Women and World War II: Women at Work

1943 World War II Poster

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

During World War II the percentage of American women who worked outside the home at paying work increased from 25% to 36%. More married women, more mothers, and more minority women found jobs than had before the war.

Career Opportunities

Because of the absence of many men who either joined the military or took jobs in war production industries, some women moved outside their traditional roles and took positions in jobs usually reserved for men. Propaganda posters with images like "Rosie the Riveter" promoted the idea that it was patriotic—and not unfeminine—for women to work in non-traditional jobs. "If you've used an electric mixer in your kitchen, you can learn to run a drill press," urged an American War Manpower Campaign. As one example in the American shipbuilding industry, where women had been excluded from almost all jobs except a few office jobs before the war, women's presence went to over 9% of the workforce during the war.

Thousands of women moved to Washington, DC, to take government office and support jobs. There were many jobs for women at Los Alamos and Oak Ridge, as the US explored nuclear weapons. Minority women benefited from the June 1941, Executive Order 8802, issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, after A. Philip Randolph threatened a march on Washington to protest racial discrimination.

The shortage of male workers led to opportunities for women in other non-traditional fields. The All-American Girls Baseball League was created during this period and reflected the shortage of male baseball players in the major league.

Changes to Childcare

The large increase in the presence of women in the workforce also meant that those who were mothers had to deal with issues like childcare—finding quality childcare, and dealing with getting the children to and from the "day nursery" before and after work—and were often still primary or solo homemakers, dealing with the same rationing and other issues other women at home faced.

In cities like London, these changes at home were in addition to dealing with bombing raids and other wartime threats. When combat came to areas where civilians lived, it often largely fell to women to protect their families—children, the elderly—or to take them to safety and to continue to provide food and shelter during the emergency.

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Women and World War II: Women at Work." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/world-war-ii-women-at-work-3530690. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2021, February 16). Women and World War II: Women at Work. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/world-war-ii-women-at-work-3530690 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Women and World War II: Women at Work." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/world-war-ii-women-at-work-3530690 (accessed June 10, 2023).