Three Forks History: Can-do attitude inspired by Oklahoma woman

In July 1942, a photographer for the Acme Photography Studio snapped a picture of an attractive young woman working in the machine shop at the Naval Air Station in Alameda, California. The photo showed the 20-year old standing at a lathe wearing a jumpsuit, practical heels and a polka-dot bandana over her hair. The photo appeared in the Alameda newspaper with the caption identifying the young worker as “pretty Naomi Parker.”

The photograph was distributed by Acme to other newspapers across the country that July and it was used in the Pittsburgh Press. In Pittsburgh, an artist named Howard Miller had been commissioned to create a morale-boosting poster for the Westinghouse Corporation which had switched to war-time production of heavy equipment.

Miller’s poster featured an attractive young woman rolling up her sleeve and flexing her muscle while wearing a polka-dot bandana over her hair. The caption of the poster simply said, “We Can Do It!” No one knows for sure if Miller was inspired to create this poster by the newspaper photo of Naomi Parker, but the resemblance is evident.

The poster was used only within the Westinghouse plants for a few weeks in early 1943 and then was replaced by other posters. During the war years, it was never widely distributed.

A better-known image of a female worker in the war industry was created by Norman Rockwell to grace the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Rockwell named his worker “Rosie” by placing that name on the lunch box at the woman’s feet. That same year, 1943, a hit song was recorded in New York singing the praises of a hard-working “Rosie the Riveter.”

The Westinghouse poster series ended up in the National Archives. In the 1980s, the Archive selected the Miller poster as a symbol of the war years. It was printed on posters, T-shirts, mugs, and dozens of other items. It became a national icon, and the name Rosie the Riveter became attached to it.

But by this time, hardly anyone knew the name of the woman who likely inspired the ubiquitous “We Can Do It!” poster. A woman named Geraldine Doyle stated that she believed she was the inspiration for Miller’s poster and for years this was widely accepted as fact. But in 2011, Naomi Parker Fraley spotted the original photograph of her at work in Alameda.

But the woman in the photo had been misidentified as Geraldine Doyle and it took Naomi, with the help of a researched named James Kimble, several years to set the record straight. Naomi had kept the clipping of the original newspaper article that identified her in the photograph.

Naomi, the real Rosie the Riveter, had been born in Tulsa to Joseph and Esther Parker in 1921. Joseph was a mining engineer who worked in Tulsa for a few years but then moved his family to other jobs across the country.

They were in Alameda in 1940, and this is where Naomi graduated from high school. Following the Pearl Harbor bombing, Naomi went to work at the Naval Station machine shop and stepped into history. She only spent a few years in Oklahoma, but Naomi, through that well-known poster, demonstrates Oklahoma’s “Can Do” attitude to this day.

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