics about working women during World War II.  Parts of this activity can be completed without the film.

Objectives

  • Students will compare and contrast government propaganda and the real experiences of working women during World War II.  

This worksheet aligns to Common Core Literacy Standards in History/Social Studies:

  • RHSS.6-8.7. Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.

  • RHSS.6-8.9. Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.

Instructions

Step 1: Ask students if they are familiar with "Rosie the Riveter." Can students identify the image as wartime propaganda? What do students already know about Rosie?  Explain that students are going to view a documentary, propaganda posters, and statistical charts to understand who the "real" Rosie the Riveter was. Hand out the Active Viewing Worksheet.  

Step 2: Show clip #1: Mobilizing for War (6:17--11:28).  Pose focus question: How did government propaganda films depict women's lives on the eve of World War II?  

Instruct students to work in small groups to complete the remaining questions in Part 1 of the Active Viewing Worksheet that compare and contrast government propaganda films with the real stories of working women shown in the documentary. Before moving on to the next step, review the main points:

  • Government propaganda portrayed women as married white middle-class homemakers with lots of leisure time, who only worked because it was their patriotic duty.

  • Real Rosies were working women, and some were the main breadwinners of their families.  They flocked to factory jobs that were high paying, unionized, and more rewarding than their previous jobs.  

Step 3: Explain that students will now watch a series of short clips about the experiences of women factory workers.  Prompt students to think about the conflicting views presented in the propaganda film and accounts by "real Rosies."  Show any of the clips #2-6:

  • Clip 2: Dangerous Work on the Homefront (19:27--25:01)

  • Clip 3: Jim Crow Gets Kicked Out of a Factory Bathroom (27:55--29:48)

  • Clip 4: Wartime Women Workers' Double Duty (33:01--34:37)

  • Clip 5: Unions Protect the Working Girl (26:18--27:07)

  • Clip 6: Lynn Childs Sticks Up for the Little Guy (37:29--39:58)

Step 4: Hand out propaganda poster "My husband wants me to work...".  Instruct students to work in groups to complete Part 2 of the Active Viewing Worksheet. Depending on time, have students share their responses to question #5: Do you think the experiences of "real Rosies" permanently challenged these assumptions?"  

Step 5: Explain that propaganda was also used to encourage women to return home after the war. Play Clip #7 "Now He Returns" (46:14--49:15) and Clip #8 "Back to Women's Work" (51:02--57:38). Optional discussion: What did women workers want after the war?  

Step 6: Handout statistics about women in the workforce and ask students to complete Part 3 of the Active Viewing Worksheet.  When they are finished, discuss how the film and primary documents may have changed their ideas about working women during World War II.  

Historical Context

Women were recruited into the industrial workforce as never before during World War II.  The recruitment effort resulted, among other things, in the iconic image of "Rosie the Riveter." But who was the real Rosie, and who was government propaganda?  Films and propaganda from the time depict middle-class women taking on paying jobs for the first time because of a sense of patriotic duty.  However, statistical sources and oral histories convey a very different story of working-class women taking advantage of the war to move from low-paying domestic and secretarial jobs into high-paying and skilled industrial jobs.  Such sources indicate that economic motivations were more significant than patriotic duty in building a female workforce during World War II.

Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, 2010.
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | Copyright American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Item Type | Teaching Activity
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “Active Viewing: The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 18, 2018, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1369.

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