History of Campbell County, Tennessee
 

Time Line

AMERICAN WOMEN DURING WORLD WAR II

By Dallas Bogan

Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. 

     The demand put on American industry by the war machine was massive. With some ten million men at war and the rest of the male population at work, it was clear the only way America would be able to win the war was if it enlisted large numbers of women for employment. America desired its women to go to work to build the planes, tanks, and ships needed to fight Hitler. World War II, more so than any other war, was a war based on production, the solution, it was time to bring American women into industry.

     So the government teamed up with industry, the media, and women's organizations in an effort to urge them to join the labor force: their agenda: telling women it was their "patriotic duty" to go to work. But loyalty to the Nation was not the only incentive that the War Manpower Commission used to lure women into the workforce. The plan for many recruitment programs used the idea of increased economic prosperity to attract women into the workforce. In fact some posters went so far as to glamorize war work, as well as stress the importance women working in non-traditional jobs.

     Still much of the misinformation of the time exercised emotional appeal paired with patriotism. Women were constantly being reminded that their husbands, sons, and brothers were in danger because they were not receiving the supplies they needed. Slogans such as "Victory is in Your Hands," "We can do it!" And "Women the war needs you!" were all used to convince women that their country's need were more important than their individual comfort.

     As a result of the propaganda American women, whether patriotism, economic benefits, independence, social contact, or requirements motivated them, joined the workforce at never before seen rates. In July 1944, when the war was at its peak over 19 million women were employed in the United States, more than ever before.

     But applying for a job was not necessarily as easy as it appeared to be. While their boys were fighting for equality and human rights abroad, American women were getting discriminated against at home. Though women were turning out for jobs at alarming rates, many employers refused to hire them, even though they had met labor requirements. Some employers out rightly refused to hire women, while others set unreasonably low hiring quotas for women. Still some agreed to employee women, yet they refused to offer them jobs previously "assigned to men." These procedures left women feeling very confused as to how America wanted its women to behave. Most people believed that men should be the sole breadwinner in the family, and as a result women were among the last hired in the early stages of the war.

     Though several million women were hired, they were not necessarily treated the same as their male counterparts. In 1942, the National War Labor Board (NWLB) attempted to erase some of the long standing inequalities in women's pay, when they decided to employ an equal pay principle. According to the NWLB, women would be paid the same as men for the same or comparable work. However, these standards were seldomly enforced. Most employers thought that the traditional women's pay scale was acceptable, and some reasoned there was no need to make women's pay comparable to men's. Why? Because women's work was easier. But this was far from the case. Women who joined the labor force as a result of World War II were often referred to as "production soldiers." Their standard workweek was 48 hours, though many women frequently worked overtime, Sunday was their only day off, and most vacations and holidays were cancelled.
Though a popular example of a wartime woman worker "Rosie" did more than just "rivet." Women of all ages operated large cranes, which were used to move heavy tanks and artillery. Some women loaded and fired machine guns and other weapons to make sure they worked. Other women operated hydraulic presses, while some worked as volunteer fire fighters. Some women, who formerly worked as saleswomen, maids, or waitresses, took over more essential jobs such as welders, riveters, drill press operators, and taxi cab drivers. Women found themselves participating in every aspect of the war industry from making military clothing to building fighter jets, American women worked day and night.

Time Line



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