Sunday 24 June 2018

Obituary: Naomi Parker Fraley

US factory worker who was the most likely inspiration for the iconic World War II poster of 'Rosie the Riveter'

Naomi Parker, c 1942 Photo: Bettmann Archive
Naomi Parker, c 1942 Photo: Bettmann Archive

Independent.ie newsdesk

Naomi Parker Fraley, who has died aged 96, was identified in 2016 as the most likely inspiration for "Rosie the Riveter", the factory worker who featured in a famous US wartime poster wearing a polka dot bandanna.

Commercial advertising was heavily used by Allied governments to boost morale and encourage women to volunteer for wartime service in factories, and after Rosie the Riveter became the subject of a wartime film, the name was applied more generally to women factory workers.

Much later, posters depicting "Rosie" became a symbol for the burgeoning feminist movement. Several women have been credited with being the real Rosie, including Mary Doyle Keefe, a 19-year-old telephone operator from Arlington, Vermont, who became the subject of an illustration by Norman Rockwell depicting a robust young woman in worker's overalls eating a sandwich.

However, the identity of the girl in the more familiar poster by J Howard Miller, showing a female factory worker in a red polka dot bandanna, her sleeve rolled up and fist clenched, beneath the slogan "We Can Do It!" kept people guessing for years. Miller designed the poster to boost worker morale at Westinghouse plants in the Midwest. It was rarely seen by outsiders until it was rediscovered in the 1980s and transformed into a cultural icon.

In 1984, a Michigan woman, Geraldine Hoff Doyle, saw a wartime photograph of a woman working at a lathe in a magazine, above the caption "Rosie the Riveters played a major part in winning the war", and immediately claimed to be the subject of the image.

In 2009, however, Naomi Fraley saw the original photograph on display but was shocked to find it captioned "Geraldine". "I just wanted my own identity," she said later. "I didn't want fame or fortune, but I did want my own identity."

The wartime poster. Photos: AP/Bettmann Archive Credit
The wartime poster. Photos: AP/Bettmann Archive Credit

In the meantime, James Kimble, a professor from New Jersey, had also become suspicious of Geraldine Hoff Doyle's claims. After five years of trawling through the archive, he stumbled on another photograph of the woman in the picture in a 1942 Time article about the emerging trend of women wearing trousers, and eventually tracked both photographs to a Memphis company which held the originals.

They turned out to be captioned "Miss Naomi Parker from Alameda, California".

He announced his findings in an academic journal in 2016, though as Miller had died some time before, there was no way of proving that the photograph of Naomi really did inspire the artist. But as Naomi herself observed: "The women of this country these days need some icons. If they think I'm one, I'm happy about that."

She was born Naomi Parker in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on August 26, 1921. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, she was one of the first women to be hired to work in the machine shop at the Naval Air Station in Alameda, California, repairing naval aircraft, where she was eventually joined by some 400 other women mechanics.

She and her colleagues worked in overalls and tied their hair in bandannas, and Naomi recalled buying her red polka dot bandanna from a "Five and Dime" store. Soon after she started work, a press photographer visited the base and took pictures of her peering over a turret lathe. One was published by a local newspaper which observed that her overalls had not "made Miss Naomi Parker any less attractive".

In 1943, Naomi Parker left her job to get married to Joe Blankenship. They had a son and eventually settled in Palm Springs, where Naomi worked as a waitress in restaurants and nightclubs and became an ordained minister in the 1970s.Her first marriage was dissolved. Her second husband, John Muhlig, died in 1971, and her third husband, Charles Fraley, died in 1998.

Naomi Parker Fraley, who died on January 20, is survived by her son.

© Telegraph

Telegraph.co.uk

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