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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Rosie and Natasha

I’m not going to say much about the fiasco in Tallahassee this legislative session, but I have to say something: I’m a historian, and this is an unprecedented mess. Speaker of the House Steve Crisa-full-of-himself made history by pitching a fit indistinguishable from a toddler’s tantrum, taking his marbles and going home. Like sheep, other House Republicans went along. And unlike the rest of us, their paychecks did not stop when they walked off the job.

In contrast, Tampa’s own Senator Arthenia Joyner seemed to be the first lawmaker to realize that the House’s early adjournment was a violation of the state Constitution, and she organized other Democrats in taking the case to the Florida Supreme Court. In response to her scholarly perspective, a juvenile white member of the House, Republican Matt Gaetz, made a racist tweet for which the Speaker had to apologize. I want to tell him and the world that Senator Joyner was the elected president of the National Bar Association and has practiced law longer than any other African-American woman in Florida. She has more knowledge and personal experience of what is and is not constitutional in her little toe than this smart aleck has in his entire body.

Two takeaways: Let’s start electing grown-ups and dismiss the paid-for puppets who belong in a frat house, not the House. And the second is a question: Arthenia, how about running for attorney general?

* * *

So you saw that the pope used strong language in endorsing equal pay for women? The news made me smile, but also made me wonder where he has been all his life. He seemed genuinely shocked that this is the case, saying: “Why it is a given that women must earn less than men? No! They have the same rights. The disparity is pure scandal.” As I said when I wrote on the issue for Equal Pay Day, hope springs.

* * *

When Linked-In began several years ago, the company apparently wanted to display a bigger membership than it had, and some anonymous someone wrote a profile of me. I was shocked to discover that I was in charge of something based in St. Petersburg that was called “Self-Enhancement” or some such jargon. After a great deal of trouble, I managed to correct the most egregious misperceptions of my persona, but I never use Linked-In. Still, I get frequent notices from them. Most are irrelevant, but last week a writer for Vanity Fair used Linked-In to say that she wanted to interview me about “Rosie the Riveter.”

I gave her my phone number, and she left a voice message that included her e-mail address. Of all the electronic options these days, I continue to prefer e-mail, and that methodology allowed me to attach a scan of the essay on Rosie that is in my 2010 book on women during World War II. I never heard back. I suspect that when she read it, the would-be author decided to drop the whole thing because the facts probably got in the way of what she had intended to say.

I think that because about the same time, Women’s E-News announced the death of Mary Doyle Keefe, who was the model for Norman Rockwell’s painting of Rosie. That probably is not the visage that you have in your mind, though, because Rockwell and his chief employer, Saturday Evening Post, were too conscious of royalties to allow much reproduction of his image. Nor was Keefe a riveter: she was a telephone operator in Rockwell’s Vermont town. (Telephone operators, for those who are really young, ran switchboards that used wires to connect calls before everything was automated. Millions of women were phone operators back in the day.)

The Rosie logo that is most familiar -- along with its slogan, “We Can Do it” – was drawn in more realistic circumstances, but its creator is almost totally unknown. J. Howard Miller painted an actual Detroit-area riveter as an employee recruitment tool for Westinghouse, a major producer of aircraft instruments, radios, and other essential wartime equipment. Miller’s poster was almost a year earlier than Rockwell’s, but because neither Miller nor Westinghouse tried to restrict the use of this Rosie image, it is the one that you see on coffee mugs and calendars today. Rockwell’s restrictions paid off for his heirs, as Sotheby’s sold his original in 2002 for almost $5 million.

This has particular irony for me because my first WWII book, published in 1990, had two quite different jackets for its first and second printings. Then the publisher allowed it to go out of print – and another publisher pirated it, putting the familiar Rosie logo on its cover. I first learned about this when my brother in Arkansas and sister in Georgia called to congratulate me after seeing it in a Christmas catalog. I admit that I abhor the business side of writing and never have done much about the fact that I get no royalties. I do, however, strongly identify with J. Howard Miller.

Yet it is nice that the Tampa Museum of Art has been running a Rockwell exhibit. It’s even nicer that enough Tampans wanted to hear from Ruby Bridges that her appearance was sold out. And if Ruby Bridges doesn’t mean anything to you, look her up. Isn’t it great that we can do that so easily these days?

* * *

So when I looked up my Rosie essay, I noticed that the one beneath it was “Russian Women” – and I wished that the Vanity Fair writer were pursuing that topic instead. It’s particularly relevant right now, as May marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe – and we never would have won that without Russians. Of all the many things wrong with American understanding of our history, this is the greatest crime. Far too many of us believe that the Soviet Union was our enemy in World War II; instead, it was our most important ally against Nazi Germany and Hitler’s fascist friends throughout Europe. If you read carefully the on-going articles about the liberation of concentration camps in the spring of 1945, you can figure out that the liberators often were Soviets, but postwar prejudices make that less than easy to grasp. Let me do a bit to correct that, quoting from my essay on Russian women:

“More than British women and much more than American women, Russian women played an important role in victory. Both nations used systems of compulsory labor for women: with exceptions only for genuine reasons of inability, all women were assigned to jobs in agriculture or industry, or they joined the military. Much more than British women, however, Russian women advanced in the military and performed jobs that no other nation trusted to women. Russia’s greater utilization of female abilities can be seen just in its medical schools: at the same time that American women were limited to quotas of about 5%, 85% of Russia’s future physicians were female.”

“Able-bodied Soviet men were in the military, and about 75% of the civilian labor force was female. They did every kind of job, even while under attack from German invaders. A female engineer, for instance, managed to get her explosive-laden train out of Moscow while bombs fell around her… Women also served in the military’s ground, sea, and air forces. They flew bombers and fighter planes, and some earned decorations for hundreds of Nazi “kills.”

“Women weak from malnutrition nonetheless defended Stalingrad, even digging trenches by hand to slow down the invading tanks and trucks. The siege lasted from July 1942 to February 1943 and was the worst battle in human history, with upwards of 1.5 million casualties… The level of grief almost defies comprehension, as one of every 22 Russians died during the war years. That is about 14% of the total population; in comparison, the US lost 0.3%.”

Many were executed by Nazi firing squads, yet they held on, fought back, and eventually pushed Hitler’s soldiers the long distance back to Germany – and women were part of the occupation force there, too. Let us remember them this May. More than we ourselves, they gave us freedom. Rosie was fine, but she did nothing compared with Natasha.

Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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