In 1942, the United States joined forces with its European Allies, leaving the country devoid of millions of young men young. In their absence, women joined the workforce, many for the first times in their lives, becoming, among other things, nurses, firefighters, farmers, and factory workers. As the war drew on, many companies sought to keep up morale and also, keep their employees from striking.
At Westinghouse Electric, Pittsburg artist J. Howard Miller created a poster for the company of a young woman wearing a red polka-dotted bandana and a blue jumpsuit. It was accompanied by the simple words: “We Can Do It.” Artist J. Howard Miller took his inspiration for this illustration from a photograph he saw in the Pittsburg Press of a woman in profile wearing a bandana and jumpsuit leaning over a lathe. The original photograph was taken by an Acme news-service photographer in 1942 and held a caption that would solve a mystery almost three-quarters of a century later. The caption, however, was not credited in Miller’s art, since it was only intended for Westinghouse and its employees – never for public view.
It remained that way, in fact, until the early 1980’s when it came into the National Archives’ possession. At the urging of its consultants, the National Archives put prints of the poster in its gift shop giving it the name “Rosie the Riveter – a name intended to boost sales of merchandise bearing the image, a tactic which worked.
In the years that followed, numerous women claimed to be the inspiration for Rosie. It appears that most of those claims were made in good faith. The primary one came from Ms. Geraldine Doyle, who, in 1942, was a 19-year-old factory worker in Michigan. Her claim stems from having seen a reprint of the original lathe-worker photograph in a magazine in 1984. The reprint, however, did not carry with it the original caption. When Ms. Doyle saw the photograph of the woman by the lathe she thought it to be an image of her younger self. At the time of her death, in 2010, her claim had gone unchallenged; almost.
Just after the Pearl Harbor bombing, a young Naomi Parker, and her younger sister, Ada reported for duty at the Naval Air Station in Alameda, CA. The two sisters were assigned to the machine shop, where, among other duties, they had to rivet aircraft parts. On March 24, 1942, an Acme photographer visited the machine shop and snapped the photo of Ms. Parker at her lathe. The photo was printed in the newspaper with the caption: “Pretty Naomi Parker looks like she might catch her nose in the turret’s lathe she is operating.” Naomi clipped the image with its caption, keeping it safe in her bureau drawer for the next seven decades.
In 2008, Ms. Naomi Parker Fraley saw the “lathe-worker” photo at the Rosie the Riveter / World War II Home Front National Historic Park, in Richmond, CA – captioned with Geraldine Doyle’s name. In an attempt to clear the misconception, Naomi approached the National Park Service with a copy of the original photo and caption but received little assistance. It wasn’t until she met Dr. James Kimble, professor of communications at Seton Hall University, that her claim gained traction. Dr. Kimble had spent the previous six years searching for the true identity of Rosie the Riveter – not because he disputed Ms. Doyle’s claim but rather out of a suspicion that her claim was never verified. The two met and Naomi was able to provide Kimble with her photograph and caption. After extensive research, Kimble was able to locate a copy from a seller of vintage photos. It bore the original date, caption and location aligning with the details provided by Ms. Parker. According to Kimble, the woman in the photo is undeniably Naomi Parker Fraley. The question that remains, however, is whether it was that photograph that inspired Miller to paint the Rosie / Westinghouse poster. With no heirs to consult on the subject, it is impossible to say with absolute certainty. However, with Dr. Kimble’s verification of the timing of the photo’s printing, the location of its printing and the date and city of Miller’s creation of the work, Kimble feels strongly that Naomi is indeed Rosie.
Just before her passing, January 20, 2018, Ms. Parker felt victorious that at last, her identity had been correctly identified and was happy to be an inspiration to women in these most trying of times.