Recognizing and Remembering Rosie the Riveter

On Jan. 20, 2018, Naomi Parker Fraley passed away at the age of 96. Most Americans may not be familiar with her name, but they most likely would recognize her likeness. Fraley was the muse of J. Howard Miller’s “We Can Do It” poster. The poster, which is now an iconic staple in American history, depicts a woman dressed in a factory jumpsuit and a red and white polka dot bandana. She defiantly flexes her bicep against a vibrant yellow background underneath the words “We can do it.” Although Miller’s poster is a well-known piece of pop culture, Fraley would not be recognized as the woman behind Rosie until 2016.​

Courtesy: Inside Edition

According to History, in 1943, J. Howard Miller created “Rosie the Riveter” for the Westinghouse Electric Corporation as a part of a 40-poster promotional campaign. The corporation hoped to urge more women to assist with wartime efforts. Miller’s poster was displayed for two weeks at Westinghouse, but it did not gain the recognition then that it has today. Instead, it was overshadowed by a poster created by Norman Rockwell, which featured numerous similarities. Inspired by “Rosie the Riveter,” a song that was popular at the time, Rockwell’s poster depicted a woman in a jumpsuit wearing a red and white bandana as well. However, this Rosie was posed differently; she had her foot placed on a copy of “Mein Kampf,” a rivet gun and a lunchbox with the name “Rosie” across it in her lap and a sandwich in one hand. Rockwell’s Rosie was the more popular of the time and eclipsed Miller’s version by covering a feature of Saturday Evening Post.​

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The fortieth anniversary of WWII fell in the ‘80s and brought with it a resurgence of Miller’s “Rosie the Riveter.” Noticing this popularity, the National Archives licensed the image and began fundraising by selling various souvenirs featuring the image. During this second life, Rosie continued to be a symbol of patriotism while also adopting the new role of being a feminist icon. Miller’s Rosie was now the most famous version.

During this time, Geraldine Hoff Doyle of Michigan came across a picture in a magazine of a woman working in a factory that she believed was herself, as she had worked in 1942 as a metal presser. She then connected this picture with Miller’s poster and soon became known nationwide as the inspiration behind Rosie. For decades, this was accepted, even after the death of Doyle in 2010. However, associate professor of communications at Seton Hall University, James J. Kimble thought otherwise and pondered why no one had questioned whether Doyle truly was Rosie. Kimble began researching information about “Rosie the Riveter,” and after half a decade stumbled upon information that would lead to the true identity of Rosie.

Naomi Parker Fraley had previously discovered the truth when she saw a picture of herself while attending a reunion of female war workers in 2011. To her surprise, the information in the caption was incorrect and stated that the picture showed Doyle, not herself. She took the issue to the National Park Service and provided an older newspaper clipping of a picture of herself with her name in the caption, but she was turned away with disbelief. Five years after she realized that she was Rosie, Kimble would make public the revelation that would validate Fraley once and for all.

Kimble found an original photo, believed to be the inspiration for Miller’s poster. It shows a woman peering over a machine in clothes identical to Rosie’s in the poster. Attached to the back was a caption that describes “pretty Naomi” as the subject. The photo was taken while Fraley worked at the Alameda U.S. Naval Air Station in 1942. Fraley was delighted to hear Kimble’s confirmation that she was, indeed, the inspiration for Miller’s Rosie. This moment allowed Fraley to gain validation while also allowing her to reclaim her identity. Kimble shared his findings in an article titled “Rosie’s Secret Identity.” Following the revelation, Fraley conducted interviews and recreated the famous image in a photo shoot.

Courtesy: History

There is still some debate over the true identity of “Rosie the Riveter,” but regardless of who inspired Miller to create the fictional character, it is undeniable that she left her mark on American history. Rosie can be found throughout pop culture as she is referenced, replicated and alluded to regularly. She is still viewed as a well-known feminist icon and continues to inspire women across the nation.