We Can Do It!

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

J. Howard Miller's "We Can Do It!" poster from 1943

"We Can Do It!" is an American World War II wartime poster produced by J. Howard Miller in 1943 for Westinghouse Electric as an inspirational image to boost female worker morale.

The poster was little seen during World War II. It was rediscovered in the early 1980s and widely reproduced in many forms, often called "We Can Do It!" but also called "Rosie the Riveter" after the iconic figure of a strong female war production worker. The "We Can Do It!" image was used to promote feminism and other political issues beginning in the 1980s.[1] The image made the cover of the Smithsonian magazine in 1994 and was fashioned into a US first-class mail stamp in 1999. It was incorporated in 2008 into campaign materials for several American politicians, and was reworked by an artist in 2010 to celebrate the first woman becoming prime minister of Australia. The poster is one of the ten most-requested images at the National Archives and Records Administration.[1]

After its rediscovery, observers often assumed that the image was always used as a call to inspire women workers to join the war effort. However, during the war the image was strictly internal to Westinghouse, displayed only during February 1943, and was not for recruitment but to exhort already-hired women to work harder.[2] People have seized upon the uplifting attitude and apparent message to remake the image into many different forms, including self empowerment, campaign promotion, advertising, and parodies.

After she saw the Smithsonian cover image in 1994, Geraldine Hoff Doyle mistakenly said that she was the subject of the poster. Doyle thought that she had also been captured in a wartime photograph of a woman factory worker, and she assumed that this photo inspired Miller's poster. Conflating her as "Rosie the Riveter", Doyle was honored by many organizations including the Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame. However, in 2015, the woman in the wartime photograph was identified as then 20-year-old Naomi Parker, working in early 1942 before Doyle had graduated from high school. Doyle's notion that the photograph inspired the poster cannot be proved or disproved, so neither Doyle nor Parker can be confirmed as the model for "We Can Do It!".


A propaganda poster from 1942 encouraging unity between labor and management of GM

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government called upon manufacturers to produce greater amounts of war goods. The workplace atmosphere at large factories was often tense because of resentment built up between management and labor unions throughout the 1930s. Directors of companies such as General Motors (GM) sought to minimize past friction and encourage teamwork. In response to a rumored public relations campaign by the United Auto Workers union, GM quickly produced a propaganda poster in 1942 showing both labor and management rolling up their sleeves, aligned toward maintaining a steady rate of war production. The poster read, "Together We Can Do It!" and "Keep 'Em Firing!"[3] In creating such posters, corporations wished to increase production by tapping popular pro-war sentiment, with the ultimate goal of preventing the government from exerting greater control over production.[3]

J. Howard Miller[edit]

J. Howard Miller was an American graphic artist. He painted posters during World War II in support of the war effort, among them the famous "We Can Do It!" poster. Aside from the iconic poster, Miller remains largely unknown.[4] For many years, little had been written about Miller's life, with uncertainty extending to his birth and death dates.[5][6][7][8] In 2022, Professor James J. Kimble uncovered more of Miller's personal information, setting the birth year at 1898, and the death at 1985. Miller was married to Mabel Adair McCauley. Their marriage was childless; surviving family members are related through Miller's siblings.[9]

Miller studied at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, graduating in 1939.[10] He lived in Pittsburgh during the war. His work came to the attention of the Westinghouse Company (later, the Westinghouse War Production Co-Ordinating Committee), and he was hired to create a series of posters. The posters were sponsored by the company's internal War Production Co-Ordinating Committee, one of the hundreds of labor-management committees organized under the supervision of the national War Production Board. Aside from his commercial work, Miller painted landscapes and studies in oil; Miller's family kept all of his works in their homes.[9]

Westinghouse Electric[edit]

In 1942, Miller was hired by Westinghouse Electric's internal War Production Coordinating Committee, through an advertising agency, to create a series of posters to display to the company's workers.[1][11] The intent of the poster project was to raise worker morale, to reduce absenteeism, to direct workers' questions to management, and to lower the likelihood of labor unrest or a factory strike. Each of the more than 42 posters designed by Miller was displayed in the factory for two weeks, then replaced by the next one in the series. Most of the posters featured men; they emphasized traditional roles for men and women. One of the posters pictured a smiling male manager with the words "Any Questions About Your Work? ... Ask your Supervisor."[1][2]

Another poster by J. Howard Miller from the same series as "We Can Do It!"

