Rosie the Riveter Image

Reading the obituary for Geraldine Hoff Doyle, which appeared in various news sources today, I was reminded of my interactions with her in the mid-1990s as I was doing the research for my book, Rosie the Riveter: Women Working on the Home Front in World War II. Somewhere in my files, I have materials she sent and the transcriptions of several phone calls in which she made her case that J. Howard Miller had used a photograph of her as the model for his iconic poster, “We Can Do It.”   However, the archivist and historian at Westinghouse, Charles A. Ruch, who had worked at the Pittsburgh plant  during World War II and who was friend of Miller, told me that Miller never worked from photographs; he only used live models for his posters, including “We Can Do It.”  Ruch’s first-hand perspective, plus we weren’t able to verify if the photograph ever appeared in newspapers/magazines that Howard could have/would have seen made me cautious of her claim, which is why in my Acknowledgments, p. 116, I wrote that her “photograph may have been used by J. Howard Miller.” Another model, however, who I was totally sure of was, Mary Doyle Keefe, the model for Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post cover, “Rosie.”  Mary (who was Mary Doyle at the time) was a nineteen-year-old, six-foot tall, red-haired telephone operator in Arlington, Vermont. During our conversations, she told me that neither she nor Norman Rockwell had ever met a riveter, man or woman (which is why, she explained, he made the mistake of portraying her with both goggles and an isinglass protective shield); he painted “Rosie” on her lunchbox because it went with “riveter”; he originally had Mary wear saddle shoes with brown socks, then had her switch to brown loafers with red socks; and he apologized to her after the cover appeared because he didn’t do justice to her beauty, which, she said, didn’t bother her at all.   I sent Mary two copies of Rosie the Riveter, one autographed from me to her and one for her to autograph from her to me, which she did and returned.

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10 Responses to Rosie the Riveter Image

  1. M Russell says:

    Hi Penny:

    I read that obituary as well & wondered if you had interviewed Mrs. Gerraldine Doyle. Were the two women related in any way?

    Marie

    • Penny Colman says:

      Thank you for your interesting comment! I spent considerable time figuring out the story behind the iconic phrase “Rosie the Riveter.” On p. 116 in my book you’ll find a partial list on the people I interviewed. Like most people I initially thought the “We Can Do It” poster was “Rosie the Riveter,” until I talked to Charles Ruch, an Archivist and Historian at Westinghouse, who was at Westinghouse when J. Howard Miller created the poster. The poster was intended to represent all women workers at Westinghouse (there were no riveter at the plant indicated on the identification badge in the image). Tom Fortunato at the National Archives Museum Shop (see p. 166) confirmed that they labelled the poster “RR” in the 1970s. He agreed that it wasn’t accurate but said they wouldn’t change it because “it’s a top selling item.” I discuss this and the issue of when the phrase entered the popular culture in two speeches on my website (see “speeches and “the story behind Penny’s books). Thanks for the documenation you included in your comment. I’ll follow-up! With best wishes, Penny

  2. Penny Colman says:

    Hi Marie,

    Yes, I interviewed both Geraldine Hoff Doyle and Mary Doyle Keefe. No, they were not related in any way.

    Penny

  3. J Krause says:

    Hi Penny,

    I love “Rosie the Riveter” and have my own well-thumbed copy!

    I’ve been doing research on the much-ballyhoo’d connection between the “We Can Do It!” Poster and Geraldine Hoff Doyle, in light of recent evidence (Bettman archives, no less) that the press photo that linked her to the poster has been identified as a California woman working at Alameda Naval Air Station. As you know, the press and public, both during the war and still now, is always seeking to put a real face and name to the beloved character of Rosie. Since the lady in the photo, Naomi Parker Fraley, is still living, I would imagine that this resolved identity crisis would be of great general interest.

    I would also propose, since Geraldine never claimed to have met or sat for J Howard Miller, and only claimed to be the woman in the press photo said to have inspired him, and because the definitive evidence has surfaced that the woman in the photo is really Naomi Parker Fraley, that any association between Geraldine Doyle and the poster has now been effectively disproven beyond doubt, and the title of “possible inspiration for “We Can Do It!” now resides with Naomi Parker Fraley.

