We Can Do It: The Inspiration of Rosie the Riveter

Posted by Liz T. on

The "We Can Do It" poster was produced by American artist J. Howard Miller in 1942 for the Westinghouse Electric Corporation. As just one of many wartime propaganda posters produced during WW2, it was displayed for only a few weeks during February 1943 before vanishing into obscurity. The iconic poster reached mainstream popularity after being republished in an article about the National Archives in the early 1980s.

Despite being known as the "Rosie the Riveter" poster, the original poster had no initial association with anyone named Rosie. In 1994, a former wartime worker named Geraldine Hoff Doyle mistakenly identified herself as the model for the "We Can Do It" poster after seeing a photo that was credited as inspiring the poster and thinking that it was a picture of her.

Naomi Parker Fraley, in 1992 and in 2016.

It was actually a picture of Naomi Parker Fraley, as later proved by scholar James Kimble - and by the copy of the image Fraley herself had kept all those years. There is no way to know if that image was actually Miller's inspiration for the original poster, but at the very least it is another fine example of the glamourous images of female war-workers that were all over the media at the time.

The cover from the sheet music for "Rosie the Riveter" plus lyricsSo how then did this unnamed illustration become known as "Rosie the Riveter?" In 1943, Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb released a song called "Rosie the Riveter" that waxed poetic about the patriotism and impact of female war workers. On May 29, 1943, a drawing by Norman Rockwell of the Rosie from the song appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. Even though Miller's poster predated the song, the character became associated with the fearless and patriotic Rosie of pop culture.

Since the poster's resurgence in popularity, it has been copied, updated, and parodied too many times to count. People continue to find inspiration and meaning in this iconic illustration nearly 80 years after its creation. No one could have foreseen this simple poster's popularity, nor the impact this image has had as a symbol for women's empowerment in the workforce and beyond.

Various We Can Do It inspired posters throughout the years

Photo Credits, Clockwise from Top Left:

1. Original "We Can Do It" by J. Howard Miller, 1943
2. "Rosie The Riveter" by Norman Rockwell, 1943
3. "We Can Do It" by Global Couture, 2014
4. "Rosita Adelita" by Robert Valadez, 2010
5.  "WE CAN DO IT, ROSIE 2020" by Randall Slocum Art, 2020
6. GGR's homage to Rosie, 2020

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