Thursday, October 17, 2013

"Rosie the Riveter" was from Michigan, Part I: Geraldine Doyle

Did you know that Michigan was home to not one, but two, Rosie the Riveters? "How is that possible?" you might ask. "There's only one Rosie the Riveter." It's true that there's only one iconic symbol of female fortitude named Rosie the Riveter, but several real-life women inspired her creation. Two of those women happen to be from Michigan. This post will focus on one of them, Geraldine Doyle, while tomorrow's post will talk about Rose Will Monroe.

The illustration below is probably the best-known image of Rosie the Riveter, who represented the thousands of World War II-era women who took on factory jobs when their menfolk went off to war:

It might surprise you to learn that this image was never supposed to be Rosie the Riveter. Instead, it was part of a promotional campaign from Westinghouse Electric that tried to boost morale among the company's workers. The poster was displayed in a few Westinghouse factories in February 1943, and featured a generic working woman (i.e., not Rosie the Riveter). It wasn't seen outside the company, and, like all the posters in Westinghouse's campaign, it was meant to motivate both men and women.

Another poster from the same campaign. With a snappy
slogan like that, I can't imagine why this image didn't catch on.
The poster remained obscure until the 1980s, when it was rediscovered and appropriated as a "girl power" image. That's also when people began calling the woman on the poster "Rosie the Riveter." The resurgence in interest must have come as a surprise to Geraldine Doyle, the Michigan woman who had no idea that her photo had inspired the now-iconic poster---or even that the poster existed.

Geraldine Doyle working at the American Broach & Machine
Company in Ann Arbor; this image served as inspiration for
Westinghouse Electric's famous "We Can Do It!" poster.

Doyle was born in Inkster in 1924 and graduated from high school in Ann Arbor. In 1942, to demonstrate her patriotism, Doyle (who at the time was known by her maiden name of Hoff) took a job as a metal stamper at the American Broach & Machine Company in Ann Arbor. Two weeks later she quit, deciding that, as a cellist, she couldn't risk injuring her hands in an industrial accident. However, during Doyle's two weeks in the factory, a photographer from United Press International took the photo you see above---a photo that later served as artist J. Howard Miller's inspiration when he designed the posters for Westinghouse's campaign.

After leaving the factory, Doyle worked at a soda fountain and bookstore. In 1943, she married Leo Doyle, a dentist, and eventually raised six children with him. Though Geraldine Doyle had always known about the UPI photograph, she had no idea that it had inspired a poster until 1984, when she read a magazine article about the image's creation. Doyle's daughter, Stephanie Gregg, told the Los Angeles Times that, although her mom didn't have the bulging biceps flaunted by the woman on the image, Doyle immediately recognized herself. Doyle embraced her newfound fame, gladly signing autographs for fans who wanted to meet the "We Can Do It Girl."

Geraldine Doyle holding a "We Can Do It!" sign
a few decades after her photograph inspired its creation

Doyle died of complications from arthritis in December 2010 at a Lansing hospice. She was 86 years old. Her husband, Leo, had died earlier that year. During an interview that discussed her role in creating one of the nation's most iconic images, Doyle said that she never made money off the poster, as she was too busy with her post-factory life, "changing diapers all the time." However, she was proud of her status as Rosie the Riveter. As she told a reporter for the Lansing State Journal in 2002, "You're not supposed to have too much pride, but I can't help have some in that poster."

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