• Matilda Butler

Will the Real Rosie the Riveter Please Stand Up?


We Can Do It! Poster

Yesterday, I wrote about the creation of the We Can Do It! Poster. There are a number of women who are thought to be the face behind the Rosie the Riveter iconic image and name.


Because the stories can't all be true, we've decided to share them and what is known about them in a list.


Am I Rosie the RIveter?

But before I begin, let me mention that I recently give a presentation to college students about our collective memoir — Rosie's Daughters: The "First Woman To" Generation Tells Its Story. I always wear our wonderful Rosie the Riveter Legacy Bandana and Rosie Employment Badge/Collar Pin for these talks to help set the tone of the presentation.


While the large auditorium was filling, one student came up to me and said, "Are you the original Rosie the Riveter?" Fortunately, I could say that I was a daughter of Rosie (I was born during WWII), but that I wasn't the face behind the poster. (Note: It does make you feel just a little bit old when you are thought to be the WW2 Rosie the Riveter!)


Here are Actual Candidates for Rosie the Riveter

Here are women who are associated with Rosie—the poster or the song or the magazine cover:



  • At least in Canada, there is the belief that the American concept of a riveter and a woman in a bandana came from a poster of Veronica Foster. In May,1941 (2 years before the We Can Do It! poster was hung on the walls in the Westinghouse Electric Service factories) Veronica appeared in photo posters showing the war effort of women. Veronica became "Ronnie, the Bren Gun Girl.” At that time, she was 19 and working in the John Inglist and Company factory in Toronto.

Before the war, the Inglist factory manufactured appliances and machinery. But WW2 caused them to begin manufacturing the Bren machine gun — used by both the British and Canadian forces.


The Canadians say that the American Rosie, like the Canadian Ronnie, wore a headscarf and created a “tough, energetic, yet feminine image.”


Veronica Foster demonstrates tying a bandana

Veronica Foster gets her employment badge

  • The Rosie in the “Rosie the Riveter” song may have been Rose Bonavita. She and her partner, Jennie Florio, broke a production record and became well known, even receiving a letter of thanks from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The production record? Rose and Jennie drilled a record 900 holes and placed 3300 rivets in the tail of an airplane in an amazingly short amount of time -- six hours. The association between Rose and the song is believable because the lyrics include the words:

When they gave her a production "E",

She was as proud as a girl could be.

There's something true, about red, white and blue

About Rosie (Brrr) the Riveter.

But more about Rose Bonavita in a later blog.


  • Another theory about the “Rosie” of the Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb “Rosie the Riveter” song is that Rosalind Palmer Walter was the inspiration. She worked on the night shift while helping to build the F4U Corsair fighters. Rosalind, called Roz by her friends, along with millions of other women joined the war effort soon after Pearl Harbor. She was recruited to drive rivets into fighter planes at a local plant in Stratford, Connecticut -- not far from her family’s Fairfield home.



Rosalind was from a prominent family, so the story of her doing manual labor at the Vought Aircraft Company factory came to the attention of a well-known newspaper columnist Igor Cassini in 1942. The notion of a well-educated woman from a wealthy family who worked long hours on the factory line was publicized — showing how all women were contributing to the war effort.


One version of the story says Rosalind and her featured photo in the newspaper was the inspiration for the “Rosie the Riveter” song.


(Note: Later in life, Rosalind Palmer Walter, became a philanthropist using the wealth she inherited from her parents and her husband to provide educational opportunities for many, including through the sponsorship of 67 public television programs, and large donations to the American Museum of Natural History as well as the Pierpont Morgan Library.)

  • Rose Will Monroe -- another possible inspiration for the We Can Do It! poster. Rose Monroe worked at the Willow Run Aircraft Factory in Michigan, helping to build B-29 and B-24 bombers. Walter Pidgeon made a number of war related films (e.g. "Mrs. Miniver" in 1942) and was at the Willow Run factory to get some footage. There he met Rose Will Monroe and urged her to make a propaganda film with him -- a film that showed the ongoing war effort at home. It helped that Rose fit the description of the Rosie in the song fairly well. For a while, it was thought that Rose Monroe was the face behind the J. Howard Miller poster.



  • Geraldine Hoff Doyle is considered by some to be the face that J. Howard Miller captured in his We Can Do It! poster. And at the time of her death in 2010, newspapers declared that the real Rosie the Riveter had just died.

How did this happen? She worked for a limited time as a metal presser in the American Broach & Machine Company in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Because she was a cellist and worried about damaging her hands, she quit after a mere two weeks. But during that limited time a United Press International photographer took her picture and it was published in the newspaper. Or so it seemed!


