Yesterday, The New York Times reported that real-life Rosie the Riveter, Naomi Parker Fraley, died at 96 years old last weekend. Though we’ve all seen the poster—a brunette woman exclaims that “we can do it!” while raising her shirtsleeve to proudly flex her muscles—many don’t know the story of its subject. This is because "Rosie's" identity has been debated since the poster’s creation in 1943.
In 1942, a photographer took the candid shot of Fraley at age 20 working on a turret lathe. The photo was distributed in newspapers worldwide, and a year later, artist J. Howard Miller used it as inspiration when creating the now-iconic image.
Though there have been several women who played a role in creating the character—the name, for instance, came from a wartime song about riveter Rosalind Walter—the woman who inspired the image was falsely believed to be Geraldine Hoff Doyle until the 21st century. In 2016, People ran an interview with Fraley, in which she described stumbling upon the initial photograph of her linked with an image of Rosie.
“I couldn’t believe it because it was me in the photo, but there was somebody else’s name in the caption,” she said. “I didn’t want fame or fortune, but I did want my own identity.”
Seton Hall University Professor James Kimble, who specialized in research and work on the poster and the role of women in the workforce during World War II, helped publicize Fraley’s identity. “Naomi Parker was and is a real person,” he said in a 2016 interview with the Omaha World-Herald. “Misidentifying her is a huge disservice to her and her descendents. This image is part of our cultural heritage, so it’s important we understand the context.”
Rest in peace, Naomi — thanks for being a (very literal) feminist icon.
Top image by J. Howard Miller, 1943
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Lydia Wang is a writer, pug enthusiast, and hopeless romantic. She lives in New York, writes for BUST, and overshares on Twitter: @lydiaetc.