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Uncovering the Secret Identity of Rosie the Riveter

January 23, 2018 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

J. Howard Miller's 'We Can Do It!' poster for Westinghouse Electric, aimed at boosting morale among the company’s workers in the war effort later associated with 'Rosie the Riveter', the wartime personification of a strong female war production worker. (Credit: MPI/Getty Images)

In 1942, 20-year-old Naomi Parker was working in a machine shop at the Naval Air Station in Alameda, California, when a photographer snapped a shot of her on the job. In the photo, released through the Acme photo agency, she’s bent over an industrial machine, wearing a jumpsuit and sensible heels, with her hair tied back in a polka-dot bandana for safety.

On January 20, 2017, less than two years after finally getting recognition as the woman in the photograph—thought to be the inspiration for the World War II-era poster girl “Rosie the Riveter”—Naomi Parker Fraley died at the age of 96.

Fraley’s late-in-life fame came as the result of the dedicated efforts made by one scholar, James J. Kimble, to explore the history behind this American and feminist icon and to untangle the legends surrounding the famous poster. “There are so many incredible myths about it, very few of them based even remotely in fact,” Kimble says.

The poster in question was originally produced in 1943 by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation and displayed in its factories to encourage more women to join the wartime labor force. Created by the artist J. Howard Miller, it featured a woman in a red-and-white polka-dot headscarf and blue shirt, flexing her bicep beneath the phrase “We Can Do It!”

Although it’s ubiquitous now, the poster was only displayed by Westinghouse for a period of two weeks in February 1943, and then replaced by another one in a series of at least 40 other promotional images, few of which included women. “The idea that we have now that she was famous and everywhere during the war—not even close to true,” says Kimble.

J. Howard Miller’s ‘We Can Do It!’ poster for Westinghouse Electric, aimed at boosting morale among the company’s workers in the war effort later associated with ‘Rosie the Riveter’, the wartime personification of a strong female war production worker. (Credit: MPI/Getty Images)

 Kimble, an associate professor of communication at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, began studying the “We Can Do It” poster due to his interest in the propaganda that was used on the homefront during World War II.

During the war, Miller’s poster was far less well known than the image of a female worker created by a much more famous artist: Norman Rockwell. Published on the cover …read more

Source: HISTORY

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