The Glenn L. Martin
Maryland Aviation Museum
Rosie and the Martin Company
Because world wars were total wars which required governments to utilize their entire populations for the purpose of defeating their enemies, millions of women were encouraged to work in industry and take over jobs previously done by men. During World War I women across the United States were employed in jobs previously done by men. World War II was similar to World War I in that massive conscription of men led to a shortage of available workers and therefore a demand for labor which could only be fully filled by employing women.
Nearly 19 million women held jobs during World War II. Many of these women were already working in a lower paying job or were returning to the work force after being laid off during the depression. Only three million new female workers entered the workforce during the time of the war. Although most women took on male dominated trades during World War II, they were expected to return to their everyday housework once men returned from the war. Government campaigns targeting women were addressed solely at housewives, likely because already-employed women would move to the higher-paid "essential" jobs on their own, or perhaps because it was
assumed that most would be housewives. One government advertisement asked women: "Can you use an electric mixer? If so, you can learn to operate a drill.":160 Propaganda was also directed at their husbands, many of whom were unwilling to support such jobs. Many of the women who took jobs during World War II were mothers. These women with children at home pooled together in their efforts to raise their families. They assembled into groups and shared such chores as cooking, cleaning and washing clothes. Many who did have young children shared apartments and houses so they could save time, money, utilities and food. If they both worked, they worked different shifts so they could take turns babysitting. Taking on a job during World War II made people unsure if they should urge the women to keep acting as full-time mothers, or support them getting jobs to support the country in this time of need. Being able to support the soldiers by making all different products made the women feel very accomplished and proud of their work. Over 6 million women got war jobs; African American, Hispanic, White, and Asian women worked side by side. In the book A Mouthful of Rivets Vi Kirstine Vrooman shares about the time when she decided to take action and become a riveter. She got a job building B-17s on a assembly line, she shares just how exciting it was saying, ‘The biggest thrill — I can’t tell you — was when the B-17s rolled off the assembly line. You can’t believe the feeling we had. We did it!” Once women accepted the challenge of the workforce they continued to make strong advances towards equal rights.
In 1944, when victory seemed assured for the United States, government-sponsored propaganda changed by urging women back to working in the home. Later, many women returned to traditional work such as clerical or administration positions, despite their reluctance to re-enter the lower-paying fields. However, some of these women continued working in the factories. The overall percentage of women working fell from 36% to 28% in 1947.