Rosie the Riveter, the REAL Rosie, dies at age 96

Jonathan Kaupanger
January 23, 2018 - 10:32 am

(Photo by Master Sgt. Eric Harris, 1st. Combat Camera Squadron)

Naomi Parker Fraley died Saturday at the age of 96 in Longview, Washington. You probably remember her by another name, Rosie the Riveter.

For decades, the world thought Rosie was someone else, but in 1942 a newspaperman visited the Alameda Naval Air Station and asked to take Fraley’s picture. The picture appeared in the local paper at the time, but it wasn’t until artist J. Howard Miller turned it into an illustration and added the phrase, “We Can Do It,” that it became an iconic sensation we know today.

Originally, the “We Can Do It” poster was only displayed at Westinghouse Electric corporation plants in 1943 as a way to fight tardiness. Most recently the New Yorker published an updated Rosie as a brown-skinned woman, with a pink knitted cap like those worn during the women’s march after last year’s inauguration.

It’s safe to say that Rosie the Riveter has become a symbol of modern feminism. “The women of this country these days needs some icons, if they think I’m one, I’m happy about that,” Fraley said in a 2016 People Magazine interview.

Fraley was the third of eight children. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Aug. 16, 1921 to father Joseph Parker and mother Esther Leis.  The family moved often, living wherever Mr. Parker’s work took him, eventually settling in Alameda, California.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Naomi, who was 20 at the time, and her younger sister Ada, went to work at the Naval Air Station. They were assigned to the machine shop where they would drill, patch airplane wings and of course rivet.  It was there that the photographer took her picture, standing at her lathe, her hair pulled back and tied up in a red bandanna for safety.  She clipped the photo out of the paper and then forgot about it.

After the war, Fraley went to work as a waitress in Palm Springs, CA. She married and had a family. Years later she saw the Miller poster.  In the People article she said, “I did think it looked like me,” but she never did connect the newspaper picture with the poster.

In 2011, Fraley and her sister attended a female war workers reunion at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in California.  There, displayed for all to see was the newspaper photo of Fraley standing at her lathe, only another woman’s name was in the caption.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Fraley told the Oakland Tribune in a 2016 interview. “I knew it was actually me in the photo.” She wrote to the National Park Service and eventually with the help of others was able to prove it was her in the photo.  “I didn’t want fame or fortune,” she said.  “But I did want my own identity.”

Fraley’s first marriage ended in divorce. Her second husband died in 1971 and third whom she married in 1979, passed away in 1998.  She is survived by a son, Joseph Blankenship; four stepsons, Earnest, Daniel, John and Michael Fraley.  Two stepdaughters, Patricia Hood and Ann Fraley, two sisters, Ada Loy and Althea Hill; three grandchildren; three great-grandchildren and many step-grandkids and step-great grandchildren.

You can learn more about Naomi Parker Fraley at her website.