The image of a woman in a red headscarf and blue shirt flexing her right arm under the slogan, “We Can Do it” has been a cultural icon in the United States for 80 years. Created in 1942 by Pittsburgh artist J. Howard Miller, it was featured on a poster for Westinghouse Electric corporation, then used by the U.S. government during World War II. The image aimed to inspire and celebrate the more than 6 million American women who joined the workforce to replace men who enlisted in the armed forces.
While Miller’s “Rosie” was a fictional rendering, a real “Rosie” worked for the Pullman Company during World War II. Rose Szczerbiak was a Ukrainian-American woman born and raised on Langley Avenue in Pullman.
“I distinctly remember walking to 111th Street and Champlain as a child,” said her niece, Marilyn Gartelmann Quiroz. “We would wait for her to exit the turn styles at the entrance of the plant.” During World War II, Szczerbiak worked in the factory, cleaning out the inside of shells with steel-wool and making artillery for the U.S. Government. At the time, the government contracted with the Pullman Company to create a variety of materials for the defense industry.
Rose Helen Szczerbiak was born on January 5, 1922, in the Pullman Blockhouse at 11315 S. Langley Avenue (then Fulton Avenue) to Ukrainian immigrants Michael Szczerbiak and Mary Opaluch Szczerbiak. She later married Harry Barlog, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II near Okinawa.
Rose retired from the Pullman after the war and the entire family moved to Chicago Heights in 1957. They had three children: Robert, William and Nancy. “She was a wonderful cook and a loving mother,” said her son, Robert Barlog. “She always had a smile on her face.”
Her family recently uncovered two photos of Rose during her time working at the Pullman Company, one standing in her uniform along 112th Street and Langley Avenue and another with her colleagues inside the plant (Rose is middle row, second from the right). Rose Szczerbiak Barlog passed away on October 21, 1993 at age 71.
This “Women’s History Month,” we salute the thousands of women who worked for the Pullman Company during World War II, including our own “Rosie the Riveter.”