Mary Doyle Keefe posed for Norman Rockwell’s painting when she was a 19-year-old telephone operator.
HARTFORD, Conn. — Mary Doyle Keefe, the model for Norman Rockwell’s iconic 1943 “Rosie the Riveter” painting that symbolized the millions of American women who went to work on the home front during World War II, has died. She was 92.
Mrs. Keefe died Tuesday in Simsbury, Conn., said her daughter, Mary Ellen Keefe.
Mrs. Keefe grew up in Arlington, Vt., where she met Rockwell — who lived in West Arlington — and posed for his painting when she was a 19-year-old telephone operator. The painting was on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post on May 29, 1943.
Although Mrs. Keefe was petite, Rockwell’s Rosie had large arms, hands and shoulders. The painting shows the red-haired Rosie in blue-jean work overalls sitting down, with a sandwich in her left hand, her right arm atop a lunchbox with the name “Rosie” on it, a rivet gun on her lap and her feet resting on a copy of Adolf Hitler’s manifesto “Mein Kampf.” The background is a waving U.S. flag.
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Rockwell wanted Rosie to show strength and modeled her body on Michelangelo’s Isaiah, which is on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Mrs. Keefe, who never riveted herself, was paid $5 for each of two mornings she posed for Rockwell and his photographer, Gene Pelham, whose pictures Rockwell used when he painted.
“You sit there and he takes all these pictures,” Mrs. Keefe said in 2002. “They called me again to come back because he wanted me in a blue shirt and asked if I could wear penny loafers.”
Twenty-four years after she posed, Rockwell sent her a letter calling her the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen and apologizing for the hefty body in the painting.
“I did have to make you into a sort of a giant,” he wrote.
The Rosie painting — not to be confused with a poster by a Pittsburgh artist depicting a woman flexing her arm under the words “We Can Do It” — would later be used in a nationwide effort to sell war bonds.
Mrs. Keefe said people in Arlington didn’t make much fuss about her being in the Rosie painting, aside from a little teasing about Rosie’s big arms.
“People didn’t make a big deal about things back then,” she said in 2002.
The painting is now part of the permanent collection at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark.
Mrs. Keefe spent the past eight years in a retirement community in Simsbury, according to an obituary prepared by her family.
She graduated from Temple University with a degree in dental hygiene, and was working as a dental hygienist in Bennington, Vt., when she met her husband of 55 years, Robert Keefe, who died in 2003. They had four children and lived in Whitman, Mass., and later in Nashua, N.H.