As Max Lerner, a well know author and journalist, once said, “when the classic work on the history of women comes to be written, the biggest force for change in their lives will turn out to have been war, [which] curiously produces more dislocations in the lives of women who stay at home than of men who go off to fight.” 1 This was certainly true about women involved in World War II who became catalysts for changing the way the American people saw women as workers. During World War II American women became an integral part of the economy by joining the workforce in larger numbers than ever before to support the war effort, help keep the economy going strong, and provide for their families, which forever changed the role of women in the American work force. The war gave women a chance to contribute to society and show just how strong they truly were.
Before World War II many of the jobs that women held were fairly menial. These jobs were such things as clerical work, sales, teachers, nurses, and domestic workers, occupations that many felt were the only type of work women could handle because they were so sensitive and delicate. 2 Of all women of the working age-eighteen to sixty-four years old-approximately twenty-five percent were working in one of the previously mentioned occupations before the start of the war. 3 Many of these jobs did not pay very well because they were “women’s work”. 4 All of these factors meant that women did not have many opportunities to become financially independent and provide for themselves.
Most of the women who were part of the workforce before World War II were unmarried. One reason for this was that in many states throughout the country there were Marriage Bans that placed constraints on the type of employment, if any, married women were allowed to have.5 Many of these bans stated that various organizations such as schools, government agencies, and other businesses were not allowed to hire married women and had to fire single women that were employed by them upon marriage. 6 These bans were in place because it was believed that a wife needed to devote herself to raising her children and maintaining her household, which would only be undermined by her having a job. The war helped to erode bans in many of the states and allowed women to pursue new jobs.
As the United States entered the war, they needed to find a way to replace the workforce and mobilize the war effort. As hundreds of thousands of men were drafted into the military, there was a manpower shortage. The government needed to come up will people to fill their now open jobs in various industries so that the troops could get the supplies they needed to win the war. To do that the government decided to support a campaign by companies to recruit women into the workforce, promising them training for jobs they were unprepared for in trades women had never been able to work in before.7 To further gain support from women the businesses told them they needed to help support the war effort; if they took these jobs they could even help shorten the war and bring the 10 million men sent overseas to fight the war home safely.8 Businesses desperately needed the employees to meet the demands of the government, so they prevailed upon women to join the workforce to do their own small part in helping the United States win the war and keep this great country going at the same time.
In response to the campaigns by businesses and the government, married and unmarried women alike joined the workforce in droves to fill jobs they had never previously held. They took these jobs for a variety of reasons, including to support the war, gain financial independence, and to provide for their families.9 Many women had no choice but to get a job because the rations provided by the government were not enough for their families and the money they received in their allotment checks did not provide adequate assistance, so they needed to find another source...
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