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During World World II, women entered the work force in record numbers to make up for the loss of male labourers. However, the 1950s witnessed a reversal in female labour activities, as many women returned to the home or entered employment in traditionally "female" sectors.
While debates rage over whether or not women's activities in the home count as work, most gender scholars argue that work in the domestic sphere, whether paid or not, counts as a type of job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1950 only 33.9 per cent of American women over 16 years old were employed outside of the home. This statistic underscores that the majority of women in the 1950s worked in the domestic sphere.
Feminist scholar Gail Collins notes in "When Everything Changed: the Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present" that in the 1950s teaching at a K to 12 level was viewed as an acceptable, even respectable, form or women's employment. Moreover, women were quick to fill the demand for more teachers. One of the positive effects of this new trend was that teaching positions often required that women have a higher level of education, and thus this job type helped to elevate women's own educational advancement.
The 1950s marked a historic turning point as women first entered positions in the private sector. Though working largely in administrative positions -- taking jobs as secretaries, receptionists and assistants -- the influx of women into this form of work began to pave the way for future positions of greater authority. According to Catalyst, a non-profit that works on expanding women's business opportunities, women accounted for 13.8 per cent of all administrative-managerial positions in 1950. Offices, however, were often hostile environments for many women, because of strict gender standards and widespread practices of discrimination and harassment.
In the 1950s, women played an important role in medicine, health and healing -- and in particular, nursing. While throughout the 20th century, physicians and surgeons have tended to be positions dominated by men, women have taken positions as doctors' aides, midwives and especially nurses. Like in the education sector, women's work in nursing has generally required advanced training, and thus this form of employment has contributed to women's educational gains.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Changes in Women's Labor Force Participation in the 20th Century
- "When Everything Changed: the Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present"; Gail Collins; 2009
- Catalyst: Women in Management in the United States, 1950 - Present
- George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images