Memory  /  First Person

Everyone Was Wrong About the Real 'Rosie the Riveter’ for Decades

Here's how the mystery of her true identity was solved.

Now a regular feature in World War II memorabilia books, the photo depicts a striking woman wearing industrial coveralls—and a bandana adorned with a polka-dot design. Miller is believed to have used that image in creating his now-iconic poster.

Doyle innocently believed she was the woman in the photo, which she first saw in 1984. And it did look like her own photos from the 1940s—so much so that friends marveled at how one of their own had become a minor celebrity. Through some twists and turns, before long, Doyle’s identity as the authentic Rosie the Riveter had become accepted fact. The Michigan Senate and the state’s Women’s History Hall of Fame officially recognized her. When she passed away in 2010, there was a worldwide vigil for the loss of the “We Can Do It!” woman.

I was dubious about those accounts. After a previous round of investigative scholarship on the myths surrounding the “We Can Do It!” image (which I co-authored with Lester C. Olson of the University of Pittsburgh), I wondered if there was any way to prove (or disprove) Doyle’s claim. The only way to tell for sure, of course, was to find that original wire photo in hopes that a long-forgotten caption would provide an identity. And so began a six-year journey.

Eventually, I found and bought an original copy of the photograph. The yellowing caption tag glued to the back provided the final smoking gun. It had been taken at the Alameda Naval Air Station in Oakland, Calif. And, in the unknown photographer’s own words, it said: “Pretty Naomi Parker looks like she might catch her nose in the turret lathe she is operating, but she knows to keep her nose out of her business.”

It was, pointedly, not Michigan, and not Doyle.