When it comes to female empowerment, you might recall Norman Rockwell’s “Rosie the Riveter,” a 1943 painting depicting the American women who entered the workforce in droves during World War II. The model for the painting, Mary Doyle Keefe, died yesterday at her home in Simsbury, Conn. She was 92.
Keefe was contacted by Rockwell when she was a 19-year-old telephone operator in Arlington, Vt. She told the Hartford Courant that she only vaguely remembered posing for the artist and said she had no idea that her likeness was bound to become a quintessential symbol of female empowerment.
While the image accurately depicts Keefe’s face, she told the Courant, Rockwell embellished her petite figure into a muscular frame with blue jean work overalls, a sandwich in her left hand and a rivet gun on her lap.
The painting, which famously appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in 1943, also featured Rosie resting her feet on a copy of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” as an American flag waves in the background.
Keefe was paid $5 for two posing sessions. Twenty-four years later, Rockwell wrote her a letter saying she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, and he apologized for making her “into a sort of a giant.”
While historically important in its own right, Rockwell’s painting should not be confused with another iconic poster created by J. Howard Miller in 1942 featuring a bicep-flexing and bandanna’d female worker alongside the tagline “We Can Do It!” – which was created in order to boost employee morale at the Westinghouse electric company.