Welcome to Rosie’s Corner, a space dedicated to union women!
Women are now the majority in our local union, composing 56 percent of our membership. In recognition, each issue of our magazine will include information about women’s issues on this dedicated page.
Subjects will include working moms, the wage gap, child care issues, women’s health and domestic violence, among other topics, as well as easy recipes and fun features.
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Searching for Rosie the Riveter
One of the most enduring icons of the Labor Movement and feminism is the World War II poster of a woman displaying a flexed bicep and wearing a red polka-dot bandana and blue coveralls, with the words “We Can Do It!” in a word balloon above her head.
Rosie the Riveter, as she is commonly called, continues as a symbol of inspiration and strength.
While the background of another version of Rosie painted by Norman Rockwell is well known, the story behind the “We Can Do It!” Rosie was a mystery for decades.
Origins of Rosie
The exact inspiration for “We Can Do It!” Rosie the Riveter isn’t known for sure, but it is commonly believed J. Howard Miller, the artist who painted her, drew his inspiration from a 1942 photograph from the United Press International wire service.
He was commissioned by the Westinghouse Company’s Production Coordinating Committee to design a series of posters to improve worker morale during World War II.
Miller painted several posters that hung at Westinghouse’s factories for two weeks at a time. The “We Can Do it!” poster was part of the series, but after it was removed from the walls it was hidden in storage for nearly 40 years.
The image resurfaced in the early 1980s when it was reproduced in a Washington Post Magazine article about posters in the collection of the National Archives.
The poster was a hit and it was soon reproduced on T-shirts, magazines and a first-class mail stamp.
In 1994, a woman named Geraldine Hoff Doyle saw the poster in the Smithsonian magazine and said she might have been the inspiration for Rosie.
She was a metal presser for two weeks at a factory in Ann Arbor, Mich. when she was photographed in 1942 by United Press International. She quit because she feared a hand injury would ruin her career as a cellist.
For nearly 30 years, Doyle was credited as the “real” Rosie. When she died in 2010, she was memorialized by The New York Times and other news media around the world as the poster’s inspiration.
But James Kimble, an associate professor of communications at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, had doubts. Over the course of five years he researched Rosie and discovered a version of the photograph Miller supposedly used for his inspiration with a yellowed caption
“Pretty Naomi Parker looks like she might catch her nose in the turret lathe she is operating,” it said.
The caption also stated that women at the factory wore “safety clothes instead of feminine frills” and concluded: “And the girls don't mind — they're doing their part. Glamour is secondary these days.”
The search for Naomi Parker
Kimble discovered Parker was born in Oklahoma in 1921 and moved to Alameda, Calif. where in 1942 she worked at a Naval Air Station alongside her younger sister, Ada. It was there she was photographed by the ACME Photo Agency leaning over machinery.
Shortly after her picture appeared in the Oakland Post-Enquirer, she cut the picture out and kept it for 70 years.
In 2015, Kimble assumed Parker was dead and tried to track down her relatives through a genealogical society. The society informed him they couldn’t help because she was still alive, so he then set to find her.
He finally did in 2016 after learning she was still living in Alameda. She had married in the late 1970s and was going by the name Naomi Parker Fraley.
She told Kimble that in 2011 she realized she was the inspiration for the poster when she attended a reunion event for female wartime workers. She saw the poster next to the photograph of her, but it was captioned with Geraldine Doyle’s name.
Parker Fraley tried to convince as many people as she could that it was her in the photograph, but no one seemed to listen.
Kimble published his findings in the journal Rhetoric and Public Affairs and gave Parker Fraley the credit she deserved.
Naomi Parker Fraley died in Longview, Wash., on Jan. 20, 2018, at the age of 96.