Several Madnesses Are Born:
More than seven million women who had not been wage earners before the war joined eleven million women already in the American work force. Between andan untold number moved away from their hometowns to take advantage of wartime opportunities, but many more remained in place, organizing home front initiatives to conserve resources, to build morale, to raise funds, and to fill jobs left by men who entered military service.
Social mores were tested by the demands of war, allowing women to benefit from the shifts and make alterations of their own. Yet dominant gender norms provided ways to maintain social order amidst fast-paced change, and when some women challenged these norms, they faced harsh criticism.
Race, class, sexuality, age, religion, education, and region of birth, among other factors, combined to limit opportunities for some women while expanding them for others. However temporary and unprecedented the wartime crisis, American women would find that their individual and collective experiences from to prevented them from stepping back into a prewar social and economic structure.
By stretching and reshaping gender norms and roles, World War II and the women who lived it laid solid foundations for the various civil rights movements that would sweep the United States and grip the American imagination in the second half of the 20th century.
In each of these arenas, women exercised initiative, autonomy, circumspection, caution, or discretion according to their individual needs and the dictates of patriotic duty.
Wage Work and Opportunity Economic opportunities abounded for women willing and able to seize them.
Wage work in war industries offered hourly pay rates much higher than those to which most women had been accustomed, with the best wages paid in munitions plants and the aircraft industry.
The WMC also identified one hundred U. The main targets were local married women who already lived in the designated metropolitan areas, including middle-aged and older individuals who had never worked outside their homes or whose experience was limited to domestic work. Madison Avenue advertising agencies designed and produced a variety of propaganda campaigns for the U.
Employment Service offices coordinated efforts to place women in jobs best suited to their skills and family needs. Mothers with children under fourteen were encouraged not to seek employment outside their homes unless other family members or trusted neighbors could offer reliable childcare.
Several corporations with U. Constance Bowman, a schoolteacher who spent the summer of working in a San Diego B bomber factory, earned 68 cents an hour. Department of Labor sent field representatives to factories throughout the country to scrutinize working conditions.
The WB urged factories to adopt rules about head coverings as well as safety shoes and slacks. Such comfort packages would not merely attract employees but also keep them content and more likely to stay after they had been hired. Very few grocery and department store owners chose to accommodate women who needed to do their shopping in the late evening or night hours.
They endured racial slurs and physical attacks in factories, and disproportionately filled the lowest-paid and least appealing jobs, including janitorial work. The Fair Employment Practices Committee FEPC —created by Executive Order in to address racial discrimination in industry—lacked the funds to handle the wave of complaints engendered by rapid wartime mobilization.
When FEPC cases faced delays, black women searching for work or seeking promotions in their current jobs suffered the most.
But women of color, like all American women, found their greatest challenge to be reconciling home life and work life during the war years. Beyond riveting and welding, other tasks required even more hands and minds nationwide. The United States needed farm laborers, telephone operators, laundry workers, food servers, and bus drivers.
And while women had filled clerical positions for nearly half a century in the United States, the war accelerated the trend. Women took certain places as men vacated them, with the U. The expanding bureaucratic structure of war was matched by private sector growth, where American businesses were forced to open their doors and offices to female employees.
With the military draft taking its share of male, middle-class clerks and salesmen, openings for women abounded in the consumer economy.The wonderful needs faced by the United States during World War II created numerous new social and economic opportunities for American women. Both society as a whole and the United States military found an increasing number of roles for women.
Only mobilization for a world war would bring an end to the most devastating economic crisis in United States history. Revving Up a Wartime Economy In late , a full two years before the United States entered World War II, President Franklin D.
Roosevelt decided it would be necessary—and perhaps wise—to invest time and money into . For working-class women prior to World War II, marriage to a union man represented a positive step in status.
By the end of World War II, organized labor had rewarded members with opportunities in leadership and with favorable contract agreements. "The Situation of Women," in The Capitalist System: A Radical Analysis of American Society. As women entered the labor force in increasing numbers during the war, many problems arose.
Childcare, housework, and transportation were all left up to the working woman. This resulted in many women quitting their jobs to take care of these domestic responsibilities ("Women Lagging in War Effort," 24). Despite the steep increase in the number of women in the labor force, national support for working women, and federally mandated support services for mothers such as daycare, health insurance with maternity benefits, and a guaranteed annual wage, World War II didn't thoroughly transform the workplace for women.
The iconic image of women in World War II is Rosie the Riveter, a made-up character in a poster promoting the need for women to step into manufacturing jobs vacated by men.