Prior to World War II, women were mainly homemakers, and if they worked outside of the home, they held positions as secretaries and store clerks.
When the United States entered World War II, men went off to war and left millions of jobs on the home front behind. These jobs were picked up and filled by the millions of women who were proud to serve their country at home. Learn about the women who served both at home and abroad.
When the men of America left for war, the women at home stepped up to the plate to keep not only their homes and America running, but also the United States Military.
Women Step In
Though women had been entering the work force since the Great Depression, when the United States entered World War II, jobs opened up to women like never before. Once the war effort was put into place, women stepped into workforce gap that had been left vacant when their men went to war. Industries switched over to produce materials and resources for the war effort, and women filled the positions to build and produce. Women worked in the aircraft industry, munitions industry, and more.
Movies, newspapers, posters, and more stressed the need for women to enter the workforce. It is from these campaigns that we get Rosie the Riveter and We Need You.
Earning their Place
Even though workers were needed to fill in the gaps left by men leaving for war, women proved that they could not only do the same jobs that men did, but in some instances, they did the job better. The US Department of Labor stated that, while examining the number of holes drilled per day in the aircraft manufacturing industry, a man drilled 650 holes per day, while women drilled about 1,000 holes. It was also noted that women were more detailed oriented, not letting something leave the manufacturing floor unless it was right.
Victory Gardens and More
Beyond working in the factories and joining military efforts, women played an important role on the home front to support the war effort. Women planted victory gardens, which not only supplemented rations at home but also boosted morale by allowing the gardeners to feel impowered. Women also sold war bonds, donated blood, salvaged commodities needed oversees, and sending care packages to the 'boys' serving overseas.
During World War II, around 350,000 women served in the military. And while most women took on clerical duties and nursing jobs, women also served outside of the traditional roles. The motto of these women was to free up a man to fight.
Women's Army Corps
Women who served in the Women's Army Corps held full military status and worked in non-combat rolls both stateside and in every theater of the war. By 1945, there were more than 100,000 serving in the WAC with 6,000 women serving as officers. In addition to clerical duties and nursing jobs, women also served as truck drivers, radio operators, engineers, photographers, and non-combat pilots.
Women also served in the Navy as reservists serving stateside, as well as the Coast Guard and the Marine Corps, though their numbers were smaller than those of the Army's.
On March 10, 2010, the women of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) received the Congressional Gold Medal for their service during World War II.
These women played a critical role in the war effort, becoming the first women to fly American military aircraft. They ferried planes from factories to bases, transported cargo, and participated in simulation strafing and target missions. They accumulated more than 60 million miles in flight distance, allowing thousands of male pilots to serve as active duty pilots.
More than 1,000 women served as WASPs, with 38 losing their lives during the war. WASPs were considered civil service employees and did not receive full military status until 1977.
From the United States National Archives comes this collection of materials documenting America on the Homefront. This collection includes rationing and controlling prices, defending the Homefront, wartime research and development, and war work and the role of women.
The National Archives' "Unwritten Record" explores how women served their country through various war efforts, both at home and abroad.
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