During the World War II, more than six million American women made significant contributions by going to work at plants that produced munitions and other war supplies.
“During the World War II, more than six million American women made significant contributions by going to work at plants that produced munitions and other war supplies. First popularized in a 1942 song, the name “Rosie the Riveter” has since become an iconic symbol of women’s achievement. At the height of the war years, the Curtiss-Wright facility in Wood-Ridge, N.J., employed more than 12’000 workers, many of them women who faithfully did their part for the war effort. The facility produced the Wright Cyclone engines that powered aircrafts essential to victories in Europe and the Pacific.”
— Marble memorial for “Rosie the Riveter” made by sculptor John Giannotti, Wood-Ridge, New Jersey
Who’s Rosie the Riveter? The name reported on the marble memorial here above did not sounded familiar to me until last evening when while surfing online I was finally able to associate this name to the female charismatic wartime character on the famous WWII propaganda poster “We can do it!” by J. Howard Miller.
I could not wait then to find out more about Rosie. As far as I know by reading about the making of the poster, Rosie the Riveter was the star of a 1943 US government campaign aimed at recruiting female workers for the munitions industry during the WWII and became perhaps the most iconic image of working women of that time.
The motivational poster showed a woman in a shirt and red polka-dot head scarf at work during the war, flexing her bicep with the caption "We Can Do It!”. An iconic image of a strong woman used to attract thousands of female workers to fill the gap left by their men. That was a unique event for the time. However, I started wondering whether artist J. Howard Miller got inspired by a physical entity or was it just the figment of his imagination?
It all began in March 1942, when a photographer touring the Naval Air Station in Alameda, California, snapped a photo of a young woman wearing a stylish red-and-white polka dot bandana while working a vertical turret lathe in the station’s workshop. Her name was Naomi Parker-Fraley, she was 20 years old and completely unaware that she would have later become the source of inspiration for Miller’s propaganda legendary poster in 1943. Nor she didn’t have a clue she would eventually become the ephemeral incarnation of "Rosie the Riveter".
However, it took nearly seven decades to make the connection between the photo of Naomi Parker-Fraley at a lathe and the poster of Rosie the Riveter. That happened in 2011, when Mrs Parker-Fraley and her sister attended a reunion at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California, that Naomi noticed a familiar photo displayed as the inspiration for the poster, under an unfamiliar name. "I couldn't believe it because it was me in the photo” she said. "I knew it was actually me in the photo". She could clearly recognise her in the 1942 picture of the woman that inspired Miller’s poster. Years were spent by journalists and professors looking for the real identity of Rosie the Riveter and finally the long time mystery was solved in an ordinary day.
During the 2nd World War, an estimated 16.1 million American soldiers served between 1939 and 1945. The high number of men enrolled to support the allied lines left gaping holes in the industrial labour force. As a result, it was unavoidable that women entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers during World War II. Between 1940 and 1945, the female percentage of the U.S. workforce increased from 27 percent to nearly 37 percent - one out of every four married women worked outside the home.
Most of the great effort made by the US government in recruiting female workers and convince them to apply for a job could not be possible without the help of an iconic, proud and strong woman called “Rosie the Riveter” screaming “We can do it!”, used as a call to inspire women workers to play their part in joining the war effort. This motivational poster has been (and will always be) both seen by women as an embodiment of female empowerment and used to fight against gender inequality.
Naomi Parker-Fraley died in 2018 at the age of 96. "I didn't want fame or fortune, but I did want my own identity.” she said about her willing to be associated to Rosie the Riveter iconic character.
Rest in peace "Rosie".