AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The California woman who was the most likely model for Rosie the Riveter has died. If you'll remember, Rosie was the apple-cheeked icon who helped inspire the American workforce during World War II.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROSIE THE RIVETER")
THE FOUR VAGABONDS: (Singing) All the day long whether rain or shine, she's a part of the assembly line. She's making history working for victory - Rosie the Riveter.
CHANG: Most of us associate Rosie the Riveter with a poster of a young woman wearing a polka-dotted kerchief over the slogan we can do it. NPR's Neda Ulaby has our remembrance.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "IT'S YOUR WAR TOO")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Hey, there goes one of those petticoat soldiers now.
NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: In 1944, the War Activities Committee recruited thousands of women who had become known as Rosies with short movies like this one. Those women, who rolled up their sleeves and worked in munitions factories and on air bases, included a 20-year-old from Alameda, Calif. Naomi Parker Fraley signed up after Pearl Harbor. She probably never saw the Rosie poster during the war. It was popularized by feminists in the 1980s.
For years, people believed the artist, J. Howard Miller, modeled Rosie on a Michigan war factory worker named Geraldine Hoff Doyle. She'd identified herself as Rosie because she'd been a Rosie the Riveter, and she looked a lot like the woman on the poster. But when Doyle died in 2010, a professor at Seton Hall University started investigating.
James Kimble learned the poster was likely based on a photo of that young woman at the Alameda Naval Air Station. The photo, which circulated on wire services, showed Naomi Parker Fraley operating a heavy industrial lathe and wearing a dotted bandana.
JAMES KIMBLE: When you look at the photograph and then the poster next to each other, you do see what I think are some pretty startling similarities.
ULABY: Kimble emphasizes there's no way to be a hundred percent sure, but Naomi Parker Fraley had thought the poster was based on her, too, and she'd made a few attempts to get recognition over the years. But Kimble says the other story was already well established.
KIMBLE: I never got the sense that she desired to be famous. For her, it was mostly about reclaiming her own identity, that someone else's name had taken the place of hers.
ULABY: Seven years after the picture was taken, James Kimble says it was easy to see the woman whose face and raised fist remains a global symbol of empowerment. Naomi Parker Fraley died Saturday at a home for seniors in Longview, Wash. Her family says she was of sound mind till the end, but she suffered from cancer. Naomi Parker Fraley or Rosie the Riveter was 96 years old. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SOFT RIDE SONG, "THE SUN IN HER EYES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.