    Interestingly, NPR’s Matt Memmon has quietly removed the 1942 press photo from his 2010 Doyle obituary, with an addendum citing “possible” misidentification, while leaving all of the article’s original assertions intact, i.e. that “Doyle’s photo” inspired the poster. Remaining on the page is the glamorous civilian headshot of Doyle, next to the image of the famous poster. To the casual reader, it will likely appear that the photo inspiration referred to in the article is the headshot, and as sloppy journalists continue to quote each other’s articles, the false connection of the poster to Geraldine will likely continue unabated… and now without the critical 1942 factory press photo! The Geraldine mix-up continues into 2015-2016 with articles in Vanity fair and the Detroit Free Press, and only gets more entrenched as supposedly credible news sources propagate it.

    I would propose that you add your authoritative voice to the matter of the press photo’s subject and origins, to counter the avalanche of incorrect information regarding that particular photo that is currently available online (i.e. that it is Geraldine Doyle and not Naomi Parker Fraley, that it was taken in Ann Arbor and not California, that the machine is a metal press and not a vertical turret lathe, that it was taken at American Broach and not Alameda Naval Air Station.)

    The body of evidence for this new interpretation of the press photo includes the Bettman/Corbis catalog, and is hard to argue with. Also existing are March 1942 newspaper clippings from Oakland, CA in the collection of the National Parks Service Rosie the Riveter Museum, and the following digitized March 1942 Newspapers: The Milwaukee Journal, the Albany Times, and the Twin Falls Idaho Times-Herald, all of which can be found online with some digging. All of the 1942 news clippings are clearly captioned as being Naomi Parker at the Alameda Naval facility. (I can send you links if you wish.)

    Of course, as you are aware, any link between the photograph and the poster has always been purely conjectural (which is a matter for another day!) but since interest in the poster, the press photo and alleged model Geraldine has always been high it is well worth correcting the record.

    • John Fraley says:

      Thanks for supporting all the Rosie’s everywhere, both pasted and still living. ROSIE ON!

    • Penny Colman says:

      Hi J. Krause,
      I hope you got my reply because I think I posted it under M Russell’s comment. Anyhow, a reporter who is working on a story about Naomi Parker Fraley for the Bay Area News Group just contacted me. I’ll be talking with him tomorrow. It’s a tricky issue: Charles Ruch who worked with J. Howard Miller told me that Miller typically used live models. In addition he worked in Pittsburgh, PA . . . or that the photo was reproduced in a newspaper or magazine that he could have/might have seen . . . or that he used it . . . the mystery remains.

      • J Krause says:

        Hi Penny,
        Yes, it is a mystery… the papers really touted the connection when the photo was associated with Geraldine Hoff Doyle, and I am personally trying to find the source of the original connection of the photo (which is really of of Naomi Parker) and the poster.

        Miller’s assistant is said to have shown researchers or reporters government photographs in Miller’s collection, and she is reported to have said that Miller in fact did work from photos, which would contradict Ruch. (I am assuming this assistant would be Miller’s reported assistant and mentee April Cass.) I am currently searching for a citable source of this information. The only source I have found so far is in the talk section of Wikipedia, where a Wikipedia editor emailed researcher Kimball, who emailed back that he was shown Miller’s reference photos by Miller’s assistant, but of course that is not citable. Also, if the assistant (Cass?) is the source of this information that Miller in fact did work from photographs, then she as his mentee, assistant, and fellow artist would know much more about Miller’s creative process than Ruch, who, being from Westinghouse, was a client.

        Also, I have seen (online) this photo of Naomi Parker in digitized versions of March, 1942 papers from California to Idaho to Oregon to Milwaukee, so it was certainly widely disseminated by the OWI, by whatever processes they had in place, and Miller could have not only seen it, but been given it (or Westinghouse given it) by the OWI to assist in creating messaging to include women workers in labor-related messaging from corporate labor-management relations boards. With a date of March, 1942, this photo of Parker would have been among the first images of women doing war work, and is also what in advertising we call a “hero shot,” a well-composed, perfectly evocative photo that would see wide distribution for many purposes, perhaps including as inspiration for commissioned art.

        Also, as someone who has worked as an artist in advertising since the pre-computer days, and comes from an advertising family going back to the early 1960s when illustration was still the prevalent type of imagery, it strikes me as very unusual that an advertising artist would work from live model. In the fast-paced world of advertising, and under price pressure from clients, this does not ring true. I have never personally met an advertising illustrator who had the time to seek out, and then the money to pay, a live model. Live models were more associated with a high-end editorial artist like a Vargas or Rockwell. Before computers, artists kept a “reference file” of torn-out photographs of every imaginable product, person, and pose, to assist them in rendering in a hurry what was asked of them. I remember the gleeful web 2.0 day when I realized I could throw away my own “reference file.” And even Rockwell himself had his assistant take photographs of his models, and he then worked from the photographs.

