By Eileen Heinz-Majors
75 years ago on December 7, 1941, America was attacked on the shores of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, signaling the onset of World War II. Men across the country left their jobs and families to answer the call of war. Households were faced with new challenges on many fronts.
Not long after the war erupted, women across the country were asked to rise up and become the workforce that would run America’s factories and supply the war effort.
It was 1942 when the Alameda Naval Air Station near Oakland, California put out the word that women were needed to work at the Air Base. Naomi Parker and her sister Ada Wyn Parker, affectionately known as Wyn, answered that call. With their father as their escort, they went to apply for jobs.
Wyn said during her job interview a man asked her, “Do you know what a differential is?” She answered, “It’s the rear end of a car.” He quickly responded, “She’s hired!” “And from that moment on,” she said, “I was hired.” She and Naomi worked in the Assembly and Repair Shop on interesting jobs like riveting planes back together after they had been shot up. They were two of the first three women hired at the Alameda Air Base and likely of the first in California.
United Press International (UPI) came to the sisters’ workplace to create a national campaign to educate America’s new workforce of women on how to dress (and how not to dress) for safety in the workplace. Naomi was photographed in appropriate workwear including her iconic red polka dot bandana she remembers buying at “the local Five and Dime.” Wyn was pictured in the wrong attire for work, a beautiful dress with heels. The next day both sisters were pictured in newspapers with another woman, whose last name was listed as Johnson, and whose first name is believed to be Frances, also of Alameda. The photos ran on the front page of the Oakland Post-Enquirer and in papers across the country. Another photograph on the page showed Naomi, again in her red polka dot bandana, working at the lathe. The caption, describing the Navy’s new policy on dress in the workplace, ended with, “The edict hasn’t made Naomi Parker any less attractive.”
In 1984 the photo of the lady at the lathe was mistakenly identified as Geraldine Hoff Doyle, who was honored for decades as the inspiration for the polka dot bandana in the We Can Do It poster created in 1942 for Westinghouse Electric. The poster was created to inspire their new workforce of women and would end up further inspiring women across the nation. Even in Doyle’s obituary, the photo of the lady at the lathe was used in newspapers across the country, misidentifying her as the subject.
It was not until Naomi was in her eighties that she rediscovered her photo. She and Wyn attended a Rosie The Riveter Convention at Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park. When Naomi saw the photo of herself working at the lathe on display at the event, she was surprised, and then immediately horrified to see someone else’s name under her photo. The pair alerted park officials, and when they returned home, sent them the actual newspaper clippings containing the photos, naming Naomi as the subject working at the lathe in the red bandanna. Copies of the documents are filed online at NPS.gov.
Today at the age of 96, Naomi well deserves recognition for her place behind the signature red polka dot bandana and both she and Wyn for their roles as “Rosies,” a term representing the women who held up their hands and said, “We can do it!” when their country called. They are two of the many faces behind the women that the historic We Can Do It poster would come to represent. However, when we tried to refer to Naomi as Rosie, she would not have it. She adamantly stated, “Rosie was all of us. Everyone was excited to work for the country and we all held up a hand and said ‘we can do it!’”
Editor note: Watch “The Woman Behind the Red Bandana” video, produced by Mountain Valley Living, on YouTube.