Mary Doyle Keefe, the red-headed model for Norman Rockwell's 1943 painting, "Rosie the Riveter", died last month at the age of 92. The painting symbolized the millions of American women who went to work in support of the war effort during World War II.
Keefe got the job of posing for the photo simply because she was Rockwell’s neighbor. At the time, she was a 19 year old working as an operator. She spent 2 sessions with Rockwell and was paid a total of $10 for her time.
The painting made the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on May 29, 1943. The image depicted Keefe as larger than she was (Rockwell later wrote her a letter apologizing for making her look so big) to reflect the might of the women who took to the factories to do the work that was traditionally thought to only have been done by men.
"RosieTheRiveter" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:RosieTheRiveter.jpg#/media/File:RosieTheRiveter.jpg
Rich with symbolism, the painting shows her holding a sandwich in one hand with her other arm resting on a lunchbox with the name “Rosie” scrawled on it. A rivet gun rested on her lap to show that she didn’t stop for long because there was work to do. Under her feet was a copy of Adolph Hitler’s manifesto, “Mein Kampf”. The entire background was a patriotic waving flag.
Although the painting was to inspire Americans to do what they could for the war effort and instill patriotism, it did something bigger: it elevated the tomboy in modern culture!
No longer was a woman who was wearing masculine clothing looked down upon. No longer was it taboo to work in a non-traditional gender role. No longer was it expected of a woman to marry a man, stay at home and have children. It was acceptable to have an athletic physique, to use a power tool and to be in a position of power.
When Keefe posed for Rockwell, she likely had no idea how iconic the painting would be, how it would encourage women everywhere to embrace their strength, take charge of their lives and be who they are. She unknowingly smoothed the way for those of us tomboys who came later so that who we are is now more widely accepted. Thank you, Mary Doyle Keefe and Rosie the Riveter. We tip our fedoras to you!