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Inspiration for Rosie the Riveter poster dies at 86

Geraldine Hoff Doyle, a World War II factory worker whose bandanna-wearing image in a wire-service photo is said to have been the model for the woman depicted in the 1942 "We Can Do It!" poster, has died. She was 86. The iconic wartime poster became an enduring symbol of women's power from the Rosie the Riveter era.

Doyle died of age-related causes Sunday at Hospice House of Mid-Michigan in Lansing, said her daughter, Stephanie Gregg.

Doyle was a 17-year-old high school graduate when she took a job at the American Broach & Machine Co. in her hometown of Ann Arbor, Mich., in 1942, a time when millions of women were going to work to replace men who had gone to war.

"She had just graduated, and some of the young men had left school to volunteer to fight," Gregg said. "A couple had been killed, and she felt she wanted to do something for the war effort."

Doyle was operating a metal-stamping machine when a United Press photographer took a picture of the tall, slender and glamorously beautiful brunette wearing a polka-dot bandanna over her hair.

Her photo, according to an account on the Pop History Dig website, was seen by Pittsburgh artist J. Howard Miller, who was commissioned by the Westinghouse War Production Coordinating Committee to create a series of morale-building posters to inspire Westinghouse workers.

Miller's "We Can Do It!" poster portrays a woman in a red-and-white polka-dot bandanna and a blue uniform, rolling up a sleeve over a flexed right bicep.

Gregg said her mother, who was not as muscular as the woman depicted in the poster, had no idea her photograph had been used for Miller's poster until the mid-1980s.

"She was tickled to recognize that she was the inspiration for so many women," said her daughter.

Doyle, who was born July 31, 1924, in Inkster, Mich., actually worked in the factory only a couple of weeks; a cello player, she quit after learning that the woman she had replaced had injured her hand on the metal press, her daughter said.

She then got a job at a bookstore in Ann Arbor, where she soon met her future husband, Leo H. Doyle, who was in dental school. They were married in 1943 and had six children.

"You're not supposed to have too much pride, but I can't help to have some in that poster," Doyle told the Lansing State Journal in 2002.

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