Naomi Parker Fraley – The “Real We Can Do It” Girl
Revealed in 2009. The then 89 year old woman behind an iconic feminist poster finally stepped forward. But the true story of Rosie the Riveter is not what you think !
Rosie the Riveter Song
Rosie began in a song. This popular video of the Rosie the Riveter song was created by Glamour Daze. It features the catchy tune first written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb and performed by The Four Vagabonds. Telling the story of the WW2 woman “making history, working for victory.”, it quickly became a hit and established the name of Rosie the Riveter as the All American WW2 Woman.
The song title, reputedly was named for Rosalind P Walter, who was a riveter for Corsair. Music historian Robert Lissauer, disputed that claim.
“I was there. In fact they wrote it on my piano. They just made up the name ‘Rosie the Riveter.’ You pick a name for the alliteration and you go ahead and write it.”
The Norman Rockwell Rosie the Riveter Poster
Inspired by the song, the original 1943 Rosie the Riveter cover of the Saturday Evening Post by Norman Rockwell, is NOT the image now recognized as the iconic image of female empowerment. Rockwell’s painting however caused quite a stir in the 1940’s. Pictured here with the notably ‘slimmer’ model Mary Doyle Keefe. One thing can be said about this and his other extraordinary paintings. Norman Rockwell did not objectify women.
The We Can Do It Girl
On March 24th 1942 San Francisco factory worker Naomi Parker tied up her hair one day with a red & white polka dot scarf and went to work with her sister Ada-Wyn at the local naval base. She was snapped that day, along with her sister and friend, by a Pittsburgh Press photographer.
Her photo first appeared in the Oakland Post Enquirer on March 25th . The next day the Milwaukee Journal ran the same photograph.
A headline The Well Dressed Woman Worker ran the following caption:
“What the well dressed woman worker should wear is shown here by Naomi Parker. It includes slacks, turban, low heeled shoes and no jewelry. Naomi is operating a lathe in the machine shops of the naval air station at Alameda California.”
Soon it was appearing in newspapers across the nation.
Parker cut out the photo and caption and kept it for 70 years.
The We Can Do It Rosie Poster
The same year, artist J. Howard Miller was commissioned by the Westinghouse Electric Company, to create an inspirational poster to boost worker morale. Miller used the Pittsburgh press photo of Naomi as his inspiration. It hung on the Westinghouse factory walls for just a few weeks.
By all accounts the poster was largely forgotten until its re-emergence in the 1980’s.
Rosie the Riveter – From War Propaganda to Feminist Icon
The posters latter day identification of Rosie the Riveter as a feminist is a modern misconception. The We Can Do It caption, was of course originally about winning the war. It has since been re purposed as a “we can do just about anything” message.
Compared to Rockwell’s poster of the following year, Miller’s painting is much more feminine. His Rosie, like Naomi Parker, exhibit’s physical strength.
But at the same time, she is wearing mascara, eyebrow liner, and a hint of lipstick.
Back in 1982, Washington Posts journalist Patricia Brennan wrote an article called Poster Art for Patriotism Sake. It cited the We Can Do It poster. Withing a few short years, this here to fore little known copyright free image became an iconic image of feminism.
In fact, the 1940’s was a very long way from female emancipation. It would seem clear however that Miller, inspired by similar Soviet propaganda images from the 1930’s, saw women in a very different light – as his poster of Naomi Parker suggests.
The Real We Can Do It Girl is Revealed
John Fraley, Naomi Parker’s son in law, tells the story.
“Naomi never thought too much about that picture until 2009 when she and her sister Ada Wyn visited the Rosie the Riveter Museum at the National Park in Richmond for a gathering of the Rosie’s. While attending the event, they stepped inside the Park Museum, (SS Red Oak Victory Ship), where they saw a “Big ol’ Picture” of Naomi working at her lathe at Alemeda… but it had a different name below it! It was the same picture of herself that Naomi had clipped out of the newspaper so many years ago.”
Naomi and Ada-Wynn talked with the curator and they told her that it was Naomi in the photo.“I guess the person asked for proof. Naomi and Ada said they had some old newspaper clippings.”
The museum eventually accepted that there was clearly an identity issue and that it would be corrected. The irony was that Naomi loved the poster, but had no idea till that day, that she was it’s inspiration.
As John says:
“The photo and the famous poster was and is a very big deal to many, many people… and now is a big deal to Naomi and to us, her family. I’m sure that Geraldine Hoff was a very good person. No doubt really believed she was the person in the now historic photo, but 100%, she is not, that person is Naomi Parker Fraley.”
Sadly, Naomi passed away in 2016 at the grand age of 96. She was quite a gal by all accounts. She was a song writer and performer in a Christian music group called “The Three Sisters”. Rest in peace Rosie
6 Million Rosie the Riveters – Library of Congress Photo Collection
Putting aside the debacle. Naomi Parker and Geraldine Doyle were just two of six million ‘real Rosie’s’ who worked tirelessly in factories during Ww2. The Library of Congress have an impressive archive of Rosie the Riveter photographs, which truly embodies the “We Can Do It” spirit of the times.
Glamour Daze have published downloadable ephemera dedicated to women who served in all fronts during World War 2. From British Land Girls to American Wac, it’s all there.
Postscript – The Original Rosie the Riveter Girl
If there was one woman who could have the honor of being the real Rosie the Riveter girl , it would be the aforementioned Mary Doyle Keefe. Though not a riveter herself, she was the model for Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter painting in 1943. She was not exactly enamored with the painting.“Norman apologized to me for making me look so large!”
That’s all ! © GlamourDaze