The “We Can Do It” Poster—War Production Co-ordinating Committee, 1942–1943
Artist: War Production Co-ordinating Committee
Citation: The “We Can Do It” Poster—War Production Co-ordinating Committee, 1942–1943
Rights Holder: National Archives and Records Administration, Wash. DC.
Engage! Theme: Participation
J. Howard Miller produced this poster specifically for the recruitment efforts of the Westinghouse Airships Company in 1942. It was intended to be posted from February 15 through 28 and may have been intended for the company’s Midwest factories.
This and many posters like it were commissioned by the U.S. War Production Co-ordinating Committee and were part of a large effort by the federal government between 1942 and 1944 to recruit women into the workforce. The women were needed because many men were drafted into military service during World War II, and American manufacturing companies were being called on to supply all manner of equipment for the war effort.
The slogan “We Can Do It!” reminds the intended female viewer that joining the working world was seen as patriotic, as a way of contributing to the nation’s success in the conflict.
During the U.S. involvement in the war, more than six million women entered the workforce for the first time. While many others had been working in factories and the service industry since before World War I, the recruitment efforts in the 1940s targeted married, middle-class women who had traditionally been “employed” in the home.
Miller’s female factory worker directly appealed to this type of woman, both unused to and potentially uncomfortable with the prospect of working outside the home. Her feminine makeup and painted nails soften her red bandanna and blue coveralls with sleeves rolled up, ready for work.
Miller has used bold colors and a tight composition to catch the viewer’s attention. His female figure with her direct stare seems to reach out into our space, her flexed arm pointing up toward her simple but powerful words.
Though hard to make out, the button on her collar is likely another recruitment image, with a similar slogan of encouragement.
This image is often thought of as representing the ideal female worker, Rosie the Riveter, popularized by a 1942 song and a Norman Rockwell cover illustration from the May 29, 1943, Saturday Evening Post. However, Miller did not specifically indicate that the woman in his Westinghouse poster was meant to be Rosie. Rather, following the popularity of the song and Rockwell image, the press highlighted the stories of many female factory workers (riveters and otherwise) named Rose from across the country, and any image of working women contributing to the war effort were linked to Rosie.
Who might this woman be, who looks right at us and flexes her arm muscles for us? What is the “It” that she says “We Can Do”? Are we a part of the “We” she is addressing?
Her message is directed to other women. Do you think she’s speaking to a specific type of woman? How might the women she’s appealing to see themselves in her?
This poster was made to recruit women during World War II to go to work in factories, to take the places of men who had been drafted to fight the war abroad. It was likely meant to appeal to women who were not used to having a job outside the home, encouraging them to participate in the war effort because it was patriotic. Would this image persuade you? If not, how would you change the image (but keep the words)?
Further Discussion Questions and Activity Ideas:
Although this image was not specifically meant to represent Rosie the Riveter, a popularized image of the hard-working, patriotic woman who helped build airplanes during the war, she embodies many of the same characteristics. A song, written and publicized around the time that this poster was produced, told the story of Rosie the Riveter and her work. Read the words of the song and think about how it corresponds to this poster (or look at Norman Rockwell’s image of Rosie from 1943). Think of a cause for which you would like to recruit help from your community. How would you appeal to your community? Write a song like “Rosie the Riveter” to help promote your cause.
More than six million women went to work for the first time in factories and other jobs during World War II, many of them filling jobs that men had left in order to go fight in the war, and specifically helping to manufacture airplanes and other war materials. What is going on today in our nation or in your community that might require people to participate in new ways? Besides working, what other means of participation can you think of?
Rosie the Riveter: World War II/Homefront National Historical Park (Richmond, Calif.).
National Park Service online exhibit, “Rosie the Riveter: Women Working During World War II”.
Transcript of webcast by Sheridan Harvey, women’s studies specialist, Humanities and Social Science Division, Library of Congress.