Thursday, July 31, 2014

Happy Birthday - Geraldine Doyle

Today would have been the 90th birthday of Geraldine Hoff Doyle. If you don't know who she was, don't feel too bad. I only heard of her recently myself.

If she looks familiar, it's because she was very likely the model for the "We Can Do It!" poster.

It's an interesting story, and in doing the research, it just reminded me that so many women have had remarkable stories that don't get told. I'm glad hers did.

She was born in Inkster, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, which at the time of her birth was quickly becoming the main residential area for African Americans working in the auto factories. Her father, an electrical contractor, died when she was 10. Her mother was a composer. (A composer? Of what? Why are there no easy-to-find records of her life?)

Sometime during her youth, her family moved to Ann Arbor, where she graduated from high school. Why they moved is unclear. What is clear is that in 1942, like many other women at the time, Geraldine joined the war effort as a metal presser for the American Broach & Machine Co. But, because she was a cellist, she quit after only a few weeks, fearing an injury from the machinery that would end her musical career. Shortly thereafter, she met Leo Doyle, a dentist, and they married and had six children. Both died with months of each other in 2010. Little information is available about her life.

During those few weeks, her image had been captured by a UPI photographer. It's likely that photo that was later used by J. Howard Miller as inspiration for his now-famous We Can Do It! poster, which he created for an anti-strike (anti-union) effort by the Westinghouse Company's War Production Coordinating Committee.

The poster itself had been created for use only within Westinghouse, and did not begin to be part of popular culture until the 1980s, when feminists and women's historians started using it in their work.

It wasn't until 1984 that Geraldine learned that she had been the inspiration, when she read an article in Modern Maturity (now AARP) magazine suggesting her photo had been used for the poster.

By all accounts, she was thrilled and even took this seriously awesome photo shortly before she died.

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  1. hello, I don't know who to address this to but I'd like for you to view a Museum archive that will show the original newspaper clipping from March 26, 1942. You can read the caption and two other photo's taken of the same girl on that same day. Her name is Naomi Parker and she is alive at 94. that site is: