An American Italian: “Rosie the Riveter”

How about the power and strength of an Italian woman, Rosina Bonavita of Peekskill, NY who gained fame during WWII?  Her high school sweetheart and husband-to-be, Jim Hickey, was serving in the Navy in the Pacific aboard the battleship USS Mississippi, her three brothers were in combat zones and she was a riveter at the GM plant in Tarrytown, NY. Hickey wrote her that “the boys needed planes and more planes.” Inspired by this letter and the need to boost the morale of women everywhere, she and 28-year-old Jennie Fioritto of Ossining, NY, riveted an entire wing of a Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber drilling more than 900 lap holes, fitting skins and driving 3,345 rivets, perfectly, in a record six-hour period. When another team beat that mark, Rosina partnered with Susan Esposito and set a new speed record.

Rosina became a media icon and a music hit in the song, “Rosie the Riveter.” A Norman Rockwell cover on the “Saturday Evening Post” portrayed a muscle-bound gal working in a factory, holding a riveting gun with “Rosie” written on her lunch box. She wasn’t sold on the muscles portrayal, but the symbol became the standard for millions of women working on behalf of women rights and a changing America.

In no way did Rosina earn any money for the “Rosie the Riveter” illustration. She saw her work as a patriotic duty and she wanted women to have equal pay and equal opportunity.

On New Year’s Day 1996, Rosina passed away. Her son was convinced that her weakened bones were attributed to lead toxins from her early days of riveting.

The Bonavita family traced their roots to Naples, Italy.