No more than 1,800 copies of the 17-by-22-inch (559 by 432 mm) "We Can Do It!" poster were printed.[1] It was not initially seen beyond several Westinghouse factories in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the midwestern U.S., where it was scheduled to be displayed for two five-day work weeks starting Monday, February 15, 1943.[1][12][13][14][15] The targeted factories were making plasticized helmet liners impregnated with Micarta, a phenolic resin invented by Westinghouse. Mostly women were employed in this enterprise, which yielded some 13 million helmet liners over the course of the war.[16] The slogan "We Can Do It!" was probably not interpreted by the factory workers as empowering to women alone; they had been subjected to a series of paternalistic, controlling posters promoting management authority, employee capability and company unity, and the workers would likely have understood the image to mean "Westinghouse Employees Can Do It", all working together.[1] The upbeat image served as gentle propaganda to boost employee morale and keep production from lagging.[17] The badge on the "We Can Do It!" worker's collar identifies her as a Westinghouse Electric plant floor employee;[17] the pictured red, white and blue clothing was a subtle call to patriotism, one of the frequent tactics of corporate war production committees.[1][2]

Rosie the Riveter[edit]

During World War II, the "We Can Do It!" poster was not connected to the 1942 song "Rosie the Riveter", nor to the widely seen Norman Rockwell painting called Rosie the Riveter that appeared on the cover of the Memorial Day issue of the Saturday Evening Post, May 29, 1943. The Westinghouse poster was not associated with any of the women nicknamed "Rosie" who came forward to promote women working for war production on the home front. Rather, after being displayed for two weeks in February 1943 to some Westinghouse factory workers, it disappeared for nearly four decades.[18][19] Other "Rosie" images prevailed, often photographs of actual workers. The Office of War Information geared up for a massive nationwide advertising campaign to sell the war, but "We Can Do It!" was not part of it.[17]

Rockwell's emblematic Rosie the Riveter painting was loaned by the Post to the U.S. Treasury Department for use in posters and campaigns promoting war bonds. Following the war, the Rockwell painting gradually sank from public memory because it was copyrighted; all of Rockwell's paintings were vigorously defended by his estate after his death. This protection resulted in the original painting gaining value—it sold for nearly $5 million in 2002.[20] Conversely, the lack of protection for the "We Can Do It!" image is one of the reasons it experienced a rebirth.[13]

Ed Reis, a volunteer historian for Westinghouse, noted that the original image was not shown to female riveters during the war, so the recent association with "Rosie the Riveter" was unjustified. Rather, it was targeted at women who were making helmet liners out of Micarta. Reis joked that the woman in the image was more likely to have been named "Molly the Micarta Molder or Helen the Helmet Liner Maker."[16]


An example of commercial use on a pair of vending machines for bottled water at a WWII Battleship Museum

In 1982, the "We Can Do It!" poster was reproduced in a magazine article, "Poster Art for Patriotism's Sake", a Washington Post Magazine article about posters in the collection of the National Archives.[21]

In subsequent years, the poster was re-appropriated to promote feminism. Feminists saw in the image an embodiment of female empowerment.[22] The "We" was understood to mean "We Women", uniting all women in a sisterhood fighting against gender inequality. This was very different from the poster's 1943 use to control employees and to discourage labor unrest.[1][17] History professor Jeremiah Axelrod commented on the image's combination of femininity with the "masculine (almost macho) composition and body language."[23]

Smithsonian magazine put the image on its cover in March 1994, to invite the viewer to read a featured article about wartime posters. The US Postal Service created a 33¢ stamp in February 1999 based on the image, with the added words "Women Support War Effort".[24][25][26] A Westinghouse poster from 1943 was put on display at the National Museum of American History, part of the exhibit showing items from the 1930s and '40s.[27]

