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Model for Norman Rockwell's 'Rosie the Riveter' Dies at 92

Mary Doyle Keefe, the telephone operator whom Norman Rockwell beefed up for iconic Saturday Evening Post cover in 1943, has died at 92.
/ Source: NBC News

Mary Doyle Keefe, the telephone operator whom Norman Rockwell beefed up for his iconic "Rosie the Riveter" cover of The Saturday Evening Post in 1943, has died at 92 in Simsbury, Connecticut, a funeral home confirmed.

Keefe, who lived in a retirement home for the last eight years of her life, died peacefully Tuesday, Cameron Funeral Home of Granbury said. A graveside service is scheduled for Saturday in Bennington.

The Post cover became one of the enduring symbols of homeland unity during World War II, when women stepped in to the jobs of millions of men who'd gone off to battle. It depicts Keefe holding a rivet gun and a lunchbox with the name Rosie on it, with her feet resting on a copy of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf."

Mary Doyle Keefe in 2002 with a framed copy of her 'Rosie the Riveter' cover on the May 29, 1943, issue of The Saturday Evening Post.AP — file

While a similar image — a cartoon of a woman also flexing her muscles under the word balloon "We Can Do It!" — has widely been identified as Rosie the Riveter, it was actually a Westinghouse Electric worker morale poster that didn't become famous until long after the war, according to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

Keefe grew up in Arlington, Vermont — the next town over from West Arlington, where Rockwell lived. She was paid $10 to pose for the painting, which was reproduced on the cover of the magazine's May 29, 1943, issue and which hangs in the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.

In 1967, Rockwell sent Keefe, a small woman, a letter to apologize "for making me so large," she told The Saturday Evening Post in August 2013.

"I did have to make you into a sort of a giant," Rockwell wrote.

Keefe lived a quiet life, marrying and raising four children, according to the funeral home. But she did enjoy her fame. She regularly appeared at World War II commemorations, and in 1994, on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, she appeared on "The Tonight Show" and drilled several screws into a board, The Post said.