In Rosie’s Mom: Forgotten Women Workers of the First World War Carrie Brown has presented in delightful narrative form the results of her extensive research on American women’s contributions to the winning of World War I. She has carefully placed her story within the context of prevailing social issues of the early twentieth century and interspersed short accounts of the progress of the conflict in Europe. Furthermore, she has heightened the effect of her story by illustrating it with scores of excellent photographs of the mostly anonymous workers themselves and of the largely forgotten leaders who, often against fierce opposition, strove tirelessly to enroll women in industries deficient in manpower because of the war.
By alluding to Rosie the Riveter of World War II fame in her title Brown calls attention to the unfortunate neglect of the women who played major rolls in making not just the uniforms and bandages but the cartridges and gas masks and even biplanes needed by the men at the front in World War I. They did it in the face of repressive social norms and obstructionist tactics by labor unions which refused to admit them to membership and then charged them with being a threat to the labor movement.
Despite the odds against them these women successfully fulfilled vital roles, but after proving that women were capable of an enormously more varied contribution to the work of the world than had been thought possible, they were dismissed from their jobs at the war’s end and expected to step back into “feminine” obscurity.
Women like Rose Schneiderman, Mary Van Kleek, and Mary Anderson are women worth knowing and saluting. Carrie Brown offers readers the opportunity.