Wire service photograph[edit]

1942 photograph of Naomi Parker

In 1984, former war worker Geraldine Hoff Doyle came across an article in Modern Maturity magazine which showed a wartime photograph of a young woman working at a lathe, and she assumed that the photograph was taken of her in mid-to-late 1942 when she was working briefly in a factory. Ten years later, Doyle saw the "We Can Do It!" poster on the front of the Smithsonian magazine and assumed the poster was an image of herself. Without intending to profit from the connection, Doyle decided that the 1942 wartime photograph had inspired Miller to create the poster, making Doyle herself the model for the poster.[28] Subsequently, Doyle was widely credited as the inspiration for Miller's poster.[18][29][30][31][32] From an archive of Acme news photographs, Professor James J. Kimble obtained the original photographic print, including its yellowed caption identifying the woman as Naomi Parker. The photo is one of a series of photographs taken at Naval Air Station Alameda in California, showing Parker and her sister working at their war jobs during March 1942.[33][34] These images were published in various newspapers and magazines beginning in April 1942, during a time when Doyle was still attending high school in Michigan.[28] In February 2015, Kimble interviewed the Parker sisters: Naomi Fern Fraley, 93, and her sister Ada Wyn Morford, 91; he found out that they had known for five years about the incorrect identification of the photo, and had been rebuffed in their attempt to correct the historical record.[28] Naomi died at age 96 on January 20, 2018.[35]

Although many publications have repeated Doyle's unsupported assertion that the wartime photograph inspired Miller's poster,[28] Westinghouse historian Charles A. Ruch, a Pittsburgh resident who had been friends with J. Howard Miller, said that Miller was not in the habit of working from photographs, but rather live models.[36] However, the photograph of Naomi Parker did appear in the Pittsburgh Press on July 5, 1942, making it possible that Miller saw it as he was creating the poster.[35]


The "We Can Do It!" poster was used by the Ad Council for its 70th anniversary celebration, through a Facebook app called "Rosify Yourself".

Today, the image has become very widely known, far beyond its narrowly defined purpose during World War II. It has adorned T-shirts, tattoos, coffee cups and refrigerator magnets—so many different products that The Washington Post called it the "most over-exposed" souvenir item available in Washington, D.C.[1] It was used in 2008 by some of the various regional campaigners working to elect Sarah Palin, Ron Paul and Hillary Clinton.[16] Michelle Obama was worked into the image by some attendees of the 2010 Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.[17] The image has been employed by corporations such as Clorox who used it in advertisements for household cleaners, the pictured woman provided in this instance with a wedding ring on her left hand.[37] Parodies of the image have included famous women, men, animals and fictional characters. A bobblehead doll and an action figure toy have been produced.[1] The Children's Museum of Indianapolis showed a four-by-five-foot (1.2 by 1.5 m) replica made by artist Kristen Cumings from thousands of Jelly Belly candies.[38][39]

After Julia Gillard became the first female prime minister of Australia in June 2010, a street artist in Melbourne calling himself Phoenix pasted Gillard's face into a new monochrome version of the "We Can Do It!" poster.[40] AnOther Magazine published a photograph of the poster taken on Hosier Lane, Melbourne, in July 2010, showing that the original "War Production Co-ordinating Committee" mark in the lower right had been replaced with a URL pointing to Phoenix's Flickr photostream.[41][42][43] In March 2011, Phoenix produced a color version which stated "She Did It!" in the lower right,[44] then in January 2012 he pasted "Too Sad" diagonally across the poster to represent his disappointment with developments in Australian politics.[45]

Geraldine Doyle died in December 2010. Utne Reader went ahead with their scheduled January–February 2011 cover image: a parody of "We Can Do It!" featuring Marge Simpson raising her right hand in a fist.[46] The editors of the magazine expressed regret at the passing of Doyle.[47]

A stereoscopic image of "We Can Do It!" was created for the closing credits of the 2011 superhero film Captain America: The First Avenger. The image served as the background for the title card of English actress Hayley Atwell.[48]

