WWII Icon Geraldine Hoff Doyle Isn't Really Dead

Jeanne Sager
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We Can Do It PosterAnother World War II icon is gone, but unlike the stories of the "greatest generation" that died with the servicemen and women who made them, Geraldine Hoff Doyle will live forever. She might be on your wall now; drawn with a red polka dot bandanna wrapped round her skull, her fist clenched to reveal growing muscles. Or she might be in the back of your mind as you sneak a few minutes on the computer at work to surf the web -- after all, she helped get you there.

Doyle died this week at 86, but she was 17 when she was photographed in 1942, one of the huge surge of American women pushed into the workforce to keep American running as the men went overseas. With her bandanna around her head, she was working at a metal factory in Michigan.

But it was the eyes of artist J. Howard Miller, who merged Hoff Doyle's face with his vision of a muscular woman, to create the We Can Do It poster now hanging on the walls of kitschy antique stores from Maine to New Mexico. The poster was supposed to give factory workers inspiration to keep on trucking, but it did more than that -- it told women that American needed them as much as the men and provided a lasting image to remind the men of the same. 

It would be foolish to attribute all their achievements to one teen girl who didn't even know her likeness had been used, but Doyle's image was indelible. As the men reclaimed their jobs and pushed women back into the kitchen at the end of the war, women retained that inspiration. They might not have a physical job, but they had a physical bit of inspiration.

Doyle was the spark. Those women didn't let it die out. Today, thanks to Doyle and thanks to those women, the female section of the American workforce is nearly as large as that of the man. As the economy tanked, women held onto jobs by a significant margin over the men.

The woman, Geraldine Hoff Doyle, died a mother, a grandmother and a great-grandmother to her immediate family. But Geraldine Hoff Doyle the image will live on as an aunt to the American feminist movement. Do you ever think about her?

 

Image via michael_hadassah/Flickr

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