Everyone recognizes the iconic “Rosie the Riveter” poster. The person who was the inspiration for the poster, Naomi Parker Fraley, passed away on January 23 at the age of 96.
Created in 1942 as part of a series of posters for the war effort, Rosie’s became the most famous and remains popular today, over seventy-five years later. There is just something endearing about the slender woman flexing her muscles under the caption “We Can Do It”. The poster was created by Pittsburgh artist J. Howard Miller, who was hired by the Westinghouse Company to create a series of posters in support of the war effort and to boost worker morale for both men and women working at the company.
Rosie the Riveter was created at a time when men were off to war and the women left behind began to work at jobs previously held by men. This experience unified women across North America as women proved they could do a “man’s job” and they could do it well. The symbol of Rosie the Riveter represented the women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II, producing munitions and war supplies.[Some historians say this was the beginning of the women’s movement which gained popularity in the sixties. In 1942, employers raised the proportion of jobs “acceptable” for woman from 30% to 85%. African American women were among those who began to work in traditional male roles, beginning the slow process of civil rights in the United States. It was the first time that white and black women worked side by side, and it was the start of breaking down social barriers.
This now famous poster was on display only to Westinghouse employees and only for a two-week period in February 1943. After that, it basically disappeared for almost four decades until the early 1980’s, when it was re-discovered. It became famous then and is to this day associated with both the feminist movement and the lab our movement.
What I did not know about Rosie the Riveter until Fraley passed away is that Rosie was based on a real person; in fact, she was fashioned after a photograph on a United Press International wire service of a female war worker at the Naval Air Station in Alameda, California. What makes this story even more interesting is that Naomi Park Fraley didn’t even know until 2010 that her photograph inspired the poster. Fraley was at a reunion in 2010 for women who had worked during the war when she saw a display which included a picture of the woman who was the inspiration for the Rosie the Riveter poster. She immediately recognized herself and that was the first time she knew of her connection to Rosie. Fraley recalled how a press photographer had approached her at work at the Alameda Naval Station and asked her to take her picture. She didn’t see the picture until her reunion some sixty years later.
I’m glad that Naomi Fraley knew before she died that she was “Rosie the Riveter” and that she knew how the “We Can Do It” poster has influenced women through the decades.