The Ad Council claimed the poster was developed in 1942 by its precursor, the War Advertising Committee, as part of a "Women in War Jobs" campaign, helping to bring "over two million women" into war production.[49][50][51] In February 2012 during the Ad Council's 70th anniversary celebration, an interactive application designed by Animax's HelpsGood digital agency was linked to the Ad Council's Facebook page. The Facebook app was called "Rosify Yourself", referring to Rosie the Riveter; it allowed viewers to upload images of their faces to be incorporated into the "We Can Do It!" poster, then saved to be shared with friends.[52] Ad Council President and CEO Peggy Conlon posted her own "Rosified" face on Huffington Post in an article she wrote about the group's 70-year history.[51] The staff of the television show Today posted two "Rosified" images on their website, using the faces of news anchors Matt Lauer and Ann Curry.[53] However, Seton Hall University professor James J. Kimble and University of Pittsburgh professor Lester C. Olson researched the origins of the poster and determined that it was not produced by the Ad Council nor was it used for recruiting women workers.[1]

In 2010, American singer Pink recreated the poster in the music video for her song "Raise Your Glass".

The poster continues to inspire artists such as Kate Bergen. She has painted images of COVID-19 medical workers in a similar style, initially to cope with the stress of her work but also to encourage others and support front line workers.[54]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Kimble, James J.; Olson, Lester C. (Winter 2006). "Visual Rhetoric Representing Rosie the Riveter: Myth and Misconception in J. Howard Miller's 'We Can Do It!' Poster". Rhetoric & Public Affairs. 9 (4): 533–569. JSTOR 41940102. Also available through Highbeam.
  2. ^ a b c Bird, William L.; Rubenstein, Harry R. (1998). Design for Victory: World War II posters on the American home front. Princeton Architectural Press. p. 78. ISBN 978-1-56898-140-6. Archived from the original on May 10, 2016. Retrieved July 15, 2016.
  3. ^ a b Bird/Rubenstein 1998, p. 58 Archived November 17, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ Doris Weatherford (2009). American Women during World War II: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 1181. ISBN 978-1-135-20189-0.
  5. ^ Wong, Hannah Wai Ling (July 17, 2007). A Riveting "Rosie": J. Howard Miller's We Can Do It! Poster and Twentieth Century American Visual Culture (M.A.). University of Maryland, College Park. Archived from the original on October 20, 2018. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
  6. ^ "We Can Do It!". Smithsonian American Art Museum. Archived from the original on July 11, 2007.
  7. ^ William H. Young; Nancy K. Young (2010). World War II and the Postwar Years in America: A-I. ABC-CLIO. p. 528. ISBN 978-0-313-35652-0.
  8. ^ Susan Doyle; Jaleen Grove; Whitney Sherman (2018). History of Illustration. Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 353–. ISBN 978-1-5013-4211-0.
  9. ^ a b Raccuglia, Andrew (May 20, 2022). "How a Seton Hall professor discovered the creator of 'Rosie the Riveter'". The Setonian. Retrieved June 29, 2022.
  10. ^ Fisher, Jacquelyn Felix; Goodman, E. W. (2009). The Art Institute of Pittsburgh Arcadia Publishing. Arcadia. p. 16. ISBN 978-0738565545.
  11. ^ Ehrlich, David A.; Minton, Alan R.; Stoy, Diane (2007). Smokey, Rosie, and You!. Hillcrest Publishing Group. p. 62. ISBN 978-1-934248-33-1. Archived from the original on November 17, 2016. Retrieved July 15, 2016.
  12. ^ Heyman, Therese Thau (1998). Posters American Style. New York: National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, in association with Harry N. Adams, Inc. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-8109-3749-9.
