At the mention of war, what comes to mind is the participation of men. However, that is not entirely the case as women have also been playing roles during times of wars. During World War II, for instance, women got a chance to do what previously had not been open for them. They entered jobs that had previously been dominated by men. They faced many challenges in overcoming the cultural labels against working women. Besides the stereotypes, the women also had to find time for childcare which was usually insufficient during working hours, and a minor portion of the women endured the prejudice and displacement that took place during those years.
American Women Working During World War II
This was not the first time American women were working outside the home, much as it has been said so. Before the war, a quarter of women worked outside of the home. Majorly, their pay from labor was limited to what would be considered as “traditionally feminine” jobs like sewing and typing. Still, once you had a child or got married, you were expected to leave the labor force, as a woman.
Between the years 1940-1945, it is estimated that almost five million women joined the workforce. Their type of work had changed when as the volume of the work. This was due to the gap that departing soldiers had created in the labor force after they left for the war. This included jobs in the factories and defense plants all over the country. By 1943, the number of women in the aircraft industry outweighed that of men. It is important to note that women received far much less than what their male counterparts received for the same jobs but achieved some level of financial independence which was enticing. They were placed in factories and other office jobs, with only a few being placed in the defense industry.
In the war, more than 350,000 women worked as nurses, some repaired airplanes, drove trucks while some worked as clerks to let the men be free for combat. Others worked as engineers and chemists who developed weapons to be used for the war. Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, commonly referred to as WASPs would fly airplanes from military bases to factories and vice versa. Some would be held prisoners of war while others were killed. More than one thousand six hundred female nurses were decorated for their courage when they were under fire.
As stated earlier, women faced a myriad of difficulties during World War II, the biggest one being balancing motherhood with their work. The then First Lady of the United States Eleanor Roosevelt convinced her husband Franklin Roosevelt to approve childcare facilities under the Community Facilities Act of 142. These would be the first-ever facilities. They were seven of them handling close to 105,000 children. These efforts, however, did not fully meet the needs they were meant to.
After the war, many worried that men coming back would reclaim their spots and knock off the women from the jobs. Many were laid off, but their participation in the workforce rekindled in later years.
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