"Rosie the Riveter" Geraldine Doyle Dies

BlogHer Original Post

Geraldine Doyle -- the face of World War II's Rosie the Riveter -- died Sunday in her hometown of Lansing, Michigan. She was 86.

Doyle was a Michigan wife and mother who the world mostly knew as the model for eventual feminist icon Rosie the Riveter. A United Press International photographer snapped her photo when she was 17, working as a metal presser in an Inkster, Michigan factory.

Doyle's daughter Stephanie Gregg, an admissions dean at Cooley Law School, told the Lansing Journal that "she lived the 'We Can Do It!' life every day."

"She was very inspirational. She was very kind and generous."

Geraldine and her red bandanna represented a generation of young women who worked in their hometown factories during World War II. The traditionally male workforce had mostly left to fight, leaving much work left to be done at home. And if no one knew before that women could hold down the homefront both in the home and at work, the thousands of Rosies across the country said differently. And yes, there was a different song, and a different Rosie, specifically Ypsilanti riveter Rose Will Monroe -- depicted in this song. (Seen here performed by the Four Vagabonds.)

Geraldine was still the face of Rosie, though. You may have seen her -- and Rosie -- for the first time, like I did, hanging on a dorm room wall.

WeCanDoItPoster[1]

We could do it? Sure. I was decades away at the time from the wartime Rosies' experiences, but I thankfully got this message at home. My icons were my working mother and my grandmother, who was a 21-year-old FBI employee in Washington, D.C. when Geradline's picture was snapped, and who, like her, left that career to raise four sons and keep a house in the city's suburbs. My grandmother and mother told me that I could do whatever I wanted to -- and was capable of -- doing. But I'm thinking in retrospect that Rosie's ubiquity in lockers and bulletin boards gave girls like me a bit of the reinforcement we needed when we entered the sometimes-challenging academic and professional worlds. Faced with probable inequalities in leadership opportunities and paychecks, who's to say we couldn't use it? Who's to say we still can't?

My ten-years-younger sister grew into an informed, impassioned activist for women in the late 90s, and I started seeing Rosie again on t-shirts and walls when she was in high school and college. In fact, the only t-shirt I have from the 2008 primaries is Hillary Clinton's face Photoshopped over Geraldine's in this iconic image. And while clearly millions didn't support my political stance at the time, and my own views changed over the course of that election, seeing a woman vying for the top job in the country got me charged up, I can't lie.

We really can do it.

Gregg told the New York Times today that her mother didn't even know about the poster until 1982, just about the time it really took off. She quit the factory job after two weeks, her daughter said, because a co-worker's hands were injured, and she feared the danger to her own ability to play the cello.

So was Geraldine Rosie if she didn't even know? I don't really care where she worked. She represented power and inspiration for women anyway. She chose how she wanted to live her life -- her artistic pursuits and her occupation. And so can so many of us, because of what she and generations of women prior did to make that possible. As her daughter said,

"She would say that she was the 'We Can Do It!" girl," Gregg said. "She never wanted to take anything away from the other Rosies."

rosie-the-riveter-slide

I'm grateful every day to women like Geraldine Doyle, the nameless, faceless Rosies, and my own grandmother -- essential members of so called The Greatest Generation -- for making that possible. We have challenges. The world isn't perfect. But in so many instances -- put it on posters and t-shirts, think it, or say it out loud -- we can do it.

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Here are some words and pictures about Geraldine (and Rosie) from around the web:

"Ms. Doyle spent just two weeks in a factory but sixty nine years symbolizing the strength of the American woman.

Rest in peace, Ms. Doyle."

  • Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett wrote "Rosie's Daughters," a collection of the generation of women that broke through centuries of limitations to take their place in the world. They were born during World War II and came of age in the 60s… both shaped by and an influencer of their times. These precursors of the Baby Boomers achieved more “firsts” than any group of women before or since, earning them the name of “First Woman To” Generation.

Geraldine's poster, her flexing her arm and staring right out at us, makes me think of a cheeky young woman who liked to laugh and dismissed the thought that there was anything she couldn't do. Was she really like this? I have no idea, I never met her, read an interview with her or seen anything about her personality.

But that's what I think of when I see her, that's why I put her picture not only with the other Goddesses on my dresser, but on my body permanently.

I thank her for being there that day and flexing her biceps for the camera.

Rest well Geraldine and know you are remembered.

Contributing Editor Laurie White writes at LaurieWrites. Her photos are on Flickr.

Photo Credit: Library of Congress.

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