Heroine of war whose story riveted a nation

The real-life "Rosie the Riveter", one of the female icons of America's Second World War effort, who urged her fellow women on to ever greater feats of productivity on the aircraft assembly line, has died at her home in Clarksville, Indiana, from kidney failure, aged 77.

Depicted as the embodiment of wholesome womanhood and unquestioning patriotism, Rose Will Monroe starred in posters and promotional films urging women to join the defence industries.

The Encyclopedia of American Economic History credited the "Rosie the Riveter" movement with helping push the number of working women to 20 million in four years of war, a 57 per cent jump from 1940.

Her daughter, Vickie Jarvis, said that the forces could not have chosen a better model. "They found Rose and she was a riveter and she was the one who fit the profile for the 'Rosie the Riveter' song," she said. "She happened to be in the right place at the right time."

There, however, the myth ends and reality sets in. Rose Monroe went to work on the assembly line at the Ypsilanti aircraft factory primarily for economic rather than patriotic reasons, in order to support her two children after the death of her husband in a car accident. She was then "discovered" by a Hollywood producer who visited the factory to match a fictional "Rosie" who already existed in propaganda posters.

In a echo of the arguments raging today about the role and conduct of women in the military, "Rosie" was thwarted in her ambition to learn to fly transport planes because she was a single mother.

Nor was she able to make a career in the air force: when the men returned, she successively drove a taxi, ran a beauty shop and founded a building company.

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