The 1940s were a pinnacle era for women in industry. During the war effort, everyone played a role, and millions of women worldwide gladly picked up the skills needed to keep their countries moving as the war played out. As such, there was no shortage of artwork created to help inspire girls and women to join the effort. One of the most famous pieces of art from this time is “Rosie the Riveter,” a name that became synonymous for handywomen and female inventors and engineers. The original Rosie the Riveter was a painting by Norman Rockwell, and was published on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. The model in the painting was 19 year-old Mary Doyle Keefe, who just died today at age 92.
Although “Rosie’s” name has long been incorrectly associated with another famous image by J. Howard Miller (called, “We Can Do It!”), the original was published in the May 29, 1943 edition of the Post. It’s currently displayed at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas. Keefe spent much of her life representing the painting that made her famous. However, strict copyright on the painting made it appear less and less in popular culture, until recently (meanwhile, Miller’s image continued to gain popularity).
Keefe was a telephone operator, not a riveter; regardless, she was paid a whopping $10 for appearing in the painting, and went on to share her story and experiences during the war with others throughout her life. The painting also inspired many others that showcased women participating in factory work, and is often attributed to helping portray women in industry in a new light.
And as one of millions of women who have been undoubtedly inspired by these images, we salute you, Mary! Thanks for all you did for America and the women who followed in your footsteps.