Working Women During World War Ii

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Women made up 49.83% of the nation’s 132 million jobs in June of 2009; for the first time in American history, “Women are on the verge of outnumbering men in the workforce for the first time, a historic reversal caused by long-term changes in women's roles and massive job losses for men during this recession” (Cauchon). Just as the current recession has impacted the way that women exist in the workforce, so too did past national events influence women’s roles in the workplace. In the early twentieth century, it was rare for women to work outside of the home; World War II, with its incredibly high draft rate, left a labor gap in the United States that made it necessary for women to enter the workforce in record numbers. Although many women were discriminated against in various industries, especially women of non-white ethnic and racial backgrounds, the changes that occurred in the 1940s laid the groundwork for allowing women to become a vital part of the workforce. Prior to World War II, the workforce consisted primarily of male workers. During this time, women who participated in the workforce were usually young and unmarried and held clerical and teaching positions--positions which lacked training or opportunity for advancement. As Sharpless and Rury note, approximately 80% of women in the workforce were unmarried: “the vast majority of working women were young, unmarried, and lived with their parents. Work, for all but a small minority, was a supplement to family income. It seldom went beyond a short interim period between adolescence and marriage (3-5 years average)” (324-5). When a working woman was married, she would typically leave the workforce to play the role of the homemaker, while her husband was responsible for financially supporting their household: “For nearly all working-class women, marriage and a family were seen as the most important goals in their lives. Their options for employment and, therefore, the character of their working-class militancy, were conditioned by the short-term nature of their workforce experience and the continuing influence of the (parental) home environment.” (Sharpless and Rury 325). During this time period, women’s interaction in the workforce was curtailed by marriage, since their primary role was seen as being mothers and wives. During the 1920’s, the amount of women who married and decided to remain in the workplace increased dramatically. Between 1930 and 1950, as more women graduated with their high school diplomas and colleges began accepting more women, and as the demand for clerical positions increased, women came to hold more respectable and steady positions. Yet, women usually worked out of necessity to help add to their husband’s income, rather than for their own personal gain or to advance in a career (DuBois and Dumenil 548-49). As mentioned above, one key event that changed the demographics of the workforce between 1930 and 1950 was World War II; the war was a major stepping stone which integrated women into the workforce. It was the catalyst for the changes which happened with the labor shortages created when American men were drafted during the war. This labor shortage created a demand for women workers to play an important role in the once male dominated professional, military, and manufacturing positions. In order to enable the Allied victory, gender and racial prejudices in the once-male dominated work force altered as the nation temporarily united in this time of crisis. Although the American military originally opposed the integration of women into the service, pressure from women’s groups and the demand for military recruits helped pave the way for the admission of female recruits (DuBois and Dumenil 545-46).While some women serving in the military worked as welders, mechanics, and other gender bending positions, most worked in socially accepted female positions: positions such as clerks, telephone operators, nurses, etc. While Nursing is a professional...
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