The model for the cultural, and feminist, icon, Rosie the Riveter, has passed away. She was 92. Mary Doyle Keefe, the model for Norman Rockwell‘s 1943 painting, became a symbol for the millions of American women who went to work on the home front while World War II was being raged. Her daughter, Mary Ellen Keefe, disclosed that she died on Tuesday in Simsbury, Connecticut after a brief illness.
Keefe met Rockwell in her hometown of Arlington, Vermont and posed for his painting, which covered Saturday Evening Post on May 29, 1943, when she was 19.
She wasn’t a riveter, she worked as a telephone operator, and she didn’t particularly even look like the painting. After sitting for Rockwell for two mornings, at the price of $20, he had to make her appear bulkier, and stronger. He exaggerated her petite frame with broad shoulders and large arms. Rosie dons overalls, has a sandwich in her hand, and Hitler’s Mein Kampf under her foot.
Rockwell, who wanted Rosie’s body to show strength, modeled her after Michelangelo’s Isaiah, which is on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Twenty-four years after she posed, he sent her a letter apologizing for the hefty body and called her the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.
Keefe said people didn’t really pay much attention to her being in a famous painting, they just made fun of her arms a little bit. The painting can be seen at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Mary Doyle Keefe helped inspire a war effort, and the women’s movement. For women, the war brought new jobs, and new skills. They were known as America’s “secret weapon.” Rosie the Riveter is partially responspable for the changing image of “female behavoir,” as more married women entered the workforce, and many left their traditional occupation to work in the defense industry.
Keefe, one time admitted, “I didn’t expect any of this,” but she continues to inspire women around the globe.