Last Tuesday April 21st, Mary Keefe, the model for Norman Rockwell’s iconic painting “Rosie the Riveter,” passed away at the age of 92. Rockwell commonly used his New England neighbors for his work and is most known for his Saturday Evening Post covers. In fact, his Rosie the Riveter painting graced the Memorial Day issue in 1943.
The painting was inspired by the Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb song of the same name, a song about Rosalind P. Walter, who worked as a riveter in an aircraft factory at the age of 19. Keefe was also just 19 years-old when she posed for the painting. Rockwell’s painting is not to be mistaken with the well-known J. Howard Miller poster “We Can Do It.” Although this woman is now commonly referred to as Rosie the Riveter, she was originally known as “Molly the Mycarta Molder” or “Helen the Helmet Liner,” since the poster was originally made for display at Westinghouse Electric, a Midwestern company who made helmet liners.
Although Miller intended for Rosie to be nothing more than a propaganda piece to inspire women to be good Americans and do their duty for the war effort, I would argue that we’ve taken the symbol back and made Rosie one of the original feminist icons. She specifically stands for the women in the workforce who took over positions in the factories while men went to fight over seas in World War II, but on a larger scale, she stands for powerful and motivated women everywhere.
The icon has lived on to this day. In fact, it’s been a recent trend in pop culture. Parks and Recreation‘s Leslie Knope is portrayed in the style of the iconic image underneath her campaign slogan “Knope We Can”. A bandana’d Maurissa Tancharoen graces the cover of Empower: Fight Like A Girl, a collection of short stories to benefit Lupus research. And even Beyonce posted a “We Can Do It!” image to her Instagram. Though modern interpretations of Rosie are modelled after Miller’s “We Can Do It” instead of Rockwell’s “Rosie the Riveter”, the message behind the images is the same: females are strong as hell.