Role of Women in World War II
“Our women are serving actively in many ways in this war, and they are doing a grand job on both the fighting front and the home front.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt, 1944 World War II (WWII) is often described as defining America’s “Greatest Generation.” That image was portrayed by a young, dapper, American airman, full of patriotism, courage, and a desire to make the world a better place. He was eager to conquer the world and return to the home front to make a better life for himself and his family. However, his wife, sister, and mother were also part of the Greatest Generation. During this time, American women bravely served both at home and overseas in roles they had never considered before. Not only did they carry on traditional roles of caring for the home and children, they often worked in essential roles in support of the war effort. While Rosie the Riveter became the image of the working WWII woman, her role was only just a portion of the significant contribution made by women during war times. History clearly shows the importance of the combat soldier in WWII. However, without the contribution of women during WWII, our war effort would have been significantly limited. Women made critical contributions in several ways such as manufacturing, morale, and the military itself at a time when a large portion of our male work force was deployed fighting the war. This paper explores the various roles carried by women during wartime in the 1940s. WWII presented opportunities in the military that had never been available to women. Traditional male roles in manufacturing were filled by women as the government recruited them to work in factories making things necessary to fight the war. Morale and entertainment brought women into roles they may have never considered during peace time. The total effect of women in WWII and how they stepped forward to sacrifice and serve was unprecedented in this country. Americans can thank the women of the Greatest Generation and know that because of their efforts, the negative impact of the war was reduced. I. Introduction: The Female Workforce During WWII
In the early 20th century, many people viewed women’s primary role as being in the home as a housewife and mother. However, the beginning of WWII created a shift in thinking. The economic crisis caused by the Great Depression, followed by the US entering WWII, meant that women were needed in different roles. Many females sought opportunities to help due to their own patriotism. The government and labor unions recruited females into the work force as they never had before. The result on the number of working women was substantial. Between 1940 and 1945, the female workforce grew by more than 50% as the number of women working outside the home increased from 11.9 million in 1940 to 18.6 million in 1945. This meant that the percentage of women working increased from 27% to 37% by the mid-1940s. Women represented 36% of all civilians working in the US.1 Because so many men were deployed, there was a labor shortage in other non-traditional female careers, such as airplane pilots, farmers, factory workers, athletes, and reporters. Finally, while not as visible, the two-thirds of women not working outside the home also found ways to help the war effort. Many felt their contribution was to provide a stable home for the family, even in terrible times of loss, worry, and rationing. Many also volunteered with the American Red Cross and Office of Civil Defense, sold war bonds, and provided recreation at USO canteens.2 Social change was an important factor in accepting women in the work force and in the military. Labor unions, led by men, began allowing women in the workplace out of necessity. Laws changed regarding anti-discrimination and equal pay for women. Four states passed equal pay laws during the war, and for the first time in history, Congress considered an equal rights amendment for...
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