Naomi Parker Fraley, the inspiration for the iconic female World War II factory worker Rosie the Riveter, has died. She was 96.
The Tulsa, Oklahoma, native, who was born on August 26, 1921, died on Saturday in Longview, Washington, according to the New York Times. The California waitress-turned-factory worker began her job at the Naval Air Station in Alameda and was among the first women to be assigned to the machine shop after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in late 1941.
Then in 1942, 20-year-old Fraley posed for a photograph wearing her signature red-and-white-polka-dot bandana and working on a turret lathe, for a photographer touring the Naval Air Station, where she and younger sister Ada drilled and patched airplane wings as well as operated rivet machines.
The picture was quickly featured in newspapers and magazines nationwide before it caught the eye of artist J. Howard Miller, whose 1943 Rosie the Riveter poster bears a striking resemblance to Fraley’s photo, even down to the exact bandana.
However, Fraley was not identified as the muse for Rosie because another woman, named Geraldine Hoff Doyle, who worked in a factory in Michigan, was labeled “the real-life Rosie the Riveter” since she believed she saw herself in an uncaptioned reprint of Fraley’s photo in the 1980s.
Fraley was unaware of her identity on the poster for 30 years until she was informed that her photo had been misidentified. “I couldn’t believe it because it was me in the photo, but there was somebody else’s name in the caption: Geraldine. I was amazed,” Fraley told PEOPLE in September 2016.
However, it was too late to set the record straight as Hoff Doyle’s identity was already cemented as Rosie. “I just wanted my own identity. I didn’t want fame or fortune, but I did want my own identity,” Fraley recalled.
That was until 2015, when she met James J. Kimble, a professor of communications at Seton Hall University in New Jersey whose six years of research led him straight to Fraley’s door.
“She had been robbed of her part of history. It’s so hurtful to be misidentified like that,” Kimble told PEOPLE at the time. “It’s like the train has left the station and you’re standing there and there’s nothing you can do because you’re 95 and no one listens to your story.”
Most poignantly, given the current social climate in Hollywood and many industries, Fraley’s message about working women still resonates.
“The women of this country these days need some icons. If they think I’m one, I’m happy about that,” she said.
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