Some 70 years ago, the song “Rosie the Riveter” crackled over the wireless while a Norman Rockwell illustration of Rosie flexing her bicep popped from the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. By depicting the rivet gun-toting icon on her lunch break, Rockwell hopped aboard the government-fueled propaganda bandwagon that had only one aim: to recruit and train a female workforce capable of churning out munitions, aircraft, tanks and destroyers for a costly, brutal war that spanned two oceans and three continents. Rosie the Riveter did the job, and an estimated 18 million women left the house for the factory (or shipyard) — giving many the freedom to work outside the home for the very first time.
She was the perfect patriotic icon: Sassy yet dignified, brawny yet feminine – a massive rivet gun cradled on her lap, feet resting on a copy of Mein Kampf. And all the while she holds a sandwich as Old Glory ripples in the background. Mary Doyle Keefe, a Vermont telephone operator who posed for Norman Rockwell’s immortal Rosie the Riveter painting, first publicly seen on a 1943 Saturday Evening Post cover, died Tuesday at the age of 92. At the time of her brush with fame, Keefe was Rockwell’s neighbor and a little embarrassed that the artist had pumped iron into the painted arms of the petite 19-year-old.
Rosie the Riveter had too much whimsy and restraint for it to fade into kitsch or agitprop oblivion. Like J. Howard Miller’s equally famous “We Can Do It!” poster, with which it is sometimes confused,