Would the Real Rosy the Riveter Please Stand Up...
Updated: Aug 20, 2021
In 1943 Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb wrote a song about a munitions worker who "keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage / sitting up there on the fuselage". The song was inspire by real life riveter Rosalind P. Walter, who worked as a night-shift welder at an aircraft plant in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Walter died in early March 2020 at the age of 95. On the heels of that song, Norman Rockwell created a Saturday Evening Post cover for the May 29, 1943 issue with the central figure identified as Rosie the Riveter (Rosie can be seen written on her lunchbox). The model (for the face) of that image was Mary Doyle Keefe, who worked as a telephone operator, not a riveter, during the war, and was a neighbour of Norman Rockwell in Vermont. Keefe died in 2015 at the age of 92.
Probably the most famous image of Rosie the Riveter isn’t actually Rosie the Riveter at all. Geraldine Doyle thought she might be the inspiration for the ‘We Can Do It!’ poster who is often erroneously identified as Rosie the Riveter. The now-famous graphic of a woman in blue overalls and red and white polka-dot bandana was created by Pittsburgh artist J. Howard Miller for the Westinghouse Electric Corporation in February 1943. The image was made to deter female employee absenteeism and was used only for internal display in the factory. It was not published or really known outside of the Westinghouse plant during the war. The image had a second life when it was reprinted in the early 1980s and quickly became a feminist icon. It was the reprinted poster that caught the eye of Geraldine Doyle in 1982 who thought she looked like the woman in the poster. Doyle remembered that when she had been working as a metal presser at a factory in Inkster, Michigan a photographer came to the plant to shoot images of women in wartime jobs. Without a word to the contrary from anyone who knew, Geraldine Doyle became known as the model for the We Can Do It! image. When Doyle died in 2010 at the age of 86, the New York Times carried Doyle’s obituary, crediting her as the model for the poster's image. However, in 1942 Naomi Parker was working in a Navy machine shop in Alameda California when she too was photographed working at her lathe for a local newspaper article. While attending a war workers reunion in Richmond California 69 years later, she saw a reprint of that photograph, attributing the war worker as Geraldine Doyle. Knowing the woman in the photograph was herself, she wrote the Rosie the Riveter Home Front National Historical Park, correcting the attribution. While the photograph has been now properly identified, the question is if Miller, the graphic artist of the poster, used the photograph for inspiration. Although Miller never said during his lifetime where the inspiration came from, the photograph of Naomi Parker in her polka-dot bandana was widely reprinted in 1942 and appeared in a local Pittsburgh paper where Miller was living at the time he created the poster for Westinghouse. Parker died in 2018 at the age of 96.
Left to right: Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover of Rosy the Riveter May 29, 1943; We Can Do It! Westinghouse factory poster, February 1943; Naomi Parker, lathe operator, photographed in 1942 who was likely the inspiration for the Westinghouse poster.