Rose Will Monroe was a widowed mother of two daughters, working as a riveter in the Willow Run Aircraft Factory in Michigan, when actor Walter Pidgeon asked her to appear in a World War II film promoting the sale of war bonds.
Born in Pulaski County, Monroe then became the face of the fictional "Rosie the Riveter," the iconic image of women who worked at nontraditional jobs in the defense industry while most of the men were fighting in the war.
Monroe left Kentucky after her husband died in a car accident in 1942, according to the History Channel, and took the job on the assembly line making B-24 and B-29 bombers. By 1944, the plant was making one bomber every hour, the report said. More than 300,000 women worked in the industry until the end of the war, when the men returned to take the jobs.
She is just one of more than 40 women of Kentucky who refused to allow society's definitions and limitations tailor what they did with their lives, and her story is featured in a documentary, Dreamers & Doers: Voices of Kentucky Women, that will be shown at the Kentucky Theatre at 7 p.m. April 9. It will be the last of four free showings of the film before it is sent to middle and high schools and public libraries for educational use.
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Produced by Michael Breeding Media, the film is based on the Kentucky Women Remembered exhibit of 69 portraits in the state Capitol.
Linda Roach, a member of the Kentucky Commission on Women and the Kentucky Commission on Women Foundation Inc., a nonprofit organization that raises funds for select projects, said the foundation began fundraising for the documentary about two years ago. Donations have come from businesses and individuals.
"It's been a big process," she said. "Women will be proud of the film and men will be surprised."
Although every significant contribution by a Kentucky woman cannot be acknowledged in the one-hour film, the film tries to highlight women from diverse backgrounds and those who have made the biggest impact.
"It is breathtaking in its depth," Roach said. "We are geographically diverse and racially diverse. It is so sad it has taken this long for women who have done great things to be acknowledged."
Some of the more familiar women featured include: Mary Breckinridge, who started the Frontier Nursing Service; former Gov. Martha Layne Collins; singer-songwriter Loretta Lynn; and former Sen. Georgia Davis Powers, the first black and first woman elected to the Kentucky State Senate.
Less familiar names include Nettie Depp, who became the first female public official in Barren County, serving as superintendent of the county schools from 1914-17. She was elected in 1913, seven years before women could vote in the state.
In that short period of time, Depp, who was a relative of actor Johnny Depp, oversaw the acceptance of a uniform curriculum and fought for compulsory education laws that, when enacted, tripled the number of students in attendance in Barren County. She also started the first four-year high school in that county.
From Bourbon County, the film introduces us to Margaret Ingels, the first woman to graduate from the University of Kentucky in mechanical engineering. She became a pioneer in the development of air conditioning.
And from Jefferson County, the film features Grace Marilynn James, a pediatrician who devoted her medical career to helping the black community access health care.
"She was my oldest son's first pediatrician," said Eleanor Jordan, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Women and the executive producer of the film. "She was an advocate for preventative care and universal health care. What we are debating today, she was saying 45 years ago."
James was the first black on staff at Louisville Children's Hospital and on faculty at the University of Louisville School of Medicine.
"I don't think by any means this film talks about every women it should," Jordan said, "but I think it is a starting point, a catalyst for people to fill in the gap.
"I guarantee you will leave by saying, 'I didn't know that.' It will inspire people to value women's accomplishments and recognize future opportunities to document others. These are things Kentucky children should know about."
Although the film is free, you must have a ticket, Roach said. There are 800 seats available.
Visit Women.ky.govto reserve your seat.