It’s unlikely you know the name Naomi Parker Fraley, or the impact she had on your life, but you undoubtedly know her image.
She was the inspiration behind the female war worker icon, Rosie the Riveter, whose image and slogan, “We can do it!” was used to motivate workers during WWII, and women everywhere ever since. While Rosie inspired generations of women to realize they could do it, Naomi lead her life in the shadows, he alter ego unnoticed.
Mrs. Fraley only became aware of her role in the inspiration for the poster while attending a reunion of female war workers at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park, where she was shocked to see a photo of her young self operating a lathe, captioned with the wrong name.
With the help of professor James Kimble, over the course of several years, she was able to regain proper recognition for the photo. Speaking on her motivation for pursing the correction, she told People magazine, “I just wanted my own identity. I didn’t want fame or fortune, but I did want my own identity.” Indeed, that is what women have always been fighting for.
The photo at the centre of the controversy is widely believed to be the inspiration for the famous poster.
Image via New York Times
It is breathtaking to consider the strides in women’s rights Mrs. Fraley witnessed during her 96 years on earth. Born one year, almost to the day, after women were given the right to vote in the United States, Mrs. Fraley passed away the day of the 2018 Women’s March. A hauntingly poetic end to the life of a woman who embodied and symbolized Woman Power for generations. As she slipped away, women flooded the streets, hoisting her image above their heads, as though a passing of the torch.
War Women were instrumental in helping women break into the workplace. Jobs needed to be filled, and there was a shortage of men to fill them. It was a chance for women to prove they had what it took, and they did so with gusto.
After the war, Naomi remained in the workforce as a waitress. She experienced the Women’s Liberation movement of the 60s and 70s. She bore witness to the burning of bras, and the shattering of glass ceilings.
She watched Roe v Wade change women’s health and rights to their own bodies. She saw a law come to pass prohibiting husbands from raping their wives, a right they had previously held until far too recently. She was governed by women in government roles women could not vote for mere months before her birth. She witnessed a woman running for president.
But most importantly, Mrs. Fraley, the inspiration for the most famous icon of female empowerment, was assured, until they day she died, that women never stopped and never will stop fighting for equal ground, for their rights, and for their freedoms.
Naomi Parker Fraley, right, with her sister. Image via New York Times.
Naomi Parker Fraley may not have intended to become the face of a revolution, but she wore the badge well. We will forever be grateful for her service and for her inspiration to persevere.
Rest well, Mrs. Fraley. Rosie lives on.