The woman who inspired Rosie the Riveter dies at 96

Naomi Parker-Fraley, who died on Sunday at the age of 96 is believed to have inspired the iconic 'We Can Do It' poster during World War II, but history almost but forgot her.

The woman believed to have inspired artist J. Howard Miller’s iconic World War II “Rosie the Riveter” poster died on Saturday at the age of 96, according to a report by The New York Times.

Naomi Parker-Fraley died on Saturday in Longview Washington. Her daughter-in-law, Marnie Blankenship confirmed her death to the New York Times. Parker-Fraley's supposed connection to Rosie, the war worker and cultural icon of World War II, first became public in 2016.

"We Can Do It!" by J. Howard Miller was made as an inspirational image to boost worker morale. (Source: Wikipedia)

Her story had been overshadowed by several other American women who have been identified as the model who inspired Rosie. In an interview with People magazine in 2016, Fraley said, "I didn't want fame or fortune, but I did want my own identity.”

Rosie the Riveter is a cultural icon of World War II, representing the women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II, many of whom produced munitions and war supplies. Her image was immortalized in the inspirational World War II poster designed by artist J. Howard Miller who was hired by the Westinghouse Company's War Production Coordinating Committee to create a series of posters for the war effort.

The logo of the New York Riverters women's hockey team was inspired by the character of Rosie The Riveter. (Image Source: Pinterest)

One of these posters became the famous "We Can Do It!" image—an image that in later years would also be called "Rosie the Riveter”. Rosie the Riveter is used as a symbol of American feminism and women's economic power and has cemented itself in the pop-culture of the modern age, even inspiring a song and a WW II era film. 

Fraley, who was a waitress in California, had the most legitimate claim of having a connection to Rosie, according to The New York Times, but this was a recent association. In 1942 came the wartime song ‘Rosie the Riveter’ written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb. The song portrays "Rosie" as a tireless assembly line worker, doing her part to help the American war effort. The name is said to be a nickname for one Ms. Rosie Bonavita who was working for Convair in San Diego, California.

Artist Norman Rockwell's rendition of Rosie the Riveter made it to the cover of The Post. (Image Source: Flickr)

Rosie the Riveter became most closely associated with another real woman, Rose Will Monroe who worked as a riveter at the Willow Run Aircraft Factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan, building B-24 bombers for the U.S. Army Air Forces. She even starred in a promotional film, which used to encourage women to go to work in support of the war effort.

The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter was a promotional film, which used to encourage women to go to work in support of the war effort. (Image Source: Pinterest)

For years, the woman in the photo was thought to be Geraldine Hoff Doyle, who worked as a metal presser in a Michigan plant during the war. When Parker-Fraley attended a reunion at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in 2009, she saw a copy of her photo captioned with Doyle’s name. “I couldn’t believe it because it was me in the photo, but there was somebody else’s name in the caption: Geraldine,” said Parker-Fraley in an interview with People magazine. “I was amazed!”

Image Source: Twitter

The photo, showing 20-year-old Naomi Parker-Fraley sporting her signature red-and-white-polka-dot bandana and working on a turret lathe, was taken in 1942 by a photographer touring the Naval Air Station in Alameda, California, and featured in newspapers and magazines nationwide. “It ran in newspapers from San Francisco to Washington. I even got fan mail!” Parker-Fraley said, according to the report by People.

Naomi Parker Fraley's photo from 1942 which was mistakenly associated with Geraldine Hoff Doyle for over three decades. (Image Source: Twitter)

Parker-Fraley spent decades unaware of her connection to the poster, mostly because another woman named Geraldine Hoff Doyle, who worked in a factory in Michigan, had been labeled “the real-life Rosie the Riveter” since she believed she saw herself in an un-captioned reprint of Parker-Fraley’s photo in the 1980s.

Because Hoff Doyle bore an uncanny resemblance to Parker-Fraley, no one questioned the claim, and her story traveled around the world. Once Parker-Fraley learned her photo had been misidentified for almost 30 years, she tried to set the record straight by sending a newspaper clipping of her photo and its original caption to the park service. But it was too late. Hoff Doyle’s place had already been cemented in history as Rosie the Riveter.

Parker-Fraley spent decades unaware of her connection to the poster, mostly because another woman named Geraldine Hoff Doyle, who worked in a factory in Michigan, had been labeled “the real-life Rosie the Riveter”. (Image Source: Pinterest)

Parker-Fraley was devastated and her cause remained hopeless until 2015, when she met James J. Kimble. Kimble, an associate professor at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, had also been researching “Rosie’s” true identity and his research had led him straight to Fraley’s door. He published his findings in a 2016 article in the journal, Rhetoric and Public Affairs. “There is no question that she is the ‘lathe woman’ in the photograph,” Kimble told The New York Times.

The image of Rosie the Riveter is cemented in pop-culture. Various versions of it have been used as a symbol of women's empowerment. (Image Source: Pinterest)

However, Kimble did emphasize that the connection is not conclusive, but, he says, there is circumstantial evidence. "The timing is pretty good," he explained. "The poster appears in Westinghouse factories in February 1943. Presumably, they're created weeks, possibly months, ahead of time. So I imagine Miller's working on it in the summer and fall of 1942."

According to the Times, Kimble also learned that the lathe photo was published in The Pittsburgh Press, in Miller's hometown, on July 5, 1942. "So Miller very easily could have seen it," he said.

Parker-Fraley, along with her sister were among millions of American women who entered the workforce during World War II, filling gaps in the labor force left by men who had gone off to fight. These women fulfilled a range of instrumental tasks, including producing planes and munitions, serving on ration boards, volunteering for the American Red Cross and driving trucks. 

After her stint at the naval air station, Fraley went on to waitress at a restaurant in Palm Springs and later got married and started a family. Her Facebook page proudly displayed an image of the “Rosie” poster, Parker-Fraley smiling and flexing her arm beside it.

Fraley's Facebook page proudly displayed an image of the “Rosie” poster, with Parker-Fraley smiling and flexing her arm beside it. (Image Source: Facebook)

“The women of this country these days need some icons,” she told People magazine. “If they think I’m one, I’m happy about that.” A Senate resolution last year designated March 21, 2017 as 'National Rosie the Riveter Day' to honor their efforts.

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