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Rosalind P. Walter, the first 'Rosie the Riveter', dies at 95

Walter was recruited at 19 as an assembly line worker at the Vought Aircraft Company in Stratford, Connecticut.

Rosalind P. Walter, the first 'Rosie the Riveter', dies at 95
Cover Image Source: (L): Facebook/Thirteen WNET New York, (R): Facebook/American Rosie the Riveter Association

Rosalind P. Walter—one of the millions of women to assume the traditional man's job of driving rivets into fighter planes during World War II—didn't really need to join the movement. Born on June 24, 1924, in Brooklyn, she grew up in a wealthy and genteel Long Island home as one of four children of Carleton and Winthrop (Bushnell) Palmer. She attended the Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, Connecticut—one of the first college-preparatory boarding schools for upper-class women—and graduated with a chance to attend either Smith or Vassar College. Yet, when American women entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers during the war, she chose to sacrifice the opportunities ahead of her and join the home-front crusade to arm the troops with munitions, warships, and aircraft.


According to The New York Times, Walter was recruited at 19 as an assembly line worker at the Vought Aircraft Company in Stratford, Connecticut. She worked the night shift driving rivets into the metal bodies of Corsair fighter planes at a plant—a job that had traditionally been reserved for men. Her story caught the attention of the syndicated newspaper columnist Igor Cassini, who featured her in his Cholly Knickerbocker column. This piece went on to inspire the iconic morale-boosting 1942 song "Rosie the Riveter," which in turn gave way to the archetype of the hard-working women in overalls and bandanna-wrapped hair.


Written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb, and popularized by the Four Vagabonds, the bandleader Kay Kyser and others, "Rosie the Riveter" became the tune of a movement that brought women into the workforce like never before. "All the day long whether rain or shine... she’s a part of the assembly line... She’s making history, working for victory—Rosie, brrrrr, the Riveter... Keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage... Sitting up there on the fuselage... That little frail can do, more than a male can do—Rosie, brrrrr, the Riveter," countless women sang through the ages.

However, inspiring an icon for generations of women was just Walter's first celebrated act. She went on to become a major philanthropist and one of PBS's principal benefactors. She also became the largest individual supporter of WNET in New York, helping finance 67 shows or series from the year 1978. With numerous achievements to her name, Rosalind P. Walters passed away at the age of 95 on Wednesday at her home in Manhattan.


Allison Fox, WNET’s senior director for major gifts, revealed that part of what drew Walter to public television was her desire to compensate for the opportunities she lost during the war. Having missed the chance to study further when she chose to serve the country, Walter found that public television documentaries and other programs helped fill in the gaps in her education. "She cared deeply about the public being informed and felt that public television and media is the best way to accomplish this," said Fox.


Walter and her second husband, Henry Glendon Walter Jr., gave generously to the American Museum of Natural History, the Pierpont Morgan Library, Long Island University, the college scholarship program of the United States Tennis Association, and the North Shore Wildlife Sanctuary on Long Island. Some of these gifts came through what is known today as the Rosalind P. Walter Foundation. The couple served as trustees or directors of many of the organizations they gave to. Although "Rosie the Riveter" is a huge part of Walter's legacy, she wasn't the only woman associated with the character. At least four other women became models for the character as the War Production Board sought to recruit more women for the military factories. While she cannot alone claim the crown of being the real Rosie the Riveter, she will definitely be remembered as the first.


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