Posted on: 04/25/2015

Mary Keefe, Model for Rockwells Rosie the Rivete

Mary Keefe, a 19-year-old Vermont telephone operator whom her neighbor Norman Rockwell immortalized as his model for the heroine of "Rosie the Riveter," the World War II feminist anthem that empowered women to leave home and pinch-hit in military plants, died on Tuesday at her home in Simsbury, Conn. She was 92. Her death was confirmed by her daughter Mary Ellen Keefe. Mrs. Keefe was a redhead, like the Rosie who appeared on the cover of the Memorial Day issue of The Saturday Evening Post magazine in 1943, but she had never wielded a rivet gun (not until an appearance on the "Tonight" show in the 1990s). And as portrayed in the painting, she was considerably bulked up from her petite 110 pounds to embody muscular American can-do spirit - an image inspired by Michelangelos Isaiah on the Sistine Chapels ceiling. (It is often confused with J. Howard Millers wartime "We Can Do It" poster for Westinghouse Electric, from February 1943, showing a biceps-flexing uniformed woman in a red-and-white polka-dot bandanna.) "Except for the red hair I had at the time, and my face, the rest I dont think is me at all," Mrs. Keefe said in a 2002 interview for the Norman Rockwell Museum.