Editor’s note: Geraldine Hoff Doyle, the model for Rosie the Riveter (above), passed away late last year. The Lansing State Journal reported her death on December 30, 2010. As a special Women’s History Month tribute, Seeking Michigan presents these two excerpts from an article by Sheila Schrimpf. The article originally appeared in Michigan History magazine’s September/October 1994 issue.
Excerpt #1: “…something for the war effort…”
[Geraldine Hoff] graduated from Ann Arbor High School in 1942 at seventeen. She had played the cello since the age of seven and sang. But Geraldine wanted to do something for the war effort. Her high school study partner, Robert Hochrein, had dropped out during his senior year to enlist in the army and was killed in action a short time later. Her older sister, Virginia, had already joined the U.S. Marine Corps. These two events stirred the teenager into action. Geraldine decided to join the WAVES, the women’s branch of the navy. But they wouldn’t take her until she turned eighteen. Decades later, she admits that it would have been logical to wait only a few weeks until her birthday, but the impatience of youth was not to be contained.
She found a factory job in the American Broach Company in Ann Arbor. “They trained me on a machine,” she says, a machine that stamped objects out of metal. The details were not important to her. It was a factory job, and it was classified as necessary to the war effort.
A United Press International (UPI) photographer was in the building during Geraldine’s week-long employment, while she worked her machine, and took some pictures of her – a young, pretty woman with a full mouth, arched eyebrows and wearing coveralls with a bandana around her long, brown hair. She symbolized all the women working in all of America’s factories.
Then real life intruded on Geraldine’s hopes and dreams. She learned that the woman who had operated the machine before her had been injured. Geraldine Hoff thought about the potential damage to her hands, a cellist’s, so she quit. She joined another factory as a timekeeper.
Excerpt #2: “She didn’t even know…”
She didn’t even know she was Rosie the Riveter until 1984, when she came across the 1942 UPI photograph in Modern Maturity magazine. Most likely, her picture was used as a model by artists commissioned by Westinghouse for posters that hung in company buildings. The general public never saw those posters until the Smithsonian Institution began publicizing them in 1994.
“It’s only become popular recently,” says the Smithsonian’s Harry Rubenstein. “During the war, it would have been seen only in Westinghouse. They would have used whatever they had handy. If her photo had appeared recently, he might have drawn from it.” Geraldine never worked for Westinghouse, but the poster depicts her wearing the Westinghouse emblem on her collar. Her right arm is cocked in the universal symbol of power.
In March 1994, Smithsonian magazine ran the Rosie the Riveter poster on its cover, her right arm boldly flexed. It is not a pose Geraldine Doyle ever struck, but she recognized herself immediately. “I know what I looked like,” she says.
For the complete article, see Michigan Historymagazine, September/October 1994, pp. 54-55.