Fast forward to 1984 when Doyle saw an article in “Modern Maturity” that included a photo of an unidentified female wartime worker at a lathe. Doyle thought she recognized herself in the photo. A decade later, in 1994, Doyle saw the "We Can Do It!" poster on the cover of the Smithsonian magazine. She put those two images together — and believed she was the woman at the lathe and the source inspiration for the poster.


Doyle reached out to author Penny Colman who had just published Rosie the Riveter: Women Working on the Home Front in World War II. She explained that recognized herself in both the photo and the poster. The story made the rounds and when she died in 2010, news media brought out the story and reported that the “real” Rosie the Riveter had died. However, there was no evidence other than her own claim.





  • And now for the REAL (or most likely) ROSIE THE RIVETER. In 1942, Naomi Parker (Fraley) went to work, along with her sister Ada, in the machine shop at the Naval Air Station in Alameda, California. She was photographed in work coveralls, black loafers and a polka-dotted bandana to restrain her hair for the sake of safety. The photo was published in The Milwaukee Journal. Many years later, while attending a reunion for female war workers in 2011, Naomi Parker Fraley saw the picture with the caption underneath it acknowledging Geraldine Huff Doyle as the female in the picture. Although Naomi had documentation that she was the woman in the photo, no one took her seriously.

Meanwhile, a researcher, Dr. James J. Kimble from Seton Hall University, kept looking for evidence of the woman in the photo. In 2016, he finally found the name Naomi Parker and was able to trace her to her married name of Naomi Parker Fraley. He could not believe his good fortune to also find that she was still alive. He interviewed her and she revealed that she was the woman in the photo and believed she was also the inspiration for the We Can Do It! poster. Dr. Kimble also believes she is the real Rosie the Riveter. Naomi Parker Fraley passed away in January 2018.


Odds Are You Know a Rosie the Riveter

Rosie the Riveter is both an iconic image and an iconic name. She has come to stand for all the women who helped America win the war -- not just those who worked in factories. Last year when we were giving a presentation about Rosie and Rosie's Daughters, a hand shot up from the back of the room. A woman stood and said, "If you were alive during World War II, you were a Rosie."


That was a bold statement and a wonderful discussion followed. Of course, she was right. Odds are that you know a Rosie--someone in your family.


For Example...

...My sister, in 1944 when she was just six years old, pulled her little red Radio Flyer wagon filled with Mother's empty, washed, and flattened tin cans to a nearby center. That made her a Rosie. She was part of the war effort. She was lucky to have her metal wagon. My parents bought it for Christmas in 1941. By 1942, the Radio Flyer company changed all their production to five-gallon Blitz cans for the military so no wagons were made or sold during those years.


Bacon Grease was Valued

My mother saved bacon grease and my sister toted it to the center as well. Mother would have already reused the fat at least once because she never wasted anything -- a lesson she learned during The Depression. Bacon drippings were used to fry chicken, to make a warm salad dressing, even to make the wheels of my sister's wagon stop squeaking.


But the military wanted all the salvaged fat it could get. Why? Fat was valued because it was converted into glycerine, which was used to make explosives. A bridge blown up in Germany just might have been partly attributed to my sister's walk with Mother's salvaged fat.


A Much Beloved Aunt...

Aunt Lucile worked as a Government Girl in Washington, DC. She, like many others, left rural areas to find jobs in big cities. Her husband was in the army and she wanted to do her part. Of the two million female clerical workers during the war, half worked for the Federal government. My aunt was just one of these millions.


A Challenge for You

At the next holiday gathering with your family, ask about what they (or their older relatives) were doing during WW2. Did they (or someone in the family) grow a Victory Garden? Did they turn in tin and rubber and other war-needed items? Were they war volunteers? Did they take over a family business? Did they work in a factory?


I have a friend whose mother volunteered as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. To this day, she is so proud of her mother although she is long since deceased.


WWII was called a "total war" because everyone did their part.


Get all the stories that you can about your family and WW2. Pay special attention to the stories of the women because many of them have never been recorded.


FUN FACT: By late 1943, 33% of the restaurants in Detroit were closed. Why? There was a shortage of waitresses--women who left the low-paying job to help in the war effort and to get into higher paying jobs.

World War II changed the lives of everyone alive at that time. Sometimes in small ways. Sometimes in big ways. Learn about the role that women in your family played. Remember, all efforts were important. Even if they never lifted a rivet gun.


 

Want our authentic Rosie the Riveter bandana? We modeled its random pattern after the one drawn by J. Howard Miller in his We Can Do It! poster. We also made it 27 inches -- like the ones worn during WW2.


Just click on the button below. You'll see that you get both the bandana AND our hand-painted Rosie bobbie pins for a special price. USE COUPON CODE: BANDANA15 and get 15% off. But just for the next week.




 

If you’ve missed our August Suffrage Month blogs,

here are some of the links:




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