One of the most iconic images in women’s rights activism is a young woman flexing her muscle next to the slogan “We Can Do It!” She’s called Rosie the Riveter and she’s a symbol of American women joining the workforce en masse when men went off to fight in World War II.
Although her connection to Rosie was not discovered until late into her life, Naomi Parker Fraley of Washington is now recognized as one of the women who inspired this iconic image. Fraley died this week, on Jan. 20, at age 96.
Who Is Naomi Parker Fraley?
Naomi Fern Parker was born in Tulsa, Okla. on Aug. 26, 1921. Throughout her childhood, Naomi, her parents and her seven siblings moved around the country before settling near San Francisco, thanks to her father’s job as a mining engineer.
Parker was 20 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, a U.S. naval base in Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941. Like many other women who joined the war effort, she and her younger sister got jobs at the Naval Air Station in Alameda, Calif., drilling, patching and riveting airplane wings.
Little did she know that this difficult and dirty job would lead to her image becoming an iconic part of American history.
How Rosie the Riveter Came To Be
After she began working at the base, a newspaper photographer snapped a photo of Parker working the lathe with her hair tied back in a dotted bandana — a simple safety precaution followed by many of the working women. Parker proudly clipped that photo from the newspaper and held on to it for years to come.
In about 1942, artist J. Howard Miller designed the Rosie the Riveter poster for Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company. He was known to use images from the media to inform his drawings — perhaps including the newspaper picture of Parker, which is where people speculate Rosie’s likeness and the red bandana came from.
Miller’s motivational poster of Rosie the Riveter was displayed in Westinghouse factories to boost morale. Although it wasn’t intended to be seen by the public, the poster became one of the most famous images of World War II and is still widely recognized today as a sign of both patriotism and women’s strength.
But still, nobody realized Parker’s connection.
Identifying Rosie the Riveter
After the war, Parker worked as a waitress, got married and raised a family.
Now known as Fraley, in 2011 she visited the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, Calif. where she saw that newspaper photograph of herself. However, the woman in the photograph was identified as Geraldine Doyle, a Michigan woman who has long claimed that she is the inspiration for Rosie the Riveter.
Fraley notified the National Park Service, which runs the historic park, to let them know the image was incorrectly captioned. Eventually, with the help of Dr. James Kimble, they found a vintage copy of original newspaper photograph with a caption stating, “Pretty Naomi Parker looks like she might catch her nose in the turret lathe she is operating.” Fraley was able to produce the original newspaper clipping with the photograph of herself, which she had saved all these years, as well.
Fraley, thanks to her red bandana, is now widely recognized to be one of the inspirations for Rosie the Riveter. She told People magazine in 2016, “The women of this country these days need some icons. If they think I’m one, I’m happy about that.”
Following her death, Fraley leaves a son, four stepsons, two stepdaughters, two sisters, three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren, as well as the countless people whom her likeness inspired.