Have you ever looked at a famous pictures, poster or sculpture and wondered who the person in it actually was? Sometimes it is easy to forget that there are real-life humans with interesting stories behind these iconic cultural images. Do you recognize this one?
Well, this was a real-life Rosie the Riveter and her name was Naomi Parker Fraley. She recently passed away at the age of 96. The picture of her is utterly recognizable to most Americans, and inspired generations of American women to pursue their dreams. It was created by Pittsburgh artist J. Howard Miller, displayed in Westinghouse Electric Corporation plants, in 1943, during wartime.
At first it was used by the company as a means of boosting morale to deter absenteeism and strikes among the employees during wartime. But when a copy was discovered in the 1980s, its popularity blew up and became a symbol for so much more.
Now, there has been a bit of controversy surrounding who was actually the model for the woman in the famous picture. At first (and for many years) it was believed that a woman named Geraldine Hoff Doyle was the muse for the picture.
But an inspired 6-year search by James J. Kimble at Setan Hall University led him to discover that it was actually Naomi Parker Fraley who inspired the picture. Naomi had always suspected it was her, but had never wanted to come forward to make the claim. She had, however, kept a newspaper clipping from 1942 with her picture in it, a picture of her at work in that now-iconic polka dot bandana.
Said Kimble to PEOPLE, “She had been robbed of her part of history. It’s so hurtful to be misidentified like that. It’s like the train has left the station and you’re standing there and there’s nothing you can do because you’re 95 and no one listens to your story.”
But Fraley knows it’s the symbol that is most important, not who the model was. “I just wanted my own identity. I didn’t want fame or fortune, but I did want my own identity.”
“The women of this country these days need some icons. If they think I’m one, I’m happy about that,” she said.