Model for Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter Painting Dies

In this May 22, 2002 file photo, Mary Doyle Keefe poses at her home in Nashua, N.H., with the May 29, 1943, cover of the Saturday Evening Post for which she had modeled as "Rosie the Riveter" in a Norman Rockwell painting. AP Photo

Mary Doyle Keefe dies at 92.  Mary is most remembered as the model for the iconic 1943 Norman Rockwell painting, “Rosie the Riveter”.  A painting that defined the hard working women who took over the job supporting this country during World War II.

Keefe died Tuesday in Simsbury Connecticut, after a brief illness, said her daughter; Mary Ellen Keefe.

Growing up in Arlington, Vermont near the home of Rockwell, it was here the unaware and unassuming young 19-year-old telephone operator posed for the painting, which was later featured on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on May 29, 1943.  Little did she realize that her image, although altered by Rockwell to portray the petite woman as a beefier version with larger hands, arms and shoulders would go on to symbolize “strength” for future generations of women.

The painting had a red-headed Keefe in blue jean overalls, a sandwich in her left hand and her right arm atop a lunchbox emboldened with the name “Rosie” and with a rivet gun sitting in her lap, her feet were firmly planted atop a copy of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” while the backdrop consisted of a waving American flag.

Saturday Evening Post  May 29, 1943 cover "Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell

Saturday Evening Post
May 29, 1943 cover “Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell

She was paid $10 for two days of modeling for Rockwell’s photographer, Gene Pelham and then converted into the masterful work Rockwell produced with his brushes.  Although never having riveted, Keefe managed to exude the type of strength and poise Rockwell was looking for. “You sit there and he takes all these pictures,” Keefe told The Associated Press in 2002. “They called me again to come back because he wanted me in a blue shirt and asked if I could wear penny loafers.”

The Rosie painting — is often confused with the poster by a Pittsburgh artist depicting a woman flexing her arm under the words “We Can Do It” and later used to sell war bonds. The original Rockwell painting is now part of the permanent collection at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Keefe’s family will receive friends and take part in a memorial Mass on Friday at McLean Village in Simsbury. A graveside service is scheduled for Saturday at Park Lawn Cemetery in Bennington.


About the Author

Patrick James
Patrick James
Patrick James has worked as a firefighter/EMT for several services throughout the years, as well as a custom metal fabricator, certified personal trainer and chef. Growing up in the rural suburbs of Detroit, it was during his frequent trips to Northern Michigan where he learned of his love for hunting and fishing. Spending several of his adult years in upstate South Carolina, his love of extreme sports took root in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains as he learned to rock climb and kayak. "Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and vanish into air." ~ John Quincy Adams