Goodbye Rosie the Riveter: An icon dies at 96, as women in Morristown NJ & cities across America take to the streets.

A woman named Naomi Parker Fraley died this week in a nursing home in Washington State. She was the original Rosie the Riveter, her image a primary-colored symbol of women’s empowerment: We Can Do It!. A New Jersey professor uncovered her real identity and solved a mystery going back decades. That story, below. Fraley died Saturday, as 15,000 women and men took to the streets in Morristown, New Jersey and showed up by the millions across America; the Women’s March now a national roar of women’s empowerment. Many of the women out in force that day were wearing a new symbol of women’s empowerment: A fuzzy pink hat mocking and taking back ownership of a profanity; the word by which a president who will never equal Roosevelt or Truman refers to women.

Naomi Parker at her lathe, 1942, Bettman Archives

The photo: Eight years ago, a Seton Hall University professor named Prof. James Kimble started tracking down the true identity of the woman in an old 1942 photograph. A woman at a lathe – pants, work shirt, hair pulled back with a polka-dot bandana – the source of the famous World War II poster encouraging women to leave their homes for shipyards and factories to produce the machinery of war.  Reprints of the photo in magazines always appeared without a caption. But we know it was the image a Pittsburgh artist named J. Howard Miller used when he made the famous poster; a woman work in gear and polka-dot bandana, newly-powerful bicep flexed. We Can Do It!

The mystery: Miller was commissioned for a bunch of posters by the Westinghouse Company to encourage their new war workers. In South Philly, where it’s likely some South Jersey women learned new skills, the Westinghouse plant built power plants for Navy vessels. Only after the war did the poster become iconic, a pop art symbol of women’s empowerment. But for years, there’s been confusion about who that woman really was. For years, Geraldine Doyle, a Michigan wartime factory worker, thought she saw herself in the photo. But she was wrong. Something about it all stuck in Kimble’s craw. He’d already published a paper correcting myths about the poster. And when Doyle died, he dived back into research, scouring the internet, magazines, and wire services searching for a captioned version of the same photograph. Three years ago, a breakthrough; another image, of a woman named … Naomi Parker Fraley. Reverse image search led him to a vintage newspaper picture dealer, who had another image from the same day – the woman at the lathe. And that was captioned, dated, and had a location: Alameda, California. Fraley was 20 when she and her sister, Ada, went to work in a machine shop at the Naval Air Station in Alameda, California. The caption:

Ada & Naomi, 93 & 95

“Pretty Naomi Parker looks like she might catch her nose in the turret lathe she is operating,” it said. The women wore “safety clothes instead of feminine frills. And the girls don’t mind – they’re doing their part. Glamour is secondary these days.”

OK, well that was then. In 2016, Kimble showed up at Naomi Parker Fraley’s door in California, flowers in hand, to meet the woman he spent years trying to find. We owe Seton Hall University’s Professor James Kimble thanks for his part in putting Naomi Parker Fraley’s face to an iconic image that encouraged more than one generation of women to see themselves as a productive force –  beyond home and hearth. It’s hard to believe that after 76 years, we have a potty-mouthed president who wants us reduced to something we don’t even call ourselves in jokes, and a Republican Party that will not set him right.

But that’s the thing. We won’t take it. We make our own future.  And we are everywhere.

NJ.com has a great story about Kimble’s discovery. And the Parker sisters’ family have their own story too.
Little Girl in Pink Hat is Paige Carmichael, 6, from Chadds Ford, PA, Washington Women’s March 2017.  Photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Did you know there’s a Rosie the Riveter – WWII Homefront National Historical Park? 

“Rosie the Riveter”
Song Lyrics

While other girls attend their fav’rite
cocktail bar
Sipping Martinis, munching caviar
There’s a girl who’s really putting
them to shame
Rosie is her name

All the day long whether rain or shine
She’s a part of the assembly line
She’s making history,
working for victory
Rosie the Riveter
Keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage
Sitting up there on the fuselage
That little frail can do more than a
male will do
Rosie the Riveter

Rosie’s got a boyfriend, Charlie
Charlie, he’s a Marine
Rosie is protecting Charlie
Working overtime on the
riveting machine
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 the Riveter

Everyone stops to admire the scene
Rosie at work on the B-Nineteen
She’s never twittery, nervous or jittery
Rosie the Riveter
What if she’s smeared full of
oil and grease
Doing her bit for the old Lendlease
She keeps the gang around
They love to hang around
Rosie the Riveter

Rosie buys a lot of war bonds
That girl really has sense
Wishes she could purchase
more bonds
Putting all her cash into national
defense
Senator Jones who is “in the know”
Shouted these words on the radio
Berlin will hear about
Moscow will cheer about
Rosie the Riveter!
_____________________
Paramount Music Corporation, NY,
1942.  Listen to song at NPR.

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