Celebrating The Extraordinary Life Of Naomi Parker Fraley, The Real ‘Rosie The Riveter’

“The women of this country these days need some icons. If they think I’m one, I’m happy.”

Naomi Parker Fraley — who passed away on January 20 at 96 years old — lived a life of relative anonymity, even as her likeness became an emblem of feminism and determination. It wasn't until 2015 when Fraley was recognized as the real "Rosie the Riveter," the inspiration for the woman rolling up her sleeves, flexing her muscles, and exclaiming, "We Can Do It!" in the famous World War II-era poster.

Fraley was one of millions of women who became blue-collar workers during the war. She was 20 years old and working at the Naval Air Station in Alameda, Calif. with her sister in 1942 when an Acme photographer snapped the photo. That photo would inspire the iconic poster, released the following year.

"A photographer happened to be going through and taking pictures and he glommed on to her," Fraley's daughter-in-law Marnie Blankenship told KATU, a news affiliate in Portland, Ore.

In the photo, Fraley has her hair pulled back in a polka-dot bandanna, just like Rosie's, and is using a lathe machine. As Today reports, her other responsibilities at the air station included drilling, repairing airplane wings, and operating rivet machines. 

The photo appeared in newspapers and magazines nationwide and likely caught the eye of J. Howard Miller, the artist who created the "We Can Do It!" poster.

The New York Times reports Fraley attended a 2011 convention for women who worked during the war, saw the photo, and recognized it as the one that Acme photographer had snapped. At the time, the subject of the photo was believed to be a woman named Geraldine Hoff Doyle, after Doyle too thought she recognized herself. Before long, Seton Hall University Professor James J. Kimble tracked down the photographer's original caption, which included mention of "Pretty Naomi Parker."

"I'm thankful that she got the notoriety that she deserves. The funny thing is she was a humble person and she didn't care," son Joe Blankenship told KATU. "It's my mom. I'm proud anyway. The thing is, I grew up with this woman, so she was special to me because of who she was."

As a single mother, Fraley was the sole breadwinner for her family during the 1950s. Eventually, she had three marriages, one that ended in divorce and two that ended with her being widowed. Unrecognized as the real Rosie for most of her life, Fraley worked as a waitress.

"She didn't think she did anything special," Marnie Blankenship told CNN. "A lot of women did what she did. She just wanted her picture corrected."

"I didn't want fame or fortune," Fraley told PEOPLE in 2016. "But I did want my own identity … The women of this country these days need some icons. If they think I'm one, I'm happy."

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