Nearly 19 million women
Nearly 19 million women held jobs during World War II. Many of these women were already working in a lower paying job. Or were returning to the workforce after being laid off during the depression.
Only three million new female workers entered the workforce during the time of the war.
Although most women took on male-dominated trades during World War II. They were expected to return to their everyday housework once men returned from the war.
Government campaigns targeting women were addressed solely at housewives. Likely because already-employed women would move to the higher-paid “essential” jobs on their own.
Or perhaps because it was assumed that most would be housewives. One government advertisement asked women: “Can you use an electric mixer? If so, you can learn to operate a drill.”
Propaganda was also directed at their husbands, many of whom were unwilling to support such jobs. Many of the women who took jobs during World War II were mothers. These women with children at home pooled together in their efforts to raise their families. They assembled into groups and shared such chores as cooking, cleaning and washing clothes.
Many who did have young children shared apartments and houses so they could save time, money, utilities and food. If they both worked, they worked different shifts so they could take turns babysitting.
Taking on a job during World War II made people unsure if they should urge women to keep acting as full-time mothers. Or support them getting jobs to support the country in this time of need.
Being able to support the soldiers by making all different products made the women feel very accomplished and proud of their work. Over 6 million women got war jobs, African American, Hispanic, White, and Asian women worked side by side.
In the book, A Mouthful of Rivets Vi Kirstine Vrooman shares about the time when she decided to take action and become a riveter. She got a job building B-17s on an assembly line, she shares just how exciting it was saying, ‘The biggest thrill — I can’t tell you — was when the B-17s rolled off the assembly line. You can’t believe the feeling we had. We did it!” Once women accepted the challenge of the workforce they continued to make strong advances towards equal rights.
When victory seemed assured for the United States, government-sponsored propaganda changed by urging women back to work in the home. Later, many women returned to traditional work such as clerical or administrative positions, despite their reluctance to re-enter the lower-paying fields.
However, some of these women continued working in factories. The overall percentage of women working fell from 36% to 28% in 1947.
The individual who was the inspiration for the song was Rosalind P. Walter, who “came from old money and worked on the night shift building the F4U Corsair fighter.”
Later in life, Walter was a philanthropist, a board member of the WNET public television station in New York and an early and long-time supporter of the Charlie Rose interview show.
Rosie the Riveter
Rosie the Riveter became most closely associated with another real woman, Rose Will Monroe. Who was born in Pulaski County, Kentucky in 1920 and moved to Michigan during World War II.
She worked as a riveter at the Willow Run Aircraft Factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan. She was building B-24 bombers for the U.S. Army Air Forces. Monroe was asked to star in a promotional film about the war effort at home.
The song “Rosie the Riveter” was popular at the time and Monroe happened to best fit the description of the worker depicted in the song. “Rosie” went on to become perhaps the most widely recognized icon of that era.
The films and posters she appeared in were used to encourage women to go to work in support of the war effort. At the age of 50, Monroe realized her dream of flying when she obtained a pilot’s license.
In 1978, she crashed into her small propeller plane when the engine failed during takeoff. The accident resulted in the loss of one kidney and the sight in her left eye and ended her flying career
. She died from kidney failure on May 31, 1997, in Clarksville, Indiana where she was a resident, at the age of 77.
A drama film, Rosie the Riveter, was released in 1944, borrowing from the Rosie theme.
Impact and post-war
Women quickly responded to Rosie the Riveter, who convinced them that they had a patriotic duty to enter the workforce.
Some claim that she forever opened the workforce for women, but others dispute that point, noting that many women were discharged after the war and their jobs were given to returning servicemen.
These critics claim that when peace returned, few women returned to their wartime positions and instead resumed domestic vocations or transferred into sex-typed occupations such as clerical and service work.
For some, World War II represented a major turning point for women as they eagerly supported the war effort, while other historians emphasize that the changes were temporary and that immediately after the war was over, women were expected to return to traditional roles of wives and mothers. And finally, a third group has emphasized how the long-range significance of the changes brought about by the war provided the foundation for the contemporary woman’s movement.
Leila J. Rupp in her study of World War II wrote “For the first time, the working woman dominated the public image. Women were riveting housewives in slacks, not mother, domestic beings, or civilizers.”
After the war, the “Rosies” and the generations that followed them knew that working in the factories was, in fact, a possibility for women. Even though they did not reenter the job market in such large proportions again until the 1970s. By that time factory employment was in decline all over the country.
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