Since entering the cultural zeitgeist in 1942, many women have claimed to be World War II-era poster icon “Rosie the Riveter,” but only one could claim to be the original.
Her name was Rosalind P. Walter.
She died Wednesday, the New York Times reported. She was 95.
Three other women, Mary Doyle Keefe, Naomi Parker Fraley and Geraldine Hoff Doyle, were all at one point identified with the “Rosie” poster, but it was Walter who inspired the character.
Born in 1924 to a wealthy family, Walter grew up in Long Island. When WWII broke out, she got a job riveting the metal hulls of Corsair fighter planes at a Connecticut plant. It was there that newspaper columnist Igor Cassini wrote about Walter. His column was seen by songwriters Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb, who penned the song Rosie the Riveter in 1942.
The song caught on and became a hit. In May 1943, Norman Rockwell’s painting of a then-19-year-old Keefe sitting with a rivet gun on her lap and lunchbox labeled “Rosie” under her arm appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Keefe died in 2015. She was 92.
But it was the poster of a bicep-curling, polka-dot-bandana-clad woman proclaiming, “We can do it!” in bold lettering that became most identified with “Rosie the Riveter,” even though that wasn’t what the painting was of at all.
Seton Hall University professor James J. Kimble exhaustedly researched the history of “Rosie the Riveter” for a 2016 article in the journal Rhetoric & Public Affairs. As it turns out, the iconic “Rosie” poster briefly appeared in Westinghouse Electric plants in 1943 and was never meant to be seen by the public. It went largely unnoticed until it resurfaced in the ’80s and quickly became a feminist symbol. It was then that the name Rosie the Riveter was given to the woman it portrayed.
That woman was Fraley. She died in 2018 at 96.
The poster’s artist, J. Howard Miller, took inspiration for his Rosie from a 1942 newspaper photo of Fraley standing over a lathe, wearing the infamous polka dot bandana. But for years, it was believed that Doyle was the inspiration for Rosie after she misidentified herself as the woman in the original photograph.
It wasn’t until after Doyle’s death in 2010 at 86 that Kimble’s research revealed Fraley to be the true inspiration for Rosie.
Yet still, only one woman could claim to be the originator of the “Rosie” name and mythos. It was Walter, who, as Evans and Loeb wrote, kept a “sharp lookout for sabotage sitting up there on the fuselage.”
Her friends called her Roz.