World War II: Women in the Workforce
Changes Brought By War
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the lives of many Americans changed instantaneously. Men and women were quickly sent off to war, leaving their current jobs behind in order to protect and serve the people of our great nation. In the wake of their absence, it became apparent that without the lifeblood of our women back at home many of the factories in the United States wouldn’t be able to produce and operate efficiently.
For the first time, the workforce demanded help from women in a much greater capacity. No longer able to stay home and maintain the household, they were called to action to work in factories to help the war effort. Jobs once thought only capable of men were now given to women, who had to find the strength, knowledge, and ambition to excel in their new positions. Throughout the struggle of World War II, society was forced to take notice of the ever-increasing proficiency of women and give greater acknowledgment to their service and support.
Answering the Call
At the start of the war, recruiting women to work was a challenging task. The government wasn’t satisfied with the amount of women that came out and volunteered to work since the demand for help far exceeded the number of women currently in the job market. The struggles of war meant that times were changing, and because of that, the roles of women had to change with them.
A campaign was soon started to encourage participation in factory work and, in time, many more women showed up to lend a helping hand. Before long, even those who had children younger than six years of age were needed and had to hold a job. Many were reluctant to leave their homes and venture out into the labor force, but as the war raged on it became more evident that it was necessary for women to work in order to keep the country on its feet and help our servicemen and women stay strong in the fight for freedom and justice.
The First Campaign...
A fictional character by the name of "Rosie the Riveter" was created and used as a promotional tool to entice women into the job market. Norman Rockwell, a Saturday Evening Post cover artist, is commonly credited with creating one of the many popular “Rosie the Riveter” images that were used to encourage women to become wartime workers. This lady was pretty and tough, far better than the typical, average American housewife.
She embodied courage and wisdom, strength and conviction, and the desire to help make the world a better place. The idea was to convey and show that women who worked would be thought of as loyal, efficient, patriotic, and beautiful. The campaign was quite successful in helping women find the courage to fulfill their patriotic duty, and it quickly became the trend for society to see dedicated, hardworking women discovering new talents and developing a greater feeling of confidence in their capabilities.
A few verses of the "Rosie the Riveter" song...
Rosie the Riveter
Sipping Martinis, munching caviar
There’s a girl who’s really putting
them to shame
Rosie is her name
All the day long whether rain or shine
She’s a part of the assembly line
She’s making history,
working for victory
Rosie the Riveter
Lesson Objective: To give students an understanding of the perception of women during the 1940s and how difficult it was to encourage them to redefine their roles in society.
Present your students with one of two choices:
1) If you were trying to encourage women to join the work force during World War II, what would your campaign poster say and why do you think it would be effective? Include a sketch drawing of your idea and present your poster to the class.
2) If you were trying to encourage women to join the work force during World War II, what would your song lyrics be and why do you think they would be effective? Recite your lyrics to the class and explain why you chose them.
Points of Teaching
Women who left the home to join the labor force soon found they were performing double shifts, working all day while still having to raise children and clean the home at night. This proved to be a difficult struggle, and in essence, these women really did have to undertake ‘double shifts’ because the work that was required of them encompassed that of two full-time jobs.
It was certainly a tough transition for many women who had children to tend to and a household to properly maintain, but over time, a new and unexpected passion enveloped women and they began to discover the benefits of being employed.They soon found work to be engaging, allowing them to learn new skills, contribute to society in a meaningful way, and prove to many others that the jobs once thought only for men could actually be done just as well by women.
Factory work performed by women ranged from the making of uniforms to ammunition to airplanes. Being able to perform these tasks well helped women develop a stronger sense of pride, knowing that they were now garnering more respect from those around them at home and the men and women fighting abroad.
Although many women returned to their roles as homemaker once the war was over, this did not discount the strides and gains they had made while in the workforce. Life had changed. Women had proven to serve a greater purpose and could fill needs in the job market where they once had been thought unable to manage. When the soldiers came back, it was true that much of life reverted back to the way times were before the war, but after everything was said and done, none could argue the sacrifice women had made during this time of crisis and how many had discovered a newfound respect in their capabilities.
Student Reading Assignment
Included below is a link to an incredible story of a woman who lived during the war years and worked in a factory. She details what it was like to have a factory job and how over time the perception changed about the capabilities of women and how men grew to respect them more. It's an interesting first-hand account of a woman's life during the war.
From BBC Home, contritbuted by Peter King, the story of Elsie Church.