“We Can Do It” pioneer of women passes away

Marie Birkbeck
“We Can Do It” pioneer of women passes away

For over 100 years, on March 8, cities, communities and people around the world acknowledge International Women’s Day and celebrate the contributions women have made in achieving gender equality.

Last month the world lost a woman who, though not well known until the mid 1980s, was inspirational to so many, and encouraged us to push to higher heights.

Naomi Parker Fraley, the face of the woman in the iconic “We Can Do It” poster passed away Jan. 20, 2018 at the age of 96.

The poster, inspired by a photograph of Ms Parker working in a machine shop at a Naval Air Station in 1942, depicted a woman donning coveralls, a polka-dot bandana, and flexing her arm, was one of several advertising campaigns designed for an in-house drive to boost morale and deter absenteeism and strikes in the Westinghouse factories across the USA during WWII.

After being on display in the factories for two weeks from Feb. 15 - 28, 1943 the poster was filed away and was forgotten for several decades, resurfacing in 1982 when the Washington Post ran an article about the collection of posters in the National Archives.

In the following years, the poster became symbolic of the feminist movement. It is attested that feminists saw in the image an embodiment of female empowerment. The "We" was understood to mean "We Women", uniting all women in a sisterhood fighting against gender inequality. The image went on to grace magazine covers and postage stamps; in later years the image and the slogan became a part of many high-profile election campaigns and even became part of the closing credits of a super-hero film.

All the while, our hero was oblivious to the fact that she was becoming famous. After the war ended in 1945, Naomi lived a quiet life working as a waitress in a Palm Springs restaurant, married three times and raised a family.

It was not until 2011 when she attended a reunion at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historic Park that she spotted the 1942 photo of her operating the machine in the navy shop, but the subject was identified as someone else! As she had a copy of the original photo and newspaper article she immediately took steps to have the information corrected.

During that same period a James Kimble, professor at Seton Hall, became obsessed with the story behind the poster. A six-year long journey took him in all directions and finally in 2015 to the door of none other that Naomi Parker Fraley. During her interview she told a journalist with People magazine, “I didn’t want fame or fortune - but I did want my own identity.”

Although Naomi - aka Rosie - herself was not a mover and a shaker, a feminist, or a suffragette, the image she portrays in the poster is one that reminds women around the globe that they are strong, and they can endure, and they really can accomplish anything they set their minds on!

Thank you Rosie, you really were an inspiration.

On International Woman’s Day we will remember all the Rosie’s of the world that have set the bar for women everywhere.

“The women of this country these days need some icons. If they think I’m one, I’m happy about that.”

Naomi Parker Fraley August 26, 1921 – January 20, 2018.