Monday, May 20, 2013

Donato: The Powerful Women of the 1940s


Jacqueline Donato
4/25/13
The Powerful Women of the 1940s
After Germany’s defeat in World War 1 they had to agree to the Treaty of Versailles. The Germans were embarrassed, angry and blamed their government. As the German government’s power decreased, the Nazi party and Hitler’s power grew and grew. Hitler allied with Japan and Italy as the Axis of Powers to try and gain world power. With World War 2 starting, America went in isolation in the hope that the Allies, Britain and France would win and they would not have to be a part of it or involved in any way. When the Japanese attacked and bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Roosevelt declared the United States’ entrance into the war. More than a million American men were drafted into the war leaving millions of jobs and families behind. This was a very powerful time for women in history; they took on jobs such as working in the hospitals, radio operations, factories, and the wartime defense industry while continuing to take care of their families and home. Between 1940 and 1945, the female percentage of American workforce went from 27 percent and increased to about 37 percent. By 1945 approximately one out of every four married women worked outside their home. These very important women are known as “Rosie the Riveters.” Rosie the Riveter was a fictional character that represented the women working class in World War 2. Through movies, posters and photographs the Rosie the Riveter propaganda campaign was used to successfully recruit female workers.1 This paper will focus on Rosie the Riveters, the women of the wartime working class during World War 2 and the contributions and efforts they made to end the war.

A 1942 Washington Post article entitled “One-Sixth of Detroit Jobs is expected to go to Women” showed how American employers began to rely on women to keep everything running while the men were in war. The article states that industries could not go on without the participation of women. These jobs included the arms production, electric wiring, repairing airplanes, police officers and drill press operations.2 More than 310,000 women worked in the U.S. aircraft industry in 1943, representing 65 percent of the industry's total workforce.”3 At first companies did not think that there would be a labor shortage, and they did not take the women workers seriously. As more men got drafted into the war these companies started to appreciate the women more.
During the 1930s in the middle class families, the men were the ones who worked and made the income for the family while the woman were mostly stay-at-home wives who kept the house tidy and raised the children. In the lower class communities and minorities most families could not survive on one income resulting in the women having no choice to work. But male and female workers were not treated equally. Women faced discrimination in the workplace. They were expected to have only pink collar jobs such as a teacher, nurse or a secretary but when America declared war gender inequalities still persisted but everything changed.
According to Ambrose, “When men left, women “became proficient cooks and housekeepers, managed the finances, learned to fix the car, worked in a defense plant, and wrote letters to their soldier husbands that were consistently upbeat.”4 However, even though female workers took on the same jobs as men, they did not get paid the same wages. In fact they rarely earned more than fifty percent of male salaries.5 Despite this unequal pay, Rosie the Riveters appreciated the feeling that their contributions in the workplace were wanted and needed by their country. An aircraft worker once said, “It was the first time in my life that I had the chance to prove that I could do something, and I did.”6
Women did not just participate by being nurses and working in munitions factories. Other “Rosie’s” served in the armed forces and as Air Force pilots. The 350,000 female members of the armed forces called themselves, “Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps” or WAC. In 1945, there were approximately 100,000 or more WACs and 6,000 female officers. In the Navy, members of the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, also known as WAVES, had the same importance as naval soldiers. Another role that women played in the fight to win and end the war was Women’s Air-force Service Pilots (WASPs). More than 1,000 of these female pilots served in the war and 38 lost their lives. These courageous women were the first females to fly American military airplanes. They transported aircrafts from the factories to the military bases, bringing goods. They traveled more than 60 million miles in flight distances and freed thousands of male American pilots.7
After the war ended however, the women were forced back to being a stay-at-home wife as quick as Rosie the Riveters in the defense industry were forced to vacate the men’s jobs. The reasons why “Rosie the Riveter” disappeared was because they were forced by their employers, husbands, and returning war veterans to step aside from their temporary jobs and allow men to return to the workplace. If their husband’s or father’s income could provide enough money to support their family most women returned to take care of homes and children. If a couple needed two incomes women often chose to work in pink collar jobs such as waitressing, beauty shops and other services. According to the New York Times, “the employment for women in all types of work has decreased by more than 4 million since last July, or dropped from about 19 million to around 15 million”.8
In conclusion, the Rosie the Riveter propaganda campaign was and is the biggest symbol of the women wartime workers who had a vital role and highly contributed to the victory of World War 2. Without these powerful women in the defense industry, the material and military needs of American and Allied soldiers would not have been met so quickly and successfully to win the war. The famous pictures of the fictional character Rosie was always tough and ready to face anything that came her way. The pictorial form of Rosie was a symbol of inspiration and strength to women in the wartime workforce in the 1940s. Rosie made women believe that they could take on tough jobs because they were tough women. These women were an asset to their country and their families. They were a big part of the war effort at home, provided economic support for their family and took care of the household at the same time after their husbands, brothers and sons got drafted. The famous quote “We can do it” displays that Rosie was proud to be able to serve her country in any way she could. Rosie served as a nurse to care the soldiers who were injured, she built the guns used by the soldiers to defeat the enemy and she repaired airplanes and even flew them out to the soldiers to transport good and so that they always one to escape to or to find the enemy at a high view. These hard working women live on in history, and a popular song from the 1940s that proclaimed, “All the day long whether rain or shine she’s a part of the assemble line, she’s making history, working for victory, Rosie the riveter.”9

1 www.history.com. 1996-2013. http://www.history.com/topics/rosie-the-riveter (accessed 4 25, 2013).


2 Wilkie, David J. "One-sixth of detroit war jobs is expected to go to women." The Washington Post (1923-1954), 1942.

3 www.history.com. 1996-2013. http://www.history.com/topics/rosie-the-riveter (accessed 4 25, 2013).


4 Freedman, Russell. ""ROSIE THE RIVETER Women Working on the Home Front in World War II. By Penny Caiman. Illustrated. 120 Pp. New York: Crown Publishers. $16. (Ages 9 and Up): V IS FOR VICTORY America Remembers World War II. By Kathleen Krull. Illustrated. 116 Pp. New York:." New York Times, 1995.


5 www.history.com. 1996-2013. http://www.history.com/topics/rosie-the-riveter (accessed 4 25, 2013).


6 Miller, Frieda S. "What’s become of Rosie the Riveter?" New York Times (1923-Current File), 1946.


7 www.history.com. 1996-2013. http://www.history.com/topics/rosie-the-riveter (accessed 4 25, 2013).


8 Miller, Frieda S. "What’s become of Rosie the Riveter?" New York Times (1923-Current File), 1946.


9 In We can do it! A Rosie the Riveter story, a biography of my Mom, by G. Sagmiller, 9. Freedom of Speech Publishing, 2011.

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