Women and World War II

How Women's Lives Changed in World War II

Home Front Women Workers/Assembly Line
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 not only some liberating effects, as women take new roles.  War also results in special degradation of women, as victims of sexual violence.

Around the World

While many of the resources on the Internet, and on this site, address American women, they were by no means unique in being affected by and playing key 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, Jewish women and the Holocaust, for example). In other ways, there were either somewhat similar or parallel experiences (British, Soviet, and American women pilots). In still other ways, experience crossed borders and characterized the experience in most parts of the war-affected world (dealing with rationing and shortages, for instance).

American Women at Home and at 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.

Women were among those held in internment camps by the United States for being of Japanese descent.

  • Japanese Internment in the U.S.

American Women in the Military

In the military, women were excluded from combat duty, so women were called on to fill some 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 were pacifists, some opposed their country’s side, some cooperated with invaders.

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.

    An 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, Aug. 29, 2016, thoughtco.com/women-and-world-war-ii-3530687. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2016, August 29). 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 November 21, 2017).