Naomi Parker Fraley, the woman believed to be the “real” Rosie the Riveter died Jan. 20 at the age of 96 in Longview, WA, according to her daughter-in-law Marnie Blankenship.
Fraley was not recognized as the inspiration for the famous World War II era poster until 2015.
During World War II, Fraley was a factory worker at Alameda Naval Station, one of millions of women across the United States who filled the labor force during the war. While Fraley was working, a press photographer approached her to take her picture, Blankenship said.
Over 60 years later, Fraley attended a convention for women who, like Rosie the Riveter, worked during the war. There, said Blankenship, Fraley saw a photograph promoted as the likely inspiration behind the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter in the “We can do it” poster.
Blankenship says Fraley immediately recognized the picture as the one the photographer captured of her all those years ago.
But the picture was identified as being of another woman: Geraldine Hoff Doyle.
Doyle had previously been known as the real Rosie. According to Seton Hall University Professor James J. Kimble, Doyle’s identity as Rosie the Riveter began when the photograph of the woman in the factory was first released as the most likely inspiration for Rosie.
Kimble said Doyle recognized her likeness in the picture – and the propaganda poster it inspired – and her resemblance was accepted in reports as the origin of Rosie the Riveter.
But in 2015, Kimble’s years of research into the iconic image revealed the original photograph with a caption that named the woman as Naomi Parker.
HOW SHE CAME TO BE THERE
The third of eight children of Joseph Parker, a mining engineer, and the former Esther Leis, a homemaker, Naomi Fern Parker was born in Tulsa, Okla., on Aug. 26, 1921. The family moved wherever Mr. Parker’s work took him, living in New York, Missouri, Texas, Washington, Utah and California, where they settled in Alameda, near San Francisco.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the 20-year-old Naomi and her 18-year-old sister, Ada, went to work at the Naval Air Station in Alameda. They were assigned to the machine shop, where their duties included drilling, patching airplane wings and, fittingly, riveting.
It was there that the Acme photographer captured Naomi Parker, her hair tied in a bandanna for safety, at her lathe. She clipped the photo from the newspaper and kept it for decades. It was captioned: “Pretty Naomi Parker looks like she might catch her nose in the turret lathe she is operating.”
Years later, Mrs. Fraley encountered the Miller poster. “I did think it looked like me,” she told People, though she did not then connect it with the newspaper photo.
In 2011, Fraley and her sister attended a reunion of female war workers at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, CA. There, prominently displayed, was a photo of the woman at the lathe — captioned as Geraldine Doyle. “I couldn’t believe it,” Fraley told The Oakland Tribune in 2016. “I knew it was actually me in the photo.”
She wrote to the National Park Service, which administers the site, and the process of identifying here as the “real” Rosie began.
NOT A BIG DEAL
Even when she found out Dr. Kimble’s research had identified her as the likely a face of both World War II propaganda and subsequent feminist movements, Blankenship says Fraley didn’t make a big deal of it.
“She didn’t think she did anything special,” said Blankenship. “A lot of women did what she did. She just wanted her picture corrected.”
In an interview with People magazine in 2016, Fraley said, “The women of this country these days need some icons. If they think I’m one, I’m happy.”
(Information from CNN and the New York Times.)