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Women & World War II

Illustration of blonde woman saluting at typewriter

Poster Recruiting Women for the Civilian Work Force


When the United States entered World War II, American women were called on to serve the nation in many ways. Unprecedented numbers of women entered the ranks of factory workers, helping American industry meet the wartime production demands for planes, tanks, ships, and weapons. It was through this aspect of war work that the most famous image of female patriotism in World War II emerged, Rosie the Riveter.

Women Workers in World War II

  • The female labor force grew by 6.5 million.
  • In 1944, 37 percent of all adult women were employed.
  • In 1944, women comprised 35.4 percent of the civilian labor force.
  • In 1945, women comprised 36.1 percent of the civilian labor force.
  • At the height of the war, there were 19,170,000 women in the labor force.
  • Between 1940 and 1945, the female labor force grew by 50 percent.
  • One in ten married women entered the labor force.
  • The percentage of married women working outside the home increased from 13.9 to 22.5.
  • The percentage of working women with children under 10 years of age increased from 7.8 to 12.1 from 1940 to 1944.
  • At the height of the war, women comprised 4 percent of skilled workers.
  • In 1944, skilled female workers made an average weekly wage of $31.21 while skilled male workers earned $54.65 weekly.
  • From 1940 to 1944, the percentage of women workers employed in factories increased from 20 to 30 percent.
  • From 1940 to 1944, the percentage of women workers employed as domestic servants declined from 17.7 to 9.5 percent.
  • Female employment in defense industries grew by 462 percent from 1940 to 1944.
  • Between 1943 and 1945, polls indicated that 61 to 85 percent of women workers wanted to keep their jobs after the war.
  • Between 1943 and 1945, polls indicated that 47 to 68 percent of married women workers wanted to keep their jobs after the war.

Source: Susan M. Hartmann, The Home Front and Beyond: American Women in the 1940s (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982).

 

Additional Readings:

Riveters in green work suits using drills
Riveters at work on fuselage of Liberator bomber ...

Karen Anderson, Wartime Women: Sex Roles, Family Relations, and the Status of Women During World War II (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1982.)

Judy Barrett Litoff and David C. Smith, Since You Went Away: World War II Letters from American Women on the Home Front (Lawrence: University press of Kansas, 1991).

William L. O'Neill, A Democracy at War: America's Fight at Home and Abroad in World War II (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993).




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