I’ve having trouble with competing claims about the origins of this phrase.
The earliest claim that appears to have a date is a song “Rosie the Riveter,” by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb, written in 1942 but not released until early in 1943 by the Four Vagabonds and by Kay Kyser. (The name was simple alliteration, they said.) Soon after, a May 29, 1943 Saturday Evening Post cover by Norman Rockwell cemented the phrase in the public consciousness.
There is a competing poster by J. Howard Miller that shows a woman war worker flexing her muscle under the slogan “We Can Do It!” This was never intended to be Rosie the Riveter but has often been adopted as “the” official poster, since it was issued by the War Production Board. It also was probably produced in 1942 but not released until 1943.
The next hits I find for “Rosie the Riveter” are (both _L.A.Times)
12 Jan. 1943–“It isn’t glamorous. Not all the girls look like magazine covers, and Rosie the Riveter is just doing a steady everyday job.”
16 Jan. 1943–“Two women wearing working slacks and defense plant badges walked into a swanky furrier’s last week and each picked out a fur coat. When they had made selections each pulled a wad of bills out of the watch pocket in her slacks, paid cash in full, put on her purchase and walked away with it. Rosie the Riveter knows what she is working for and gets it. The furrier, though, is still a little dazed.”
Then the song first is mentioned in The Washington Post 18 Jan. 1943
So, the song was pretty familiar by that day I would say.
I can do better than that. I gave in and paid the money for the Newspaper Archives. Worst formating I’ve ever seen, and weirdest search, but you can dig some nuggets out of the dross.
A whole bunch of references to the song “Rosie the Riveter” show up in early December 1942, as early as Dec. 3 in the Dunkirk Evening Observer in a “In Hollywood” column by Erskine Johnson. The same column shows up in the Frederick Post and the Frederick News on Dec. 5, in the Helena Independent on Dec. 8, the Newark Advocate on Dec. 15, and the Mansfield News Journal on Dec. 21.
Since I can’t believe the column started in Dunkirk, NY, perhaps you can find a bigger newspaper that carried it.
No mention of any connection to Lockheed anywhere, though. And definitely before the other poster was exhibited.
So it looks like the song came first. Now just to find out when and by whom it was first played or publicized. So much for the February 1943 date given in books.
FYI, there is a Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park in Richmond, CA at the site of the old Kaiser shipyards. The web site for the park is http://www.rosietheriveter.org/ . There’s a contact page where you can send questions - they might be able to help you.
Who do you think I am, jinx? Why does everyone assume that I didn’t do even the most basic Google search before starting a thread with that much information in it? Especially when I mentioned searching Google in the OP?