Geraldine Hoff Doyle’s iconic image has inspired hundreds of thousands of budding feminists over the years since World War II, her rolled-up sleeves and flexed muscles exclaiming, “We Can Do It!” to a nation of women left behind while the men went off to fight. Doyle died Sunday at the age of 84, which is also the year she finally recognized herself as the subject of the famous print.
TIME magazine reports that “Doyle was 17 and working in a Michigan steelworks when her picture was taken by the United Press. That image – well, the face at least – became part of the ‘We Can Do It’ poster commissioned from artist J. Howard Miller during World War II, used to motivate a nation of female workers called into manufacturing jobs to support the war effort overseas.”
Doyle’s image is often referred to as Rosie the Riveter, but that was never Miller’s intention. Miller’s poster was displayed for just two weeks at a Westinghouse factory in 1942; Norman Rockwell’s image of the original Rosie the Riveter appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in 1943. Shirley Karp Dick, who modeled for Rockwell, died in 2009 at the age of 85.
There is perhaps no image so widely adored by the women’s movement, and Doyle’s passing marks the end of an era. When I think about the resilience women like Doyle and Dick displayed, having lived through multiple wars and hard times, I can’t help but think we’ve all gone a little soft, complaining about a recession that for most of us has simply forced us to save a bit before we splurge. I hope to instill in my daughter the kind of strength these women possessed, along with a sort of “Keep Calm and Carry On” mentality. My Grandmother on my father’s side lived to be 86 years old, and she was driving and mowing the lawn until her last day. Here’s to all the old biddies out there who’ve proven to the world they’ve got what it takes to get the job done.