LANSING, Mich. – When a photographer snapped Geraldine Doyle’s picture in an Ann Arbor, Mich., factory during World War II, the 17-year-old had no idea she would inspire others to contribute to the country’s war effort.
Doyle said it took more than 40 years for her to learn that her image from that photo was placed on the illustrated “We Can Do It!” poster urging women to take on jobs traditionally held by the men fighting battles in Europe and the Pacific.
Doyle died Sunday in Lansing at age 86. A memorial service is scheduled for Jan. 8.
“She was definitely one of the Rosies,” said Sandy Soifer, executive director of the Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame, in referring to the fictional “Rosie the Riveter.” That was the name given to women working in plants during WWII.
The image of the headscarf-wearing woman with the flexed bicep beneath a rolled-up shirt sleeve helped prompt scores of daughters, sisters and mothers to trade in the tools of housework for those of manufacturing and take jobs in plants across Michigan and the country.
“It’s our belief that she is the model for the drawing that is most commonly used in the posters and on the products,” added Soifer.
Doyle told the Lansing State Journal in 2002 that she didn’t realize the illustrated face on the poster commissioned by the U.S. War Production Coordinating Committee was her own until 1984, when she saw a reproduction of it in Modern Maturity magazine.
“It was great for her when she finally learned about it,” Doyle’s daughter, Stephanie Gregg, of Eaton Rapids, told the Associated Press. Gregg, 65, said her mother was “very glamorous” as a young woman.
The forgotten photo was taken in 1942 at a metal pressing plant about 33 miles southwest of Detroit.
“There were other Rosies. She said she was the model for that poster,” said Gladys Beckwith, former director of the Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame.
The poster was “symbolic of an active woman who was taking an active part in the war effort, and it was empowering for a woman to see that,” Beckwith said.
“Rosie the Riveter” was the title of a popular 1940s song. Like the woman in the “We Can Do It!” poster, a woman holding a rivet gun in a Norman Rockwell painting was called “Rosie the Riveter.”
Doyle herself didn’t spend much time at the factory, her daughter said. She found other work after learning that her predecessor had hurt her hand on the job.
“My mother played the cello” and didn’t want to put her musical ability at risk, Gregg said.