  13. ^ a b Harvey, Sheridan (July 20, 2010). "Rosie the Riveter: Real Women Workers in World War II". Journeys & Crossings. Library of Congress. Archived from the original on January 1, 2011. Retrieved January 23, 2012.
  14. ^ "Work–Fight–Give: Smithsonian World War II Posters of Labor, Government, and Industry". Labor's Heritage. 11 (4): 49. 2002.
  15. ^ "We Can Do It!". Smithsonian Institution. Archived from the original on October 29, 2013. Retrieved May 25, 2012. Search results for catalog number 1985.0851.05.
  16. ^ a b c "'Rosie the Riveter' is not the same as 'We Can Do It!'". Docs Populi. Archived from the original on October 25, 2012. Retrieved January 23, 2012. Excerpted from:
    Cushing, Lincoln; Drescher, Tim (2009). Agitate! Educate! Organize!: American Labor Posters. ILR Press/Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-7427-9.
  17. ^ a b c d e Sharp, Gwen; Wade, Lisa (January 4, 2011), "Sociological Images: Secrets of a feminist icon", Contexts, 10 (2): 82–83, doi:10.1177/1536504211408972, ISSN 1536-5042, S2CID 145551064
  18. ^ a b McLellan, Dennis (December 31, 2010). "Geraldine Hoff Doyle dies at 86; inspiration behind a famous wartime poster". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on September 20, 2012. Retrieved January 24, 2012.
  19. ^ Young, William H.; Young, Nancy K. (2010). World War II and the Postwar Years in America: A Historical and Cultural Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 606. ISBN 978-0-313-35652-0. Archived from the original on May 1, 2016. Retrieved July 15, 2016.
  20. ^ Weatherford, Doris (2009). American Women during World War II: an encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. p. 399. ISBN 978-0-415-99475-0. Archived from the original on May 7, 2016. Retrieved July 15, 2016.
  21. ^ Brennan, Patricia (May 23, 1982). "Poster Art for Patriotism's Sake". Washington Post Magazine. p. 35.
  22. ^ Endres, Kathleen L. (2006). "Rosie the Riveter". In Dennis Hall, Susan G. Hall (ed.). American icons: an encyclopedia of the people, places, and things. Vol. 1. Greenwood. p. 601. ISBN 978-0-275-98429-8.
  23. ^ Axelrod, Jeremiah B.C. (2006). "The Noir War: American Narratives of World War II and Its Aftermath". In Diederik Oostdijk, Markha G. Valenta (ed.). Tales of the Great American Victory: World War II in Politics and Poetics. VU University Press. p. 81. ISBN 978-90-5383-976-8.
  24. ^ "1999–2000 Highlights". Rosie The Riveter Memorial Project. Richmond, California: Rosie the Riveter Trust. April 2003. Archived from the original on March 28, 2012. Retrieved January 24, 2012.
  25. ^ "Women Support War Effort". United States Postal Service. Archived from the original on June 23, 2013. Retrieved January 24, 2012.
  26. ^ "Women On Stamps (Publication 512)" (PDF). United States Postal Service. April 2003. Archived (PDF) from the original on April 20, 2013. Retrieved January 24, 2012.
  27. ^ "Treasures of American History: The Great Depression and World War II". National Museum of American History. Archived from the original on October 19, 2012. Retrieved January 24, 2012.
  28. ^ a b c d Kimble, James J. (Summer 2016). "Rosie's Secret Identity, or, How to Debunk a Woozle by Walking Backward through the Forest of Visual Rhetoric". Rhetoric and Public Affairs. 19 (2): 245–274. doi:10.14321/rhetpublaffa.19.2.0245. ISSN 1094-8392. S2CID 147767111.
  29. ^ Chuck, Elizabeth (December 30, 2010). "Geraldine Doyle, inspiration for 'Rosie the Riveter,' dies at 86". Field Notes from NBC News. Archived from the original on January 1, 2011. Retrieved July 1, 2015.
  30. ^ Williams, Timothy (December 29, 2010). "Geraldine Doyle, Iconic Face of World War II, Dies at 86". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 24, 2017. Retrieved February 26, 2017.
  31. ^ Memmot, Mark (December 31, 2010). "Michigan Woman Who Inspired WWII 'Rosie' Poster Has Died". NPR. Archived from the original on January 19, 2012. Retrieved January 23, 2012.
  32. ^ Schimpf, Sheila (1994). "Geraldine Hoff Doyle". Michigan History Magazine. 78: 54–55.
