Women and World War II

The Effect of World War II on Women's Lives

Home Front Women Workers/Assembly Line
Bettmann/Getty Images

Women's lives changed in many ways during World War II. As with most wars, many women found their roles and opportunities—and responsibilities—expanded. As Doris Weatherford wrote, “War holds many ironies, and among them is its liberating effect on women.” But the war also results in the special degradation of women, as victims of sexual violence.

Around the World

While many of the resources on this topic address American women specifically, Americans were by no means unique in being affected by and playing critical roles in the war. Women in other Allied and Axis countries were also affected. Some ways in which women were affected were specific and unusual: the "comfort women" of China and Korea and the extermination and suffering of Jewish women in the Holocaust, for example. Women were among those held in internment camps by the United States for being of Japanese descent.

In other ways, there were similar or parallel global experiences: the advent of British, Soviet, and American women pilots or the worldwide home-makers' burden of coping with wartime rationing and shortages, for example.

American Women at Home and Work

Husbands went to war or went to work in factories in other parts of the country, and the wives had to pick up their husbands' responsibilities. With fewer men in the workforce, women filled more traditionally male jobs.

Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady, served during the war as the “eyes and ears” for her husband, whose ability to travel widely was impacted by his disability after he’d contracted polio in 1921.

American Women and the Military

In the military, women were excluded from combat duty, so women were called on to fill some military jobs that men had performed, to free men for combat duty. Some of those jobs took women near or into combat zones, and sometimes combat came to civilian areas, so some women died. Special divisions for women were created in most of the military branches.

More Roles

Some women, American and others, are known for their roles resisting the war. Some of these women were pacifists, some opposed their country’s side, and some cooperated with invaders.

  • World War II: Women Spies, Traitors, Pacifists, and War Opponents
  • Tokyo Rose: imprisoned for treason, eventually cleared, pardoned in 1977
  • Josephine Baker

Celebrities were used on all sides as propaganda figures. A few used their celebrity status to work to raise funds or even to work in the underground.

For further exploration, see the excellent read on the topic: Doris Weatherford’s American Women and World War II.

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Women and World War II." ThoughtCo, Sep. 1, 2021, thoughtco.com/women-and-world-war-ii-3530687. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2021, September 1). Women and World War II. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/women-and-world-war-ii-3530687 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Women and World War II." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/women-and-world-war-ii-3530687 (accessed May 29, 2023).