Rosie the Riveter – Iconic World War Two model portraying women on the home front dies

Mary Doyle Keefe, a model during World War Two who was used to depict the iconic image of American women who worked on the home front, has died at the age of 92.

Mary was living in Simsbury, Connecticut and after a short illness died last week.

Mary met Norman Rockwell, who painted the iconic image, in Arlington, Vermont, where she was living at the time. She posed for Norman when she was 19 and the image appeared on the front of the Saturday Evening Post in May, 1943.

Norman named his image as Rosie the Riveter, since she was dressed in overalls, had large arms and shoulders, and came across as a woman taking on man’s work, while most of them were taking part in the war.

Norman said at the time that he had wanted to portray American women with strength and used Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings as inspiration. Mary was paid a total of $10 for the modelling she did with Norman. She was photographed over two mornings, and then Norman used the photographs to paint his iconic picture.

Almost a quarter of a century after the image was posted all over the United States, Norman got back in touch with Mary and apologised for making her larger than she was in real life, and called her beautiful.

Norman’s painting was used in nationalcampaign to increase the sale of war bonds.

Mary said that her friends and colleagues knew she was the model used by Norman and while they loved having their friend made famous, they did tease her a little about her new big arms.

The original painting has been donated to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas and will remain there as part of the museum’s permanent collection, the CBC News reports.

At the time of the painting, Mary was a telephone operator. She went on to graduate from Temple University in dental hygiene. She met her husband Robert Keefe whilst at university and they were married for 55 years. Robert died in 2003, while Mary spent the last eight years of her life in a retirement village. The couple leave behind four children.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE