The woman who was the model for the Norman Rockwell painting that came to symbolize the strength and contributions of women in the war effort during World War II has died. Mary Doyle Keefe was 92.
Keefe died in Simsbury, Conn., where she lived for the last eight years at The McLean Village Community, her daughter, Mary Ellen Keefe, told the Hartford Courant.
In the painting, an overall-clad Keefe is shown with a sandwich in one hand and her right arm sitting on top of a lunch box with the word “Rosie” on it. A rivet gun sits in her lap. The painting is separate from the J. Howard Miller poster of Rosie the Riveter intended to raise war morale. The Rockwell painting is on display at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark.
Keefe grew up in Arlington, Vt., near Rockwell, who lived in West Arlington. As a 19-year-old telephone operator, she agreed to pose for an illustration that would appear on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in May 1943. Rockwell’s iconic work that honored women who worked on the home front featured a muscular-armed figure much larger than Keefe was in real life. Years later, Rockwell wrote a note to Keefe saying she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen and explaining that he needed the image to depict strength, the Courant reported.
“I did have to make you into sort of a giant,” Rockwell wrote.
Keefe once said she had no idea the artist was going to depict her as such a large person, but aside from the occasional teasing from neighbors, she took it in stride.
“People didn’t make a big deal about things back then,” she told the Associated Press.
Keefe posed twice for the painting because her first outfit — a white blouse and shoes — were not what Rockwell was seeking, The Saturday Evening Post reported. Keefe reported back with penny loafers and a dark shirt, according to the Post. She held a ham sandwich while posing but the rivet gun was a fake, she said.
The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., issued a statement Wednesday saying it was “saddened” to learn of Keefe’s passing.
“Keefe was a good friend to Norman Rockwell Museum, where she shared her experience and memories of posing for Rockwell on several occasions (most recently, at our Models Reunion in July 2013),” the statement read. “She was always very gracious with her time, posing for visitors’ photos or signing autographs.”
Members of the public expressed condolences in response to an obituary posted online, hailing Keefe as a great example for women.
“Ms. Keefe was definitely an inspiration to women and surprisingly she still had young 2015 fans,” wrote Linda Butler of Hillsboro, Ohio.
Keefe graduated from Temple University with a degree in dental hygiene. She is predeceased by her husband of 55 years, Robert Keefe, who died in 2003. They had four children and lived in Whitman, Massachusetts, and later in Nashua, New Hampshire.
Keefe’s family will receive friends and take part in a memorial Mass on Friday at McLean Village in Simsbury. A graveside service is scheduled for Saturday at Park Lawn Cemetery in Bennington.
SOURCE: USA Today – Melanie Eversley