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Who was the real “Rosie the Riveter?”

By Shelly Allen

After the United States joined the war in 1941, the government called on women to join the workforce. 6,000,000 women answered that call. From 1940 to 1945, the female demographic of workers increased from 27 to 37 percent and 50 percent of those went for jobs in the defense industries. The aircraft industry was made up of an astonishing 65 percent of women by 1943.

Rosie WorkingIn 1942, the Westinghouse Power Company commissioned J. Howard Miller to create a promotional poster that would boost morale among it’s employees. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the poster would find itself in the midst of the feminist movement. The poster’s powerful image would be adopted by feminists everywhere and because the poster lacked a copyright, it could be widely distributed. People began to wonder, was the person depicted in the poster a real woman? It didn’t take long for someone to step forward and claim she was that woman. Geraldine Hoff Doyle, who worked in a factory in Michigan, believed she saw herself in an uncaptioned reprint of a photo depicting Miller’s muse. It would take 30 years and the dedication of one Seton Hall University professor to set the record straight.

In 2015, after six years of research, professor James J. Kimble knocked on Naomi Parker Fraley’s door. In 1942, it seems the 20-year-old, California waitress-turned-factory worker posed for a photograph while wearing her signature red-and-white-polka-dot bandana and working on a turret lath at a Naval Air Station. She and her younger sister, Ada drilled and patched airplane wings as well as operated rivet machines.

Naomi Parker FraleyAs the pictures circulated nationwide it was then that J. Howard Miller saw them and used Fraley’s likeness as the inspiration for his 1942, “We Can Do It!” poster.

For 30 years, Fraley was unaware of her likeness on the poster until she was told the photo had been misidentified. Fraley told People in 2015, “I couldn’t believe it because it was me in the photo, but there was somebody else’s name in the caption: Geraldine. I was amazed.” It was too late to set the record straight as Geraldine had been cemented as the real Rosie. “I just wanted my own identity. I didn’t want fame or fortune, but I did want my own identity,” Fraley recalled.

Naomi Parker Fraley passed peacefully in January of this year, she was 96 years old. The icon of the women’s movement of the 1980’s and eternal symbol of women’s empowerment said, “The women of this country these days need some icons. If they think I’m one, I’m happy about that.”


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