In 1940 a wartime industrial poster was displayed in Westinghouse Electric Corporation plant. The poster by Pittsburgh artist J. Howard Miller, shows a young woman, dressed in a blue work shirt and polka-dot bandanna. The woman is flexing her muscles and the caption reads “We Can Do It!” The poster was originally created in order to deter absenteeism and strikes among employees during wartime. It was never really meant for public viewing.
Many men had gone off to fight in the war so woman were being called upon to step in and do their duty for their country. They were suddenly expected to do work that had, up until that point been reserved entirely for men. Women were not generally thought to be strong enough for these types of jobs but in the absence of young men to do them the government had no choice but to recruit women to fill the roles instead. This propaganda campaign was very successful and woman applied in record numbers. More than 300,000 women worked in the U.S. aircraft industry for the first time. In addition to factory and industrial work some 350,000 women also joined the Armed Services.
A photograph of Naomi Parker Fraley in 1942
The poster faded into obscurity until the 1980’s. The woman’s movement was making waves at the time and the poster, which had been rediscovered quickly became a powerful symbol for feminism. The woman in the poster was given the name Rosie the Riveter. The image became hugely popular and was printed on T-shirts, mugs etc. Even though the image was widely familiar the identity of the woman in the poster continued to be something of a mystery. Over the years many different woman claimed to be the iconic “Rosie”. There was even a wartime song of the same name by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb. For years a woman called Geraldine Hoff Doyle was believed to be the real Rosie the Riveter. However Dr. Kimble, who is an associate professor of communication and the arts at Seton Hall University in New Jersey wasn’t convinced. So he embarked on a six-year quest to find out her true identity. After many years he discovered that the lathe worker was in fact a woman called Naomi Parker Fraley.