Rosie The Riveter Was 'Born' In Pittsburgh, But She’s Probably More Than One Woman

Jan 23, 2018

The New York Times reported Monday that Naomi Parker Fraley, believed to be the inspiration for Rosie the Riveter, died at age 96.

But experts say she likely wasn’t the “Rosie” most of America knows and loves.

Heniz History Center President and CEO Andy Masich said that’s because J. Howard Miller, who created the famous poster for Westinghouse Electric while working in Pittsburgh, most likely used an amalgamation of women as inspiration for the poster.

“In late-1942, he whomped up a poster of a Westinghouse woman war worker, making a muscle … and she looks pretty fierce,” Masich said.

Miller, who graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, was an illustrator who was hired to design inspiring images for female Westinghouse workers during World War II. He created 42 posters similar to the yellow-backed “We Can Do It!” sign, which has served as a pervasive (and complex) symbol of feminism in the years since

Parker Fraley most likely became known as the real woman behind Rosie after a photo of her leaning over machinery, striking a resemblance to Miller’s image, was published in newspapers, Masich said. However, for many years, a woman named Geraldine Doyle, who died in 2011, was considered the inspiration for Rosie. 

Though Fraley isn’t bearing a bicep through a rolled up sleeve while looking at the camera, Masich said it was common for female workers to strike the iconic pose.

“Westinghouse was headquartered here in Pittsburgh and in the East Pittsburgh plant, they had taken to rolling up their sleeves and, for the photographers say, ‘Let’s show ‘em. Let’s show ‘em what we can do,’” he said.

Around the same time that Miller’s image came out, the song “Rosie the Riveter” caught on and Norman Rockwell created his own similar image for the Saturday Evening Post. Thus, the woman in the red bandana informally became Rosie the Riveter.

Although Norman Rockwell was easily a more famous artist, Miller’s was the "Rosie" that caught on. Masich said there’s just something about Miller’s simple image of a determined American woman that has captured the public's imagination.

“That cool factor, maybe that’s it,” he said.