What Is the Real Rosie the Riveter Story?

by Matilda Butler on January 23, 2018

Post #89. Rosie’s Daughters: The “First Woman To” Generation Tells Its Story by Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett

According to news reports today, the real Rosie the Riveter has just died at the age of 96.

But wait a minute. Just a few years ago, newspapers reported that Geraldine Doyle, the real Rosie the Riveter, had died. We even wrote a blog post about her that we called: Geraldine Hoff Doyle: We Take Our Hats (Oops, Bandanas) Off to You

But Before We Go On…
Articles are announcing the death of Naomi Parker Fraley, the woman who is currently thought to be the inspiration for J. Howard Miller’s now-famous “We Can Do It” poster. But before we carry our own article, we want to propose that the real story is how Rosie the Riveter lives on in all the strong, empowered, courageous women in history, in the present, and in the future.

We cannot write this post without acknowledging the strength of the current #METOO movement and the broader recognition of the vital need for women’s voices in positions of power. Who would not become emotional seeing the gymnasts read their statements condemning their coach-abuser. Who would not cheer the women who have stepped up to run for political office. Who would not be ashamed for the tolerance of men who failed to promote women, who paid women less than men in the same job, who used their power to silence women. Who would not acknowledge that men have emotionally and sexually abused women in marriages and relationships as well as at work.

No more.

Women are speaking up and out. We must all do what we can. We all need to show our inner Rosie the Riveter. We need everyone to know that “We Can Do It!”

Today, we are again reminded of Abigail Adams’s March 31, 1776 letter to John Adams where she wrote these words of admonition:

…remember the ladies…all men would be tyrants if they could.

We appreciate the Rosie the Riveter icon for reminding us of our inner powers that we express.

Now, Here’s the Story about Naomi Parker Fraley

Naomi Parker was a sister-Oklahoman. She was born in Tulsa in 1921 to Esther Leis and Joseph Parker. Naomi, along with her parents and seven siblings moved around the country until finally calling Alameda home. In 1942, just months after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Naomi and her sister Ada began work at the nearby Naval Air Station.

One day, an Acme photo agency photographer took a picture of Naomi while she was working at a lathe. That photo was published in the Oakland Post-Enquirer.

Decades later, James Kimble, a professor of communication at Seton Hall University in New Jersey researched the “We Can Do It!” poster that eventually became a feminist symbol. He knew of the photograph that was thought to be Geraldine Doyle but could not find a copy of it that included the original caption. Thanks to the Internet, he eventually found an antique newspaper dealer and was able to have a specific date, a place, and text. The article, published March 24, 1942, said:

“Pretty Naomi Parker looks like she might catch her nose in the turret lathe she is operating.”

The article went on to say, that women wore “safety clothes instead of feminine frills…And the girls don’t mind – they’re doing their part. Glamour is secondary these days.”

When Kimble went in search of Naomi Parker, he assumed she had died. But much to his surprise, he found that she was alive and well and living (once again) in Alameda. Kimble, upon the advice of his wife (women are so smart), made an appointment to meet Naomi (then Naomi Parker Fraley) and brought her a bouquet of flowers. She was thrilled that someone acknowledged her story that she was the face behind J. Howard Miller’s poster.

And now we have another part of the Rosie the Riveter story.

May All the Rosie the Riveters and Their Spirit of Empowerment, Courage, and Strength Flourish Forever.

PS We so like the strength in Abigail Adams’s words that we have just created a feminist tee showing Abigail as a young woman along with her quote. If you are interested, here’s a link to our Stand With Woman etsy store where we are selling the Abigail Adams t-shirt and other feminist items.

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