The Women of World War II


Photograph 181-MINSYHISTSUBJ-WOMEN1917(1951)-WOM8; Women shipfitters worked on board the USS NEREUS, and are shown as they neared completion of the floor in a part of the engine room.; ca. 1943; Women Workers 1917-1951; Records of Naval Districts and Shore Establishments, Record Group 181; National Archives at San Francisco, San Bruno, CA. Source

Context: This image is from 1943 and depicts five women working in the engine room onboard the USS Nereus.

Icebreaker Prompt: Analyze this image and write down three things that surprise you about this image. Why are these things surprising? Discuss what stood out to you with a partner.

Response: One thing that surprises me is that these women are wearing pants and overalls because during this time period women typically wore dresses. Another thing that surprised me is that there is a Black woman working on the same crew as four white women. This stood out to me because this photo was taken prior to the Civil Rights movement and segregation was still very common. Finally, I noticed that these women are doing mechanic work that would normally be considered a “man’s job” during these era. These anomalies lead me to conclude that the necessity of the war was greater than social norms and as a result women of various backgrounds had access to opportunities and spaces that they would normally have been denied if the men had not been at war.


Cartoon 208-COM-568; It’s Either That, or Time off Until a Day Nursery is Organized; ca. 1943; Artworks and Mockups for Cartoons Promoting the War Effort and Original Sketches by Charles Alston, ca. 1942 – ca. 1945; Records of the Office of War Information, Record Group 208; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. Source

Context: This cartoon is from 1943, the caption at the bottom reads “It’s either that, or time off until a day nursery is organzied!”

Icebreaker Prompt: After looking at this cartoon, brainstorm a list of questions. Rank them in order of interest, with (1) being the question you are most interested in knowing the answer to.

Response: Was the policy on absenteeism unfair to low-income female workers that could not afford childcare? Did female workers organize themselves into any sort of union to make demands such as having a day nursery? What kind of quotas were in place in these jobs – was there punishment or reward for not meeting or exceeding quotas? Were these job sites a dangerous environment for children? Did all female workforces during the war have male leadership/management?

Thought Bubbles

Photograph PHOCO-A-55231(3); Women’s Ambulance Transport Corps. San Diego, California ; 1939-1945; Franklin D. Roosevelt Library Public Domain Photographs, 1882 – 1962; Collection FDR-PHOCO: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library Public Domain Photographs; Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, NY. Source

Context: This photo depicts a WWII female Ambulance Transport Corps completing training in San Diego, California.

Icebreaker Prompt: After looking at the image, what do you think the people in this photograph are thinking or saying?

Response: Officer: “They’re stronger than I thought they would be……” Man in Stretcher: “This isn’t the worst task I’ve volunteered for” Women Carrying Stretcher: “This would be a lot easier if I wasn’t in a skirt”

7 Replies to “The Women of World War II”

  1. This is a really cool post about women who are a part of World War II! I think it highlights the weight that women carried while men were on the battlefield. Gender norms were basically thrown out the window when women had to pick up the work that was left behind by the men.

    1. Hi Angela,

      Thank you! I wanted to show a couple of different industries where women were able to be really hands-on during WWII. Yes, I think that this is a really unique time for gender norms since so many of them were thrown out the window and then came back even more intensely in the 1950s.

  2. Super interesting pictures! I really like the questions you brought up in your second image (the cartoon), and I feel like you could use that to dig deeper into the story behind the image.

    These feel like relevant topics to bring up in an era where women are overtaking men in many economic categories. Could be an opportunity to discuss that social change.

    1. Hi Tyler,

      Thanks for your feedback! Your idea about potentially bridging this topic with current gender trends in the economy is a great one – I hadn’t thought of that when making this post but I think it could be a really great way to make this content more relevant to students.

  3. Maggie, I love the array of images you decided to use in order to depict the female presence in American war efforts. I am quite fond of the comic strip which depicts young children getting in the way of ammunitions creation – what a time to be alive. Also, in your last image, the lady farther to the right seems like she’s bitten off more than she can chew…

    1. Hi Alex,

      Thanks for your comment! I also noticed the lady on the far right, I was tempted to write a line for her as well – she seems pretty shocked with what’s going on!

  4. Great selection of images showcasing the role of women on the homefront in WWII. You might remember in our last class I mentioned the founding of Vanport on the Columbia River. It was designed as housing for the shipyard workers.

    A big player in the development was the Kaiser Company. At that point they were in the shipbuilding business. But the very quickly got into the health and daycare “business” to support their workforce. (That’s why Kaiser Permanente is such a big health care player today.)

    Kaiser became a pioneer in the daycare business in Vanport and drew attention from all over the country – including Eleanor Roosevelt. Very progressive thinking. So much that the daycares were criticized from the right as being socialist or communist.

    More info here “With Mother at the Factory…Oregon’s Child Care Challenges

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