According to the New York Times, Naomi Parker Fraley, the real Rosie the Riveter, passed away on Saturday at the age of 96. Fraley, whose death was confirmed by her daughter-in-law, went unknown for at least seven decades until an intrepid scholar, James J. Kimble, took it upon himself to find out just who the woman was behind the famous Rosie the Riveter poster.
One of the most culturally recognized feminist iconographies in the West is of Rosie the Riveter. It was first shown in the form of a poster by artist J. Howard Miller in the 1940s. There is a strong chance that you've seen it, too. Flexing and patting her bicep with a clenched fist in the air, Rosie the Riveter is an industrious-looking woman in a factory shirt with a red and white polka dot bandana holding her hair up. Above her head is a speech bubble carrying bold and bright font that says, "We can do it!" The poster surfaced during the World War II and depicts Fraley who was working at a naval air establishment on the American West Coast at the time.
Unknown to many Americans, Fraley wasn't always a factory worker for the United States Navy. She was originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where her father was an engineer and her mother, a housewife. She later on moved to Alameda, California, and worked as a waitress after the war. But during World War II, Fraley worked at the Naval Air station in Alameda along with her sister, Ada.
Much of the intricate details about Fraley's poster isn't widely known across the United States. According to Kimble, the Rosie the Riveter poster was first misidentified when another woman, Geraldine Hoff Doyle, said that she was the woman in the poster. Kimble, who works as a communications and art associate professor at New Jersey's Seton Hall University, looked into whether the claim was accurate or not.
To be clear, Kimble thought Doyle's claim was a mistake made in good faith. During the time, she had been working in a steel factory and assumed that she was the woman in the artistic poster. While talking to People magazine in 2016, Fraley said, "I didn’t want fame or fortune, but I did want my own identity."
In 2016, Kimble published his study under the paper titled Rosie's Secret Identity to reveal Fraley as inspiration for the art. Part of the confusion related to Fraley's identity, according to the study, was because of how Rosie the Riveter was mentioned in other cultural productions like War World II songs and similar posters. Furthermore, according to The Times, Miller's poster depicting Fraley wasn't meant for public consumption. The publication wrote that the iconic poster was actually created to "deter" factory workers from forming unions.
Later on, in the 1980s, Fraley's image took feminists by storm and became cultural inspiration for women empowerment, independence, and economic equality. The Rosie the Riveter poster became so famous that now it is very common to see her image sold on coffee mugs, key chains, vinyl stickers, socks, lighters, coasters, sweatshirts, tote bags, books, and of course, protest signs. On Halloween, some people even like to dress as Fraley.
After six years of working on locating Fraley, making sure that it was her in the poster, and connecting the dots, Kimble met with the cultural icon in Cottonwood, California. This took place in 2015. Upon meeting her and even seeing the polka dot scarf, Kimble said, "We can rule her in as a good candidate for having inspired the poster."