The 1940s -- and especially the first half of the decade -- brought a massive change to the role of women in American society. Not only did women enter the production process, but the whole perception on the capabilities of the so-called "weak gender" altered. Despite the fact that the change was short-lived, according to the National Park Service, the road taken by women in the 1940s continued into the future.
Women in the Workforce
Working women were not an alien spectacle in the American society. According to numbers of the National Park Service, by late 1941, 14 million women constituted one quarter of the nation's workforce. The Second World War was a pivotal event for women's establishment as an equal part of the workforce. Men entered military service, leaving a high number of jobs vacant which women had to cover. By the end of the war, the number of employed women had risen to 18 million, one third of the total workforce.
Contribution to War Effort
Direct involvement of women in military operations in the European and East Asian theatre of the war was limited. However, the nation's female population played a decisive role in wartime production, ensuring the smooth transition to a war economy. For example, according to data in Susan Hartmann's "The Home Front and Beyond," between 1940 and 1944, the percentage of women workers employed in factories increased from 20 to 30 per cent, while percentage of those employed as domestic servants declined from 17.7 to 9.5 per cent.
Women Becoming Sports Heroes
Another predominantly "male" sector where women had a major breakthrough during the 1940s was sports. As Lone Star College librarian Sue Goodwin mentions, all able-bodied men between 18 and 26 were expected to serve in the military, while rubber and wood went to the war effort, leading to shortages of players and equipment. A prominent example of women's central role in the war years was the formation of the All-American Girls Baseball League, lasting from 1943 to 1954.
Second Half of the Decade
Many women remained in the workforce after the end of the war, but men returning from the battleground had to resume their work. Therefore, a number of women were laid off or took up lower-paying "female" jobs, such as domestic workers, secretaries and clerical workers. In addition, as the National Park Service suggests, the change in the image of women was only temporary and most women returned to their home-keeping duties. "Rosie the Riveter," first featured in the song of the same name by R. Evans and J. Loeb in 1943 and depicted as a tireless female assembly line worker in posters and magazines, was no longer the dominant paradigm.
- National Park Service: Rosie the Riveter -- Women Working During World War II
- Metropolitan State College of Denver: Women and World War II
- Lone Star College; American Cultural History -- 1940 - 1949; Sue Goodwin; July 2009
- All-American Girls Professional Baseball League: Home
- Library of Congress; Rosie the Riveter: Real Women Workers in World War II; Sheridan Harvey
- McNeill/Valueline/Getty Images