The real truth behind the iconic “We Can Do It” poster

Alex .A

Years after, in 1982, the “We Can Do It!”  image was reproduced in a magazine article, “Poster Art for Patriotism’s Sake”, a Washington Post Magazine article about posters in the collection of the National Archives. From then on, feminists and others have seized upon the uplifting attitude and apparent message to remake the image into many different forms, including self-empowerment, campaign promotion, advertising, and parodies.

An example of commercial use on a pair of vending machines for bottled water

An example of commercial use on a pair of vending machines for bottled water.Source

 

The poster served and still serves as an advocate for women’s rights in the workforce. In 1984, former war worker Geraldine Hoff Doyle came across an article in Modern Maturity magazine which showed a wartime photograph of a young woman working at a lathe, and she assumed that the photograph was taken of her in mid-to-late 1942 when she was working briefly in a factory. Ten years later, Doyle saw the “We Can Do It!” poster on the front of the Smithsonian magazine and assumed the poster was an image of herself. Without intending to profit from the connection, Doyle decided that the 1942 wartime photograph had inspired Miller to create the poster, making Doyle herself the model for the poster.

The 1941 photo of Geraldine Hoff Doyle eventually made its way on to the cover of a 1986 Time-Life book, 'The Patriotic Tide: 1940-1950'.

The 1941 photo of Geraldine Hoff Doyle eventually made its way on to the cover of a 1986 Time-Life book, ‘The Patriotic Tide: 1940-1950’.Source

Subsequently, Doyle was widely credited as the inspiration for Miller’s poster. From an archive of Acme News photographs, Professor James J. Kimble obtained the original photographic print, including its yellowed caption identifying the woman as Naomi Parker. The photo is one of a series of photographs taken at Naval Air Station Alameda in California, showing Parker and her sister working at their war jobs during March 1942.

These images were published in various newspapers and magazines beginning in April 1942, during a time when Doyle was still attending high school in Michigan. In February 2015, Kimble interviewed the Parker sisters, now named Naomi Fern Fraley, 93, and her sister Ada Wyn Morford, 91, and found that they had known for five years about the incorrect identification of the photo, and had been rebuffed in their attempt to correct the historical record.

eraldine Hoff Doyle (July 31, 1924 – December 26, 2010), believed to be the model for the World War II era "We Can Do It!" poster, shown here in 1942 at age 17.Source

Geraldine Hoff Doyle (July 31, 1924 – December 26, 2010), believed to be the model for the World War II era “We Can Do It!” poster, shown here in 1942 at age 17. Source

Although many publications have repeated Doyle’s unsupported assertion that the wartime photograph inspired Miller’s poster, Westinghouse historian Charles A. Ruch, a Pittsburgh resident who had been friends with J. Howard Miller, said that Miller was not in the habit of working from photographs, but rather live models. Penny Coleman, the author of Rosie the Riveter: Women working on the home front in World War II, said that she and Ruch could not determine whether the wartime photo had appeared in any of the periodicals that Miller would have seen

After she saw the Smithsonian cover image in 1994, Geraldine Hoff Doyle said that she was the subject of the poster. Doyle thought that she had also been captured in a wartime photograph of a woman factory worker, and she innocently assumed that this photo inspired Miller’s poster. Conflating her as “Rosie the Riveter”, Doyle was honored by many organizations including the Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame. However, in 2015, the woman in the wartime photograph was identified as 20-year-old Naomi Parker, working in early 1942 before Doyle had graduated high school. Doyle’s notion that the photograph inspired the poster cannot be proved or disproved, so first Doyle and then Parker cannot be confirmed as the model for “We Can Do It!”

Another myth connected to the iconic poster if not biggest, is the association with Rosie the Riveter. The poster does not have anything in common with Rosie the Riveter.

The real Rosie the Riveter poster was  created by Norman Rockwell, featuring a chubby woman, taking  her lunch break with a rivet gun on her lap and a lunch box beside her  that reads “Rosie”.”; viewers quickly recognized this to be “Rosie the Riveter” from the familiar song.

RosieTheRiveter.Source

Rosie The Riveter.Source

So, that’s it. Don’t shot the messenger for “bursting the bubble”.  Don’t get us wrong, we love this poster and what the poster represents, but we thought it would be a good idea to reveal the true behind it and free it from all the misconceptions and sensationalism  related to it because  “We can do it”