real life

The real 'Rosie the Riveter' has died. This is her story.

“Can you use an electric mixer? If so, you can learn to operate a drill,” was the charming call-out from the United States Government to the housewives of America in the 1940s, hoping to encourage women into the workforce.

It was the middle of World War II and factories were falling behind in supplying aircrafts and weaponry to the war effort. They needed women to fill what had traditionally been male roles and – whaddya know? – their advertising wasn’t cutting it.

Enter: Rosie the Riveter.

The smiling but fierce bandana-wearing woman, in rolled-up sleeves and work wear, was a hit.

It was a 1943 drawing created by artist J Howard Miller that showed women in a different light: Patriotic. Defiant. But most of all (with her arm raised to show her biceps) strong.

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All of a sudden, women were responding and, still today, the image is considered a huge step forward for the feminist movement. It’s been reproduced by Beyonce (what more do you need?) and successfully opened the workforce to women from that day forward.

Despite the fact many women were forced out of their factory jobs once the men returned from the war, Rosie the Riveter’s portrayal of a woman as someone other than a housewife could not be shaken.

Now, the inspiration behind the image has passed away, aged 96, The New York Times reports.

Rosie the Riveter.
Rosie the Riveter. Creative Commons.
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Naomi Parker Fraley was born on August 26, 1921 in California. For the longest time, she was a waitress but, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, she joined the Naval Air Station where she became one of the first women to be assigned to the machine shop.

Her job was to patch airplane wings using riveting machines and drills. And one day in early 1942, as 20-year-old Fraley was immersed in operating a metalworking cutter, her concentration was captured by a roaming photographer - that image was to become Miller's inspiration.

What did the photographer notice? Fraley's dedication and the fact she was wearing men's clothes.

"Pretty Naomi Parker looks like she might catch her nose in the turret lathe she is operating," the image was captioned by the press, BBC reports. "The women wear safety clothes instead of feminine frills. And the girls don't mind - they're doing their part. Glamour is secondary these days."

The original photograph of Naomi Parker Fraley. Creative commons.
The original photograph of Naomi Parker Fraley. Creative commons.

Unfortunately, Fraley was not recognised as the 'woman-behind-the-poster' for 30 years.

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Another wartime worker, Garaldine Doyle in Michigan, thought it was herself in the original photograph and her claim was widely, yet falsely, accepted. When she died in 2010, obituaries then credited her with inspiring the 'Rosie the Riveter' movement.

But the dates didn't match. A fact confirmed by Professor James Kimble at a university in New Jersey, who searched and searched to find another image of Fraley from the same date, location and photographer as the original 'Rosie-inspiring' photograph.

With Kimble's work, Fraley was confirmed as the woman who inspired the movement.

Today, as the world learns of her passing, Fraley's work-hard ethos that shattered stereotypes and changed perceptions still runs true. Perhaps eve, just as powerfully as it did back then.

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