By Riley Spear
Women played a large role in helping the United States throughout World War II. With men being called from every home to come serve on the battlefields, it allowed women to enter the labor force and have opportunities in the military. The New York Times, on November 23, 1942, said, “Women want a real role to play in the planning of tomorrow.” Not only did they give their time in the home, but abroad as well.
Prior to the women’s commitment to serve in the workforce and military, The Utah Chronicle on November 25, 1942, stated there would be university classes offered to teach women certain techniques in case they were ever needed for combat. These classes included rigorous training such as wrestling, crawling through barrels, and other conditioning activities. This class excited and prepared women for their future job opportunities. Many superiors were thrilled at the chance to teach this class because it was a step toward changing the gender stereotype. Pathfinder magazine reported training classes continued to be held across the states for women in their late teens, to early forties. The training preparation classes were receiving positive feedback, and genuinely helping women in their future job roles they would pursue to help the war cause.
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a moment in history where all citizens had to come together as a team in order to survive the war, and women were prepared to give their aid. The Utah Chronicle, on December 3, 1942, reported that the war was asking for University of Utah women with scientific training such as engineering, physics, chemistry, mathematics and accounting. The need for help was dire, and it was urgent women were made aware of their need. The War Manpower Commission posted an advertisement that read, “Longing won’t bring him back sooner…GET A WAR JOB,” in order to encourage women to help. Posters such as these motivated women to serve their country and also help their men. Women responded, coming to serve in the country as industrial workers, and abroad filling the gaping hole in the U.S. labor force.
In San Diego, CLICK Magazine reported on February 1, 1944, “Women were becoming letter carriers, bus drivers, high altitude window washers, milk deliverers, and office workers.” An assortment of positions were left vacant and women were fulfilling them without hesitation. The American Magazine wrote an issue in January 1943 on a young women named Dorothy Vogley. When the war called for women employees she seized an opportunity at Timken Rolling Bearing Co. as a testing machine operator. “At first,” noted the article, “the strange hours put her at odds end with the world, but now she believes working in the war industry has made her a new, more self-reliant person.” (p. 11) The war was able to offer women a chance to prove their worth, and spread awareness that women were capable. In some cases, such as Vogley’s, it was also a realization and an inspiration to other women.
Women’s involvement in the war was a huge turning for the United States, and in gender stereotypes. “The war may have demonstrated to employers that women could function well in jobs that had previously been male domains,” wrote Claudia D. Golding in her research article “The Role of World War II in the Rise of Women’s Employment.” After the war, and when men returned, many women were forced out of their jobs. However, within five years the percentage of women in the labor force increased dramatically. Golding’s data prove that during wartime 24.7 percent of the labor force participation rates were made up of women, and by 1950, five years after the war had ended, it increased to 26 percent. This demonstrates the determination and perseverance women continued to strive for during and following the war.
The Utah Chronicle on December 3, 1942, reported, “Women are needed, and the time is past stereotypes.” It is hard to see light in horrible sequences of events such as war. However, women took it by the reigns and demonstrated their worth, and value. The U.S. would have suffered greatly without the hard work women gave in all fields of occupations. The recognition deserved for their performance is endless. “This is a women’s war as well as a man’s,” said Oveta Culp Hobby, director of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, in the 1942 New York Times story.
Riley Spear is a senior at the University of Utah. She is studying journalism and will graduate in spring 2019.
Advertisement for women workers, Office for the War Manpower Commission, 1944.
“San Diego: A Woman’s Town,” Click, February 1, 1944.
“Girl on the Midnight Shift,” American, January 1943.
“Amazons of Aberdeen,” Pathfinder, July 1942.
“7,000,000 Women Workers Seen in War Plants before Peace Comes,” New York Times, November 23, 1942, 1.
“Coed Commandos Out to Win War and Men,” Utah Chronicle, November 24, 1942, 4.
“Dean of Women Lists Coed Opportunities,” Utah Chronicle, December 3, 1942, 3.
Golden, Claudia. “The Role of World War II in the Rise of Women’s Employment,” American Economic Review 81, no. 4 (September 1991): 741-56.