Last Saturday, the world lost arguably one of the most recognizable feminist icons from the past century: Rosie the Riveter. At age 96, Naomi Parker Fraley passed away in hospice care.
Though widely recognized at the time of her death as the inspiration for the Rosie the Riveter propaganda posters from WWII, Fraley’s name escaped notice for over 70 years before she was finally credited.
According to The New York Times, this was in part due to the fact that many women shared a similar wartime experience and were the subjects of photographs, and partly due to the fact that the symbol of “Rosie the Riveter” can actually be associated with a song, a Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover, and more.
Nevertheless, the image of the female factory worker in a bandana and work shirt flexing her arm remains, by far, the most well-known symbol associated with the concept.
Like millions of other American women during World War II, Fraley joined the workforce as a factory worker in order to fill the void left by the military drafting of most able-bodied American men. According to CNN, Fraley worked at Alameda Naval Station, which is where she was photographed by the press in the image that sparked the iconic Rosie poster.
Fraley herself only was confronted by the photo over 60 years later, when she attended a gathering of women who worked during the war. However, she was told that the image was of an entirely different woman, Geraldine Hoff Doyle.
While the situation was at long last corrected, Fraley remained humble and modest, stating in 2016 to People magazine, “I didn’t want fame or fortune. But I did want my own identity.”
In serving as the face of female strength and self-sufficiency, Fraley and the fictitious “Rosie the Riveter” represent an entire generation of groundbreaking women. Though not all of them received the same level of global fame and legacy, it is estimated that around 2.1 million women joined the workforce between 1939 and 1943, raising the percentage of participation from 26 percent to 36 percent.
According to Striking Women, “90% of all able-bodied single women between the ages of 18 and 40 were engaged in some form of work or National Service by September 1943.”
The aviation industry alone consisted of an approximate 310,000 unsung “Rosie the Riveters,” with the percentage of female participation undergoing a radical change from just one percent before the war to a whopping 65 percent during wartime.
Whether or not they received fame or fortune, the women behind the war effort in the 1940s paved the way for future generations in a way that we modern women are still only now coming to appreciate. When faced with tragedy and hardship, Fraley and her peers responded with strength, fearlessness, and unity in the face of opposition coming from truly all directions.
One can only hope that with the passing of these iconic women, a new generation of pioneers is rising to take their place.
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