You may not know the name Geraldine Hoff Doyle but you certainly know her face. She was just 17 when a United Press photographer captured her in 1942 working at a Michigan metal factory, wearing a red polka-dotted bandanna. Her face eventually caught the attention of artist J. Howard Miller, who had been commissioned by the government to create a series of motivational posters for factory workers. With his work, Doyle’s image would be immortalized with the famous “We Can Do It!” poster, which was used to motivate America’s female workers called into manufacturing jobs to support the war effort overseas.
The face on the poster was Doyle’s, but the bulging biceps were not, according to her daughter Stephanie Gregg of Eaton Rapids, Michigan.
She told the New York Times: “She didn’t have big, muscular arms,” Gregg said. “She was 5-foot-10 and very slender. She was a glamour girl. The arched eyebrows, the beautiful lips, the shape of the face — that’s her.”
According to the Washington Post, Doyle abandoned the factory job after just two weeks. She worried that she might injure her hands and wouldn’t be able to play cello anymore. She took a job at a soda fountain, where she met her future husband. Doyle never recognized her own face on the poster until 1984, when she saw it in Modern Maturity magazine, the Lansing (Michigan) State Journal reported.
Nonetheless, that poster has become an icon of women’s empowerment and inspiration for other images like this one:
Doyle was married for 66 years to dentist Leo Doyle, who died in February. They had six children, 18 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren. Geraldine Doyle died Sunday at a hospice facility in Lansing, her daughter said. She was 86.