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Three Figures, in Life and Death: Naomi Parker Fraley, Barbara Bush, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

An American Legend

For seven decades, the real identity of an American legend was kept quiet. “Rosie the Riveter” was the focus of a campaign aimed at recruiting females for industry work during World War II. Her image of a strong, working woman brought the attention of many. A record number of American women entered the workforce during the war, filling the vacancies left by men who left for war.

The real Rosie the Riveter’s identity was not revealed for decades. The woman behind the image, Naomi Parker Fraley, was a waitress in California. Fraley died at the age of 96 in January of 2018.

In 2016, when her connection to the feminist touchstone became public, Fraley told People magazine that she did not want “fame or fortune, but I did want my own identity.” She had worked in a Navy machine shop during World War II. Her appearance was captured by a photographer, focusing on the bandanna she wore in her hair for safety. This photograph was first published in a newspaper. Later on, the image was used for the well-known Rosie the Riveter campaign poster.

After the war, she became a waitress, married, and began a family. When she first saw the poster, she thought the woman looked like her, but did not at first connect it with her picture in the newspaper all those years ago.

Fraley and her sister attended a reunion of female war workers in 2011, where the image was largely displayed. Fraley recalled: “I couldn’t believe it. I knew it was actually me in the photo.”

Fraley wrote to the National Park Service, from which she received a letter in response asking her to help determine “the true identity of the woman in the photograph.” She was not pleased that her identity was being disputed, but after the photographer’s original photographer and location was uncovered, there was no question that Fraley was the infamous woman.

In the People magazine interview, Fraley described the importance of having strong female icons. She said, “The women of this country these days need icons. If they think I’m one, I’m happy.”

The description of the original photograph was: “Pretty Naomi Parker looks like she might catch her nose in the turret lathe she is operating.”

Death Not Feared

Barbara Bush, former first lady of the United States, passed away in April of 2018. She was 92 years old. Prior to her death, she was often referred to as “America’s warm hearted grandmother.”

Bush had faced many health problems for years. She reportedly battled chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure for years. She had been previously hospitalized a few times for her health, but two days before her death it was announced that Bush had “decided not to seek additional medical treatment.”

Throughout her life, Mrs. Bush was constantly in the public eye. She was seen as various public symbols, such as “consummate wife” and “homemaker.” Her husband, former president George H.W. Bush, began as a Texas oilman, and worked his way up to becoming commander in chief. Their eldest son George W. Bush, one of six, also became president.

Before her passing, Mrs. Bush said that she “didn’t fear death,” perhaps because the family faced serious tragedy in the past. The death of their eldest daughter left a lasting impression on the family, especially Mrs. Bush.

Pauline Robinson “Robin” Bush, was typically rowdy and healthy, like her siblings. However, she began showing signs of fatigue, so she was taken to a pediatrician. A few days later, the Bush family received the news that Robin was diagnosed with leukemia. She passed away at age 3.

Barbara Bush did not fear death. She had suffered an unthinkable tragedy early in her life, and spent a majority of her adult life in politics.

Family friend and former president Bill Clinton said after her passing: “She had grit and grace, brains and beauty. Barbara joked that George and I spent so much time together I had become almost a member of the family, the ‘black sheep’ that had gone astray.”

Mother of a Nation

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela passed away at the age of 81. She was best known for being a South African anti-apartheid campaigner and former first lady, once married to Nelson Mandela.

For over a year, Mrs. Mandela had been in the hospital numerous times due to a “long illness.” She had spent most of her life in the public eye, yet later in life her reputation had been tainted.

She met Nelson Mandela in 1957 when his marriage to Evelyn Mase was ending. After their marriage, they were known for being the country’s most famous political couple. Both were jailed for their roles in the anti-apartheid movement. The political activism kept them both apart from each other for quite some time during the movement. There was a period when they were in hiding, keeping them further apart still.

When her husband was jailed in 1964, she increased her role in politics and was constantly harassed by South African security police. She became an international symbol of resistance for her fight against the apartheid movement. She rallied for poor, black township residents who demanded freedom. Her husband was released from his life sentence in 1990.

After spending some of her life in solitary confinement for her activist role, she was banished to a remote rural area, but returned to the township soon after. Her home was burned down, and the suspected perpetrators were members of the South African security forced. She became widely known as the “Mother of the Nation.”

The Mandelas divorced in 1996, but she chose to keep his surname. They kept close ties, yet critics began accusing her of using his name for political gain. Her reputation was put on the line once more when she was accused of fraud and murder, both of which she denied.

When a 14-year-old township militant, Stompie Seipei, was murdered, the senior anti-apartheid activists accused Winnie. She had a group of young men as her bodyguards, known as the Mandela United Football Club. She had great influence over young, radical activists, which contributed to the growing controversy.

Stompie had been seized by her bodyguards in 1989 before he was found dead. She was charged with assault and kidnapping of Stompie and one of her bodyguards was charged with the murder. Mr. Mandela continued to support his future ex-wife during this troubling time.

She claimed not-guilty but was sentenced to six years in jail. An appeal court reduced the sentence to a fine.

President Mandela later accused his ex-wife of adultery and fired her from her role as deputy minister of arts and culture. She was accused of leading a lavish and expensive lifestyle while standing among poor, black South Africans whom she was fighting for. She was described as a modern-day Robin Hood, often taking loans for people who had little money, but critics said she “should have known better.”

The conviction for theft was overturned, but she was given a three-year-and-six-month suspended sentence for fraud.

Near the end of her life, she was elected to numerous party committees, extending her influence in politics. She was present for the last moments of her ex-husband’s life, and was also in a prominent position at his memorial services.

Her controversial life ended peacefully this past April. She often praised President Cyril Ramaphosa, who said regarding her death: “In the face of exploitation, she was a champion of justice and equality. Shew as an abiding symbol of the desire of our people to be free.”

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