        Knowing how artists in advertising worked before computers, I would not be surprised if the OWI made available a variety of photos as part of a distribution packet in assisting artists in producing government or corporate commissioned art, and would not be surprise if this extremely popular photo of Naomi Parker was part of it.

        When I first read several years ago that “this photo was found among Miller’s reference materials and conjectured to be the inspiration for “We Can Do It!” (danged if I can find or remember where!) it made perfect sense to me from what I know of advertising art and how it was produced before computers. This photo could, if nothing else, be the source of the polka dot turban that appeared in “We can Do It!” and other Miller wartime illustrations for Westinghouse.

        Best,
        J

        • John Fraley says:

          I too have noticed there is a contradiction. The We Can Do It page, Wiki-Talk, under Contacting the experts for advice states, Kimble recalls joining Olson to interview a co-worker of artist J. Howard Miller, and the co-worker showed a large collection of published drawings and photographs, indexed by subject, that Miller worked from to make his images. This recollection by Kimble conflicts with Westinghouse historian Charles A. Ruch who said that Miller was not in the habit of working from photos.

  4. Penny Colman says:

    Again I apologize for my delayed reply. I’m so immersed in my current project -“Women’s Fierce Fight for the Vote” – that I’m not keeping up with you! J. Krause – thank you for your thorough and fascinating comment! John Fraley – Just today- June 1, 2016 -I received an email from James J. Kimble in which he wrote that he & Olson had reviewed a “portion of” Miller’s “image file . . . The picture of Naomi Parker, to my great disappointment, was not in the files.” Of course, that doesn’t mean that he would not have found her photo in an unexplored portion of Miller’s “image file,” but, to date, the mystery of Miller’s model remains. Kimble also wrote: “Personally, if pressed for an inspiration, I would add the Hedy Lamarr photo on the cover of “Life” in the summer of 1942 as a possible source.”
    I just dug deep in my Rosie archive and found a copy of an article, “Was Rosie the Riveter a Westinghouse Employee?” by Charles Ruch (“Sure News” no. 6, April 1994) re his conversation with the writer for the “Smithsonian” re the title of the Miller poster. “I had to disappoint the caller from the Smithsonian on two counts. To the best of my knowledge, Westinghouse had never had a Rosie the Riveter. . . .The caller admitted that the title of the poster was ‘We Can Do It.’ The second disappointing thing I had to tell her was that I was confident that Mr. Miller had drawn the illustration without ever setting foot in a Westinghouse plant. The ‘model’ could have been ‘the girl next door’ or a composite of faces Howard had seen in magazines. I recollected that I had even sent him a Westinghouse badge to use for the illustration that he most likely painted in his studio at home. Having gone through all of this with the Smithsonian writer, no one was more surprised than I to see the illustration of the magazine cover. True to the determination of the author, she labeled it ‘Rosie the Riveter.’ It didn’t seem to matter that Rosie the Riveter never wore a Westinghouse badge. Another example of how history can be rewritten. And they even cut off the illustrator’s name.”
    Having reread that, I see that Ruch acknowledged Miller’s use of more than live models, i.e., “the girl next door” than he had in his phone conversation with me. In addition J. Krause’s reply recounting Miller’s assistant and her extensive experience convince me that Miller used printed images, photographs, so I correct my previous comment that Miller only used live models.
    While I’m delighted that Naomi Parker is now correctly credited in the photo incorrectly labeled “Geraldine Hoff Doyle, I can’t say Parker was Miller’s model, perhaps an inspiration, perhaps part of a composite, but not a model in the way that Mary Doyle (later Keefe) was for Norman Rockwell.
    As for the poster, I share Ruch frustration with the Smithsonian’s mislabeling. At the time, I raised the issue with Tom Fortunato, Sales Operation Manager and Program Coordinator, National Archives Museum Shop, Washington, D.C. His response: “It’s a best selling item. No way we’re changing it.” The consequence of the misnaming is to lump women war workers into one category-riveter-thus obliterating the millions of women who performed an enormous variety of jobs during World War II. Shortly after my book was published, a women who worked as a welder angrily made that point to me. I explained that my title was “Womanpower” but the publisher, who had the right to title the book, vetoed it for the iconic phrase RR, undoubtedly a sound marketing decision, but, I agreed with the welder, problematic – and clearly painful for her – because it did not honor all WWII women workers.

    • John Fraley says:

      Sorry Penny, I had not seen your thought provoking response today and I thank you for it. There seems to be some pieces of this puzzle that just might never be found. It’s still a wonderful mystery. -JOHN-

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