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The Woman Who Inspired "Accidental" Feminist Icon "Rosie The Riveter" Has Passed Away

Her name was Naomi Parker Fraley, and she passed away at the ripe old age of 96 in hospice care after a long battle with cancer.

 

 

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Naomi, as it turns out, is the true and undisputed inspiration behind the artwork we've all seen printed on different mediums: a poster depicting a woman confidently flexing her arm, and wearing a red polka dot bandana and what looks like a denim shirt with its sleeves rolled up. The motivational words saying, "We can do it!" are printed in big, bold white letters enclosed in a navy blue speech balloon set against a bright yellow background.

 

 

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The poster brought to life by artist J. Howard Miller was created during the World War II, when millions of women powered the American labor force as men went off to fight the war. It was based on an actual black and white photograph of an unidentified female factory worker. Eventually, the woman in the poster was baptized with the nickname "Rosie the Riveter," and she became a propaganda icon for women who spent their days working in wartime plane factories and hangars.

The colorful poster gained a different meaning when, 40 years later, the 80s sparked a women's revolution and inspired a new wave of feminism. Shedding her wartime origins and metamorphosing into a symbol of rediscovered female power, "Rosie the Riveter" has stayed relevant after all these years.

 

 

The phenomenon inspired academic scholars, wartime memorabilia enthusiasts, and pop culture collectors to scour national archives for the real-life “Rosie.” Many have attempted to hunt her down to no avail, and even more women have claimed to be "Rosie," only to be proven wrong.

It was only in 2016 when a tenacious Dr. James J. Kimble, a professor at Seton Hall University, put the issue to rest.

 

 

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Having written about this subject matter in the past, his search for "Rosie" began in 2010, when he learned that another woman, the late Geraldine Doyle, had previously claimed to be the artwork's basis. The academic silently questioned her claims and what the world thought to be true, describing that he simply had a gut feeling there was more to be discovered.

His instinct to do more research followed the devastation felt by Naomi a few years earlier when she attended a convention for women who helped fuel the WWII effort. At the event, she spotted the black and white photo that inspired the ubiquitous poster. She knew in her heart that the woman in the photo was indeed her, yet it was tagged with a different name: Geraldine Doyle.

 

 

Continuing his six-year dive into WWII history, Dr. Kimble's research led him to a vintage photograph dealer who had an original copy of the black and white photo. Out of sheer luck, the photo had a companion image featuring the same woman from the same day, and it indicated that it was taken in March 1942 in Alameda, California.

Though bothered by the erroneous caption, the nonagenarian claimed she didn't want fame, fortune, or attention—just her identity. She said no one had been willing to listen to her story, and therefore was unable to request for the correction. It took almost 20 years for her to get to tell the world the truth.

It also came with a caption: "Pretty Naomi Parker looks like she might catch her nose in the turret lathe she is operating.”

 

 

It is known that Naomi lived with her family in Alameda during her early twenties. Records also indicate that the Naomi Parker featured in the photographs went on to marry Charley Fraley.

After more than half a decade of searching, Dr. Kimble found "Rosie."

His discovery led him to Naomi's doorstep in her home in Alameda, a bouquet of flowers ready in hand. Naomi was nothing short of thrilled, elated, and overjoyed at his reason for being there and the two wasted no time in exchanging stories about their experiences in re-telling the true story of "Rosie." Naomi had no idea that her black and white photo, a newspaper cutout of which she kept in an album for 70 years, had inspired women decade after decade to fight for their rights. 

 

 

"Victory! Victory! Victory" exclaimed Naomi when she was asked how she felt about the discovery in an interview with the Omaha World-Herald.

Learning about how the poster she inspired had transformed into a modern symbol for women today, Naomi told People magazine in 2016 that "The women of this country these days need some icons. If they think I'm one, I'm happy."

Naomi is survived by her children, grandchildren, and sisters.

 

 

Photos from @bonmboy