We Can Do It -- the tale of an iconic image
November 4, 2005 11:26 AM   Subscribe

We Can Do It! In 1942, 17 year-old Geraldine Doyle spent a week working in a Michigan factory pressing metal as a early replacement worker for men who had gone off to war. During her brief tenure a wire photographer would take a picture of her she'd soon forget. That image -- re-imagined by J. Howard Miller while working for the Westinghouse War Production Co-Ordinating Committee -- would soon become iconic both for the war effort and for the forever changed society it fostered. Interestingly, Doyle was unware that she had been the inspiration for this great American image until 1984. She's still alive and kicking in Lansing, MI.
posted by Ogre Lawless (22 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
While some people label this image "Rosie The Riveter", that name was affixed to the painting after the fact. The name had become a generic label for women of all professions who were newly welcomed into industrial trades and inspired a number of other artistic works.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:26 AM on November 4, 2005

Thanks, Ogre. Interesting story, and interesting sites...I love propaganda from the World Wars, and now I have another site to peruse.

Instead of working, that is.
posted by Sharktattoo at 11:31 AM on November 4, 2005

Doesn't that image just cry out for a Photoshop change from "We Can Do It!" to "Up Yours!"???
posted by spock at 11:34 AM on November 4, 2005

Looks like it's been done, natch. thank you Google image search. now does anybody have some brillo pads for my eyes?
posted by spock at 11:38 AM on November 4, 2005

Passing the Brillo pads....
posted by bat at 11:40 AM on November 4, 2005

I was really looking forward to seeing the original photograph of Doyle. I take it it's long lost?
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:40 AM on November 4, 2005


thank you. my gf adores this painting largely for the role it has had in the feminist movement, and having the history of it, complete with great anecdotal asides, is nothing less than remarkable. thank you thank you thank you.
posted by shmegegge at 11:40 AM on November 4, 2005

Dang, does anybody have a source for a larger image of this one:

I need to print a copy for my office.
posted by spock at 11:42 AM on November 4, 2005

Very neat.

I tried to find the original photo and failed, but I did find a National Park Service website with lots of pictures of other wartime women workers.
posted by gorillawarfare at 12:09 PM on November 4, 2005

Maybe I missed it when I was glancing at the linked articles...is the original photograph used as the basis for the poster shown online somewhere?
posted by alumshubby at 12:11 PM on November 4, 2005

another photoshop
posted by puke & cry at 12:18 PM on November 4, 2005 [1 favorite]

A while back, I spoke at a meeting of the National Silver-Haired Congress. After my speech, I spoke with (I think) the executive director of the Ameircan Rosie the Riveter Association. Was your mother a Rosie? Then you can be a Rosebud!
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:32 PM on November 4, 2005

Almushubby: not that I could find. The "wire photo" was mentioned very few times and the original photographer likewise not cited. I would also be interested in finding that or what ol' Geraldine looks like in the modern day.

Other interesting tidbits: While J. Howard Miller did other propaganda paintings, I was only to find one other work here though research is made a bit difficult by the overwhelming popularity of "We Can Do It". His Wikipedia entry is short enough to make one believe that perhaps he was a one-hit wonder.

Also as a "name game" point: Geraldine was born Geraldine Hoff and married into the Doyle name. The original "Rosie The Riveter was born a Doyle: Nancy posed for Norman Rockwell at 19 and later married out of the names-the-same club to Mr. Keefe.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:31 PM on November 4, 2005

Ogre Lawless: I would also be interested in finding that or what ol' Geraldine looks like in the modern day.

Here's her picture in a 2003 article (pdf file):

posted by NorthernSky at 2:55 PM on November 4, 2005

:o) cool
posted by nervousfritz at 4:27 PM on November 4, 2005

She was hot. But this one is kinda damn scary!
posted by snsranch at 5:30 PM on November 4, 2005

Thanks for the link. It's always interesting to learn about icons (like the little Wendy’s girl) who were based on real people.
posted by LeLiLo at 5:38 PM on November 4, 2005

I for one was fascinated by the Idea of corporations doing something for the public good. That idea is alien to the modern concepts of how a business is run.
posted by Megafly at 5:53 PM on November 4, 2005

Huh? Westinghouse was a huge defense contractor. There was a smidge of self-interest at work there. or were you referring to something else?
posted by spock at 6:08 PM on November 4, 2005

spock: Megafly is right. I don't know about Westinghouse in partcular, but many (most? all??) WWII defense contracts were cost-plus-a-dollar. After the Great Depression, a lot of concerns were
a) just glad for the business and
b) worried about the appearance of war-profiteering.

The contrast between then and now really IS mind-boggling.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 9:48 PM on November 4, 2005

after all this, I still can't find the original picture...
posted by lodurr at 5:08 AM on November 5, 2005

Thanks, NorthernSky. I wouldn't have guessed she was 78 in that photo. gorillawarfare's link gives an idea of what she might have looked like back then - one photo has a woman in a similar jumpsuit and hairstyle with headwrap.
posted by PY at 1:53 PM on November 6, 2005

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