The “Rosie the Riveter” poster was an inspiration to employees at Westinghouse in the 1940s – an encouragement for a new wave of female employees to join the workforce and invigorate the war effort. The image did not gain its popularity until it was commercialized in the 1980s, and since then has become an iconic symbol of feminism, grit and perseverance. The “We can do it!” refrain has become a mantra for thousands of others.
Rosie in the poster has been personified and is easily identified by most people, but mystery shrouds the identity of the inspiration for the artwork. Rosie’s identity still is not confirmed but is now believed to be Naomi Parker Fraley, (even though other accounts had attributed J. Howard Miller’s image to another woman) who passed away this week at age 96.
I learned of Parker Fraley’s death from my administrative assistant of nearly thirty years ago. She saw “Rosie’s” obituary and thought I would want to know – as if were news about an old friend. It reminded her of the days when I used Rosie as a rallying cry for my new staff as we sought to create a new culture on campus, and brought back fond memories of the time when we were on a mission to achieve something as audacious as what Rosie herself embodied.
No one is sure of whether Parker Fraley is the “real Rosie”, but a solid identity does not matter. Rosie is not a person, rather a symbol and inspiration – a reminder that with determination and grit much can be achieved. That spirit and motivation can live on to galvanize another generation of change makers if you let it.