Naomi Parker Fraley, the Real Rosie the Riveter, Dies at 96

By Vivian El-Salawy on January 31, 2018

Many are already familiar with Rosie the Riveter – the cultural icon from World War II that represented all of the female workers that worked in factories to produce many of the war supplies within their era. Rosie was the star of a campaign, aiming to recruit female workers for defense industries in the work force and creating a huge impact on the role of females at the time. However, not as many people are familiar with Naomi Parker Fraley – the woman behind the icon, who passed only a few days ago on January 20th, 2018 in Washington to cancer.

Image via naomiparkerfraley.com

A photograph of Naomi Parker from 1942 was likely the inspiration for the Rosie the Riveter poster. However, according to the New York Times, Mrs. Fraley told People magazine in 2016 that she didn’t really want the fame or the fortune, nor the recognition. She instead valued a sense of identity.

For many years, Dr. Kimble, an associate professor of communication and the arts at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, searched for the “real Rosie”.  He reported his findings in a 2016 article in the journal Rhetoric & Public Affairs, titled “Rosie’s Secret Identity”.

According to the New York Times, there was a great deal of confusion as to who the inspiration or model for Rosie the Riveteer was, and this was the result of a few factors. The name “Rosie” alone was used in a wartime song by Redd Evans and John Jacob, who was modeled after Rosalind P. Walter – a Long Island woman who was a riveter on Corsair fighter planes. Another potential Rosie had sprung from Normal Rockwell, whose Saturday Evening Post cover depicted a muscular woman with a rivet gun.

Rosie the Riveter; Image via Aero-News

Eventually, most people concluded that the real Rosie had been Mary Doyle Keefe, as she was the model used for Rockwell. The woman in the “We Can Do It” poster resembled Doyle in her  younger years, and for a long time, she herself was convinced that she could have been the inspiration for the woman.

Finally, Dr. Kimble’s work closed in on Mrs. Fraley, the third of eight children born to Joseph Parker and Esther Leis in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, both Mrs. Fraley and her sister, Ada, worked at the Naval Air Station in Alameda. There, a photographer took a photo of Naomi with her hair in a bandana. Printed in the paper, Naomi kept this image for decades.

The photograph at the heart of the mystery: Naomi Parker in March 1942; Image via Getty Images

After the war, she began working as a waitress, got married, and had a family of her own. For years, she always felt as though there was a similarity between the popular icon and the photograph of herself, however she never imagined that it had been her that the original artist had worked off of.

Fraley considered it to be a victory – that she had been the model for the iconic, feminist image. “The women of this country these days need some icons,” she told People magazine in 2016. “If they think I’m one, I’m happy.”

Vivian El-Salawy is a graduate of Florida State University with a B.A. in Editing, Writing, and Media with minors in Slavic (Russian) Studies and Communications. Alongside writing for Uloop News, WVFS Tallahassee 89.7 FM, and editing for the Good Life Community magazine, she is heavily involved with a Tau Beta Sigma, a national honorary sorority that promotes women in the band profession.

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