Naomi Parker Fraley
Naomi Parker Fraley was the real woman who inspired the iconic World War II image of Rosie the Riveter.
Who Was Naomi Parker Fraley?
Naomi Parker Fraley (August 26, 1921 to January 20, 2018) was photographed in 1942 while working at California's Alameda Naval Air Station, where she'd taken a job to help her country during World War II. Decades later, she learned this photo had possibly inspired the iconic image known as Rosie the Riveter — in which a woman wearing a polka-dotted bandana flexes her arm while saying, "We Can Do It!" — but that another woman had claimed to be in the photo. Parker Fraley tried to correct the record herself, but it took a professor's in-depth investigation to prove she was the photo's subject.
Inspiration for "Rosie the Riveter"
A photograph of Parker Fraley, then Naomi Parker, in which she sported a polka-dotted bandana while operating a lathe at work, was likely the inspiration for the image that's known today as Rosie the Riveter. Parker had taken a job at California's Alameda Naval Air Station in 1942, following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into World War II. She was one of the millions of women who stepped into new roles as men were sent off to fight.
Parker's work required her to perform different tasks — including riveting — to repair airplanes. In jobs like these women had to wear pants, remove jewelry and keep their hair out of their faces in order to safely operate machinery. In March 1942, an Acme agency photographer came to document the women who were foregoing glamour to support the war effort. A photo of Parker was taken and published in newspapers across the country.
Around the time Parker's photograph was distributed, J. Howard Miller created an image of a woman wearing a polka-dotted bandana who curls her bicep as she declares, "We Can Do It!" Miller, who died in 1985, never revealed his inspiration, but his work process often used photos, and the picture of Parker made it into his hometown paper, the Pittsburgh Press. In addition, the similarities in appearance between Parker's photo and Miller's image, including the presence of a polka-dotted bandana, are notable. However, it took years for Parker Fraley to be acknowledged as the woman in the photo, and therefore the possible spark for Miller's creation.
An Image Becomes "Rosie the Riveter"
During World War II, Miller's image wasn't called "Rosie the Riveter" and it wasn't well known. The artist created it, along with other images, for Westinghouse Electric Corporation for posters that were put up as a means of encouraging employees to do their best during wartime. At the time, about 1,000 copies were made of the "We Can Do It!" poster. It was displayed for just a couple of weeks in 1943.
In the war years, other references to "Rosie the Riveter" were better known — a song used the name, and a Norman Rockwell painting on the cover of the May 29, 1943, Saturday Evening Post showed a woman, wearing overalls and with a rivet gun, whose lunchbox was marked "Rosie." It wasn't until the 1980s that the old Westinghouse image, likely unearthed at the National Archives, began to appear on shirts, mugs and other merchandise, and became popularly known as Rosie the Riveter.
Also in the 1980s, a woman named Geraldine Hoff Doyle saw an unlabeled version of Parker's photograph. Doyle, who'd worked at a factory in Michigan during the war and who had looked like Parker, thought she was the subject of the photo. Hoff Doyle was therefore linked to Rosie the Riveter.
At a reunion in 2011 at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California, Parker Fraley saw her photograph, which was credited with being a likely source of inspiration for the Rosie the Riveter image — but it had someone else's name. In 2016, Parker Fraley shared how she'd felt at the time: "I couldn’t believe it. There was another person’s name under my identity. But I knew it was actually me in the photo."
Parker Fraley tried to correct the record with the National Park Service. As proof she had a 1942 newspaper clipping with the photo, with her identified as its subject. However, by that time Doyle's claim was accepted as fact (when Doyle died in 2010, many obituaries stated she was the inspiration for Rosie), and no one seemed to be interested in what Parker Fraley had to say.
It took the efforts of James J. Kimble, a professor of communication and the arts at Seton Hall University, to corroborate and share Parker Fraley's story. Kimble told the BBC that after Doyle died, "I of course thought, how do we know she's really the model? What's the proof?" He set out to identify the woman in the picture. In the course of his research he found and was able to purchase a copy of the vintage photo; the description stated the picture was taken at Alameda on March 24, 1942, and mentioned "Pretty Naomi Parker" — confirming that Parker Fraley was the woman in the photo.
Kimble tracked Parker Fraley to where she was then living in California and visited in 2015. His research was shared in a 2016 article for the journal Rhetoric & Public Affairs. As for Parker Fraley, she was delighted to finally be acknowledged. When asked by the Omaha World-Herald how she felt now that the truth was out, she answered: "Victory! Victory! Victory!"
When Was Naomi Parker Fraley Born?
Fraley was born as Naomi Fern Parker on August 26, 1921, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She was the third of eight children.
When Did Naomi Parker Fraley Die?
On January 20, 2018, Naomi Parker Fraley, who'd been suffering from cancer, died in Longview, Washington, at a home for seniors. She was survived by a son, four stepsons and two stepdaughters.
Parker Fraley's father, Joseph Parker, was a mining engineer. His work took him around the country — including New York, Missouri, Texas, Washington and Utah — with his wife, Esther Leis, and their children.
The family was living in Alameda, California, when a 20-year-old Parker started work at the naval station during World War II. She later said, "Everyone was excited to work for the country, and we all held up our hands and said, 'We can do it.'"
After Parker's photo was taken at the naval base, some of the publications that printed it included her name. She even received fan mail after the picture appeared.
Marriages and Family
Naomi Parker's first husband was Joseph Blankenship; they had one son. After a divorce, she wed John Muhlig, who died in 1971. She married her third husband, Charles Fraley, in 1979; he passed away in 1998.
Both Parker Fraley and her younger sister Ada worked as waitresses at The Doll House restaurant, located in Palm Springs, California.
After the death of her third husband, Parker Fraley moved in with Ada, who'd also worked at the naval station during World War II.
Talking about the photo and possibly being the woman behind Rosie the Riveter, Parker Fraley told People magazine in 2016, “I didn’t want fame or fortune, but I did want my own identity." However, she was also glad to think she might provide inspiration to others, saying, "The women of this country these days need some icons. If they think I'm one, I'm happy about that."