J. Howard Miller is responsible for one of history’s most iconic posters, “We Can Do It”. During World War II many men were forced by their employers to leave the country they loved to fight overseas. During World War II, women were left to do the work of men and to support families and the economy. The poster is based on the 1942 photo of Naomi Parker Fraley in a polka dotted bandana in Alameda California. The poster shows a woman with similar features to Naomi showing off her biceps and raising her arms on a yellow backdrop. It also has the phrase, “We Can Do It”. This paper discusses what this image means, its significance and value for public culture.

Hariman & Lucaites’ (2007, 27-29), paper describes iconic images as images that are widely shared in media, represent universal meanings and emotions, are recognizable, and are understood to be a symbol of a significant historical event. This image is a perfect example of an iconic image because it is well-known and widely shared in many media. It has a clear message that everyone can understand and is widely accepted.

The background of an image can affect its original meaning. In the Practices of Looking, Marita Cartwright and Lisa Sturken (2009, 9), said that “a single picture can serve multiple purposes, be used in different settings and have different meanings for different people”. The US government encouraged military manufacturers to increase production of weapons and army products after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbour (Herold,2018). The atmosphere in large factories, however, was tense due to the conflict between workers and the union administration (Herold 2018). A campaign was started to reduce the tension and boost the morale and spirit of all workers in the factory (Herold 2018). In 1942, Westinghouse Electric Company created a series propaganda posters in order to boost the morale and encourage all factory workers to continue their hard work. (Herold 2018). During that period, Westinghouse Electric Company created similar posters to “We Can Do It”, such as “Together We Can Do It!” , 1998).

Only in 1980s did the poster become a symbol and a huge hit with the public. The poster is remade today and has been parodied a lot. This image is still used by many advertisers to promote products. The image was used on clothing, vending machine, mugs and refrigerator magnets. Clorox used the image in 2007 to advertise their household cleaners. The image was also used in the Captain America: The First Avenger film (Landekic & Albinson 2011). It was also used for political campaigns with Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin (Herold 2018).

The poster had another problem. Until recent years, it was unclear who the person on poster was. The woman on cover was initially thought to be Geraldine Hoff-Doyle, but after some investigation it was discovered that she was actually Naomi Parker Fraley. It is a good example of how quickly public opinion and image can change. The meanings behind the images are lost in the blur. It is crucial to always think critically and understand what the message behind an image means.

After the poster’s re-discovery, it became a tool to promote feminist activism. The image was interpreted as “a symbol of female empowerment” by many (Hall, 2006). The “we” was meant to be “we women”, and to unite women in their fight for equality and rights (Hall 2006). The meaning of the phrase changed dramatically between 1943 and 1980. Jeremiah Axelrod, History Professor, pointed out that this image combined masculinity and femininity. It had a macho body language and composition (Oostdijk & Valenta 2006). This was the image that attracted feminists to it.

This image has become iconic due to its wide recognition and many copies. It is important because it later became a symbol for women’s empowerment and feminism. It represents the strength of women. This image encouraged them to not give up and pursue their dreams. It was the inspiration for the women’s right revolution. It changed the view of women in Western society and how they contributed to it. Women in World War II proved they were capable of doing hard jobs while supporting their country. Their brothers, fathers and sons were fighting for their countries abroad. Women needed someone to look up at and to emulate.


  • owenbarrett

    I'm Owen Barrett, a 31-year-old educational blogger and traveler. I enjoy writing about the places I've visited and sharing educational content about travel and culture. When I'm not writing or traveling, I like spending time with my family and friends.