Students watch a video about the role of American factories in World War II, and learn how factories had to change to support the war effort. They then design a “Rosie the Riveter” style poster recruiting women to work at a converted Maytag factory.
This lesson is part of "Great States: Iowa | Unit 7: Twentieth Century Iowa." In this unit, students will examine how major events of the 20th century impacted the people of Iowa.
H.SS.3.24: Infer the intended audience and purpose of a primary source using textual evidence.
H.SS.4.22: Infer the purpose of a primary source and from that the intended audience.
H.SS.5.22: Explain how economic, political, and social contexts shaped people's perspectives at a given time in history.
H.SS.5.23: Using information from within a primary source, infer the intended audience, purpose, and how the creator's intended audience shaped the source.
Image: We Can Do It! Work-incentive poster for the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company, circa 1942. [Artist: J. Howard Miller. Source: Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Click through for the original poster.]
An interactive whiteboard, projector, or another type of screen to show media to the class
Plain white paper, construction paper, or poster board
Markers, crayons, or colored pencils
- Explain to students that when the United States entered World War II, the country was ill-equipped for the fight. Factories across the country were converted to handle the demand for new equipment and supplies needed for the war. The employee demographic also changed during the war. Men were off fighting, so women were called upon to fill the void left behind. Tell students they will be watching a video about the changes to factories and the adapting role of women in the manufacturing sector.
- Play the video, American Factories Change to Support WWII [1:04].
- Project the image, We Can Do It!
Explain that the poster is a famous depiction of “Rosie the Riveter.” “Rosie” was a composite of several female factory workers developed during the Second World War. Although several different artists depicted “Rosie,” this image became a familiar cultural icon representing the power of women in the workforce. Ask students to describe the “Rosie” image, making sure that they notice that she is depicted as both strong and feminine and that she is wearing clothing that signifies labor—a man-styled work shirt and a kerchief.
Then ask students to determine the creator of the poster (War Production Co-ordinating Committee), the purpose of the poster (to encourage women to seek employment in defense industries), and the intended audience for the poster (women who could potentially work in defense industries).
Indicate that huge numbers of women in Iowa and across the United States did indeed take factory jobs to build munitions just like Hollys Harrison interviewed in the video. By 1943, over 36% of employees in the US aircraft industry were women, even though only 1% of workers in that industry were female before World War II, a period when workforce participation of women was much lower than it is today. Explain that many women returned to homemaking or more traditionally female jobs once men returned from war.
Have students create a similar style poster to recruit women to make aircraft parts at the converted Maytag factory in Newton, Iowa, during the Second World War.