Tag Archives: Labor Archive and Research Center

Rosie the Riveter: Icon of Beauty, Brawn and Power

November 11, 2016-April 27, 2017
Rosenberg Library, 4th Floor
Ocean Campus
Library Hours


The image of Rosie the Riveter became a powerful icon during World War II. As men left their manufacturing jobs to join the military, women were recruited to work in the growing defense industry to support the war effort. Positive images of women doing non-traditional “masculine” jobs while remaining “feminine” were created to change gender norms around work roles. Rosie the Riveter got her name in a 1942 song by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb and was further popularized when Norman Rockwell’s Rosie painting was featured on the cover of a 1943 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Rockwell’s muscular Rosie defies convention, equipped as she is with a jackhammer in her lap and work goggles.

Artist J. Howard Miller created the most famous version of Rosie in his poster featuring an arm-flexing, bandana-wearing factory girl under the slogan “We Can Do It!” Over the last six decades, this image became a symbol of empowerment for women and has been reproduced and repurposed in a multitude of ways, gracing everything from lunch boxes to political posters. Rockwell’s image was better known during the 1940s, but Miller’s version was not restricted by copyright and has since become a cultural phenomenon through its widespread use in social media.

This exhibition explores the history of the original Rosies in U.S. shipyards during World War II, the way in which the icon of Rosie has been altered in the service of political activism and the inventive ways that women have made Rosie their own.


For this exhibition, the CCSF Library continues its longstanding collaboration with the Labor Archives and Research Center at San Francisco State University.

The Labor Archives and Research Center preserves the rich, lively labor history of the San Francisco Bay Area.  The Center is open to the public and holds more than 6,000 feet of primary source material, predominantly from the 20th century. The Labor Archives collects union records, personal papers, scrapbooks, photographs, posters, oral histories, and artifacts documenting local working people and labor organizations. Founded in 1985 by trade union leaders, historians, and university administrators, the Labor Archives is a unit of the J. Paul Leonard Library at San Francisco State University.

Votan Henriquez, “Warrior Wombyn (aka Rezzie the Riveter).”

Click for the Rosie the Riveter library exhibition assignment and list of books, websites and articles.



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Sue Ko Lee and the National Dollar Stores Strike of 1938

March 2-September 10, 2010

Rosenberg Library, 4th Floor Reference Case
A collaboration with the Labor Archives and Research Center at San Francisco State University
Scroll to the bottom to see image credits, copyright and use.

In the 1930s, the garment industry was the largest employer in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Here the workers continued to toil under sweatshop conditions, earning wages ranging from $4 to $16 a week. Sue Ko Lee, a button hole machine operator, worked in the National Dollar Store factory for 25¢ an hour. The International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) began an organizing drive in Chinatown to stem the flow of work from union shops to Chinese manufacturers and established the “Chinese Ladies Garment Workers Union Local 361.”

Under the skilled leadership of ILGWU organizer Jennie Matyas, a successful union election was won at the National Dollar Stores factory for better wages in 1938. The owner, a prominent Chinatown businessman, promptly sold the facility to Golden Gate Manufacturing, a “new” company headed by the factory manager and another former National Dollar Store employee. The change of “ownership” allowed management to set aside the hard won contract. Seeing this move as an attempt to break the union, the workers went on strike, picketing the factory and its three retail stores in San Francisco for 15 weeks. During the struggle, Sue Ko Lee and the other women workers actively engaged in the strike – walking the line, organizing picket shifts, and speaking out publicly at meetings for the first time. When the white retail clerks supported the strikers and refused to cross the line and shut down the picketed retail outlets for two weeks, the owner finally negotiated with the workers to settle a contract.

“The strike was the best thing that ever happened.
It changed our lives.

-Sue Ko Lee, As quoted in Unbound Voices by Judy Yung

The workers won a 5 percent raise; a forty-hour workweek; enforcement of health, fire, and sanitary conditions; and a guarantee that Golden Gate Manufacturing would provide work for a minimum of 11 months of the year to its workers. Despite these protections, one year after winning the contract, Golden Gate conveniently went out of business. The ease with which garment factories could close shop and relocate, sometimes leaving a substantial debt in unpaid wages, made it a common practice in the 1930s. This tactic remains a constant threat for workers attempting to organize a union even today.

The Dollar Store strike, though it could be seen as unsuccessful since the company closed shop, was critical in that it helped break down racial barriers in San Francisco. After Golden Gate Manufacturing went out of business, the union helped find the workers jobs outside of Chinatown, in what had previously been white-only shops. The strike also led to Chinese workers taking leadership roles in the union.  Sue Ko Lee became a business agent at another garment factory, then secretary of the union local and the San Francisco Joint Board, as well as a delegate to the ILGWU national convention.

Scroll to the bottom to see image credits, copyright and use.


Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary Completing the Twentieth Century. Harvard College, 2004.

Yung, Judy.  Unbound Voices: A Documentary History of Chinese Women in San Francisco. University of California Press, 1999.

Yung, Judy. Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco.  University of California Press, 1995.

Find more information in the CCSF Library on Women and Labor
Women and Labor Bibliography 2010

Download the Exhibition Assignment
Sue Ko Lee Exhibition Assignment

Photo Credits and Use: First 2 photographs at the top from the collection of Judy Yung. Please contact kconnell@ccsf.edu for more information. All other images from the collection of the Labor Archives and Research Center, SFSU, (415) 405-5571. These images are intended for educational use only. Permission to publish these image must be obtained from the Labor Archives and Research
Center, San Francisco State University. Copyright is retained by the original creator of the work, whose permission must also be obtained for publication. Responsibility for any use of this image rests
exclusively with the user. Please contact larc@sfsu.edu for more information.

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Filed under Cultural Studies, Heritage Months, Neighborhoods