It’s hard not to feel despair when you read headlines that tell you Rosie the Riveter is dead. Naomi Parker Fraley, a waitress from California who inspired the original iconic image of Rosie the Riveter, died on Saturday in Washington, aged 96. She was photographed in 1942 working at a lathe in a factory, which inspired Howard J Miller’s Rosie the Riveter poster. The poster she inspired became an iconic feminist image in the 1940s, and continues to be a major pop culture icon.
For most of her life though, Naomi Parker Fraley wasn’t recognised as the image’s original inspiration.
As this fascinating report in The New York Times details, many women have laid claim to inspiring the poster. The most recent and widely accepted claim was by a woman named Geraldine Hoff Doyle.
In 1984, Doyle saw a picture from a 1942 newspaper depicting a woman working at a lathe in a factory, and believed the woman looked much like she did in her youth. Ten years later, in 1994, she saw the same image on the cover of Smithsonian Magazine, and believed that it looked like the photograph she had seen earlier, and deduced that she was the inspiration for the poster.
In 2011, when Fraley saw the picture of herself identified as someone else, she was justifiably shocked, and wrote the National Park Service, who decides the title. They put Dr James Kimble on the task, and after six years of investigation and research, found that while Doyle’s claim was made in good faith, it was Naomi Parker Fraley who lay true claim to inspiring the image of Rosie the Riveter.
Ironically, he also found that the image that inspired this major feminist icon had been first published with a caption that included the words, “Pretty Naomi Parker looks like she might catch her nose in the turret lathe she is operating.”
The New York Times article is packed with really interesting tit-bits on her life, the evolution of the image, its rise to pop-culture icon status and the different women who have claimed to be the woman who inspired the poster. It also contains the eerie fact that the news house had prepared their obituary of Naomi Parker Fraley all the way back in 2016, which is apparently a common practice that newspapers adopt for ageing political leaders, cultural icons and celebrities.