  33. ^ "Ada Wyn Morford Papers". National Park Service Museum Collections. Archived from the original on March 7, 2016. Retrieved February 27, 2016.
  34. ^ "All This and Overtime, Too". Corbis. Archived from the original on September 29, 2015. Retrieved February 28, 2016.
  35. ^ a b Fox, Margalit (2018). "Naomi Parker Fraley, the Real Rosie the Riveter, Dies at 96". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 22, 2018. Retrieved January 23, 2018.
  36. ^ Coleman, Penny (December 30, 2010). "Rosie the Riveter Image". PennyColeman.com. Archived from the original on April 28, 2011. Retrieved January 24, 2012.
  37. ^ Wade, Lisa (October 22, 2007). "Sociological Images: Trivializing Women's Power". The Society Page. Archived from the original on June 22, 2013. Retrieved January 24, 2012.
  38. ^ Paul, Cindy (April 12, 2011). "Masterpieces of Jelly Bean Art Collection at the Children's Museum". Indianapolis, Illinois: Funcityfinder.com. Archived from the original on April 26, 2011. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
  39. ^ Cumings, Kristen. "We Can Do It!". Jelly Belly Bean Art Collection. Jelly Belly. Archived from the original on October 3, 2012. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
  40. ^ Phoenix (June 29, 2010). "We Can Do It!". Flickr. Archived from the original on October 7, 2012. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
  41. ^ Hellqvist, David (July 27, 2010). "Australian President, Julia Gillard". AnOther Magazine. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
  42. ^ Dama Design (July 8, 2010). "Julia Gillard". Tumblr. Archived from the original on October 7, 2012. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
  43. ^ Phoenix (March 12, 2011). "We Can Do It!". Flickr. Archived from the original on June 23, 2013. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
  44. ^ Phoenix (July 2, 2010). "We Can Do It!". Flickr. Archived from the original on June 23, 2013. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
  45. ^ Phoenix (January 23, 2012). "She Did It! (TOO SAD)". Flickr. Archived from the original on December 18, 2013. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
  46. ^ "Table of Contents". Utne Reader. January–February 2011. Archived from the original on August 31, 2012. Retrieved January 24, 2012.
  47. ^ "untitled". Utne Reader editorial blog. Utne Reader. January 3, 2011. Archived from the original on June 23, 2013. Retrieved January 24, 2012.
  48. ^ Landekic, Lola (August 30, 2011). "Captain America: The First Avenger". Art of the Title. Archived from the original on January 25, 2013. Retrieved February 17, 2012.
  49. ^ "The Story of the Ad Council". Ad Council. Archived from the original on February 16, 2007. Retrieved September 24, 2012.
  50. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Ad Council. Archived from the original on May 3, 2013. Retrieved September 24, 2012. Working in tandem with the Office of War Information, the Ad Council created campaigns such as Buy War Bonds, Plant Victory Gardens, 'Loose Lips Sink Ships,' and Rosie the Riveter's 'We Can Do it.'
  51. ^ a b Conlon, Peggy (February 13, 2012). "Happy Birthday Ad Council! Celebrating 70 Years of Public Service Advertising". Huffington Post. Archived from the original on February 16, 2012. Retrieved September 24, 2012.
  52. ^ "HelpsGood Develops 'Rosify Yourself' App for Ad Council's 70th Birthday". HelpsGood. February 2012. Archived from the original on January 26, 2013. Retrieved September 24, 2012.
  53. ^ Veres, Steve (February 13, 2012). "Plaza sign of the day: Matt as Rosie the Riveter". Today. MSN Allday Today. Archived from the original on July 7, 2017. Retrieved September 24, 2012.
  54. ^ Woolston, Chris (July 8, 2022). "How to deal with work stress — and actually recover from burnout". Knowable Magazine. doi:10.1146/knowable-070722-1. Retrieved August 4, 2022.

External links[edit]