We Can Do It with Naomi Parker-Fraley
By Kimberly Boney
Beyond the Bandana
By Kimberly Bonéy
Photos courtesy of John Fraley
A woman stands over a lathe, focused intently on her work, her coveralls nearly grazing the floor. He hair is secured neatly and safely under a red and white polka-dotted scarf. Not one bit of her beauty, strength, determination or fortitude is hidden behind her work clothes. The black-and-white snapshot was taken in 1942 at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Alameda as part of a campaign to show women what “appropriate work attire” looked like now that they were moving into the typically male-dominated work force. It would be the very same photo that Naomi Parker-Fraley would find at the “Gathering of The Rosies” at the Rosie The Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historic Park in Richmond, Calif. in 2009.
Parker-Fraley and her younger sister, Ada Wyn Parker Loy, fought their way through traffic to be there at the Gathering of the Rosies. The women, 89 and 87 years old at the time, were blown away to see the photo of Parker-Fraley featured at the event – and even more astonished to find it erroneously captioned with the name of Geraldine Hoff Doyle. And so began their long and arduous journey to get the world to recognize the woman in the photo by her rightful name.
Aside from the initial shock of realizing that the photo had been misidentified as someone else, Parker-Fraley had no idea how inextricably linked her photo was to a world-renowned image. You’ve seen the poster – the one featuring the woman who meets your gaze and stares back at you with the conviction that there is nothing she can’t do. The version you’ve seen likely had the words “We Can Do It!” in bold letters across the top, a pointed message that has inspired people for more than 75 years.
The original poster was designed in 1943 by J. Howard Miller, a graphic artist commissioned by Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Co. to create posters intended to garner support for the war effort. Miller was said to have been inspired Norman Rockwell, as well as by photos he had seen of women working in a factory. Miller’s poster is often mistakenly referred to as “Rosie the Riveter.” The name “We Can Do It” was a free alternative to the copyrighted and thereby expensive-to-use name associated with the Norman Rockwell original. Over the years, innumerable replicas of “We Can Do It” have been made in the image of the original, each with their own cultural or artistic nod, printed en masse on T-shirts, market bags, refrigerator magnets, wall art and the like.
Naomi Parker-Fraley’s original photo, entitled “Woman at the Lathe,” may have been the inspiration for the artwork that would give a face to the modern day women’s movement, although the claim has yet to be verified. A search of the artist’s belongings never turned up a photo of Parker-Fraley. But that signature red and white polka-dotted scarf worn by the woman in the poster, strikingly similar to the one Parker-Fraley distinctly remembers buying at a five-and-dime store - coupled with the fact that Parker-Fraley’s photo appeared in large-scale newspapers and magazines across the nation the year before the poster was created - certainly makes the case for it.
Parker-Fraley has never been too concerned about whether she inspired the poster. She merely wanted people to know it was her who appeared in that photo taken at the lathe more than 70 years ago. “As far as she is concerned, she was merely doing her part,” explains her stepson, John Fraley. He remembers her saying, “What was I going to do - just sit on the couch?” As one of the first 30 women hired in Alameda to what Parker-Fraley has always referred to as “the vanguard of women,” she just jumped in, rolled up her sleeves and did what needed to be done.
Marnie Blankenship, Parker-Fraley’s daughter-in-law, shared some of Parker-Fraley’s words in a recent article: “It was all of us. There were many of us that went to the factories and worked and helped out with the effort - not just me. We all did it. We all deserve the same recognition.” That team spirit transcended Parker-Fraley’s efforts at the Naval Air Station and nestled itself within her life.
“It’s hard not to love her. She’s way too giving. She’d literally give you the shirt off her back,” says Fraley. “Soon after she married my dad, she dedicated herself to God and charity work. She’s a jump-in-there-and-help kind of person. If there is a need, she’d like to fill it.”
At 96 years young, Parker-Fraley, who lived in Cottonwood until earlier this year, was relocated with her sister to Washington to be closer to her son and his family. Although she is deaf and is living with a terminal illness, “she’s still shining just as she always has,” says Fraley.
When asked what those who have been inspired by Parker-Fraley can do to help the woman who has made such a lasting impression on the world, Fraley said simply: “Listen to her story. Learn the lessons. This is an important time for women.
“I want people to know her as more than just a picture or a poster,” says Fraley. “As much as that poster has been to people, she’s so much more than that. I think she’s a treasure.”