Mary Doyle Keefe, model for Norman Rockwell’s “Rosie the Riveter” poster was a symbol of power for American women on the homefront during World War II.
Last Tuesday, Keefe passed away in her home in Connecticut at the age of 92. Her daughter told the press she suffered from a brief illness before her death.
Keefe met Rockwell in her hometown of Arlington, Vermont. At age 19, Keefe worked as a telephone operator. Rockwell paid her 10 dollars to sit and model for the painting for two sessions.
The image was featured on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on May 29, 1943.
Keefe was petite as a teenager, so Rosie’s burly figure is mostly the product of Rockwell’s artistic embellishment.
“Other than the red hair and my face, Norman Rockwell embellished Rosie’s body,” said Keefe in an interview in 2012. “I was much smaller than that and did not know how he was going to make me look like that until I saw the finished painting.”
Keefe received a letter from Rockwell twenty-four years after she modeled, telling her she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and apologizing for the burly body in the painting.
“I did have to make you into a sort of a giant,” he wrote.
The painting was used in the 1940s as propaganda to sell war bonds. Today, the painting is on display at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.
According to an obituary, Keefe graduated from Temple University with a degree in dental hygiene, worked as a hygienist in Vermont where she lived with her husband of 55 years, Robert Keefe. The two had four children together. Keefe spent the last eight years of her life in a retirement community in Connecticut.