The United States of America is a bilateral, two-sided, society. Each gender has responsibilities that ensure the proper functioning of society from family unit to countrywide order. This splitting of duties has hardly resulted in equality among the genders. World War II was a turning point for women in America. Women entered the workforce like never before. Women felt equal until the war ended and they had to return to the ‘weak’ image perpetuated by American society. The taste of work in the 1940s lit the revolutionary fire of women entering the workforce and planted the seeds for the feminist movement of the 1970s.
During the United States’ Great Depression of the 1930s, the government encouraged American women to stay home and refrain from taking a job away from a man. When World War II began, the United States government campaigned to call on the American woman to enter the workforce and support the war effort (Kaufman, 25). American women answered the call full force.
Women worked in factories as Rosie the Riveters producing tanks, guns, artillery, warships and ammunition (Lockhart & Pergande, 155). They joined the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) and flew in noncombat military missions. The Women Army Corps (WACs) took up noncombat related Army jobs to relieve male soldiers for combat duty. The Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES) took part in going overseas and tending to wounded among other duties. Women also made up the majority of the United Service Organizations (USO) in providing entertainment and relief for soldiers on the home front and overseas (Lockhart & Pergande, 155). American women also replaced men in other industries and civil servants positions freeing men for combat.
During World War II, women were a valuable necessity in American society. The country could not produce the necessary goods or operate without the effort and support of the American women. In 1920, only 20percent of the labor force was women. In 1945, women accounted for 36 percent of the labor force (Kaufman, 25). At the end of World War II, “six million women had entered the labor force for the first time (Kaufman, 25).” For one shining instance in history, women were equal to their male counterparts.
The sense of equality did not last long. After World War II ended, the campaigns calling women to work began telling women to go home. Businesses told women to return home and begin spending their husband’s wages again rather than be wage earners themselves. Many women lost jobs they would have preferred to continue working and many companies reinstated prewar policies against hiring married women (Kaufman, 25). This sudden return to prewar standards did not sit well with most American women who once thought home making was their only option. Mothers began telling their daughters “You don’t have to be just a homemaker. You can be anything you want to be” (Kaufman, 25). This began the gears turning toward the feminist movement of the 1970s.
While the 1950s were a booming time for the United States, it also sped up the already increasing cost of living. This increased need for more family income and the earlier taste women had of professional life n the 1940s, set in motion a new world order for American women. In 1963, legislation for the rights of working women originated with President Kennedy’s commission on the Status of Women and the creation of the Equal Pay Act. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act passed including Title VII that asserted sex as a protected category of human rights in the United States for the first time (Cady, 354).
In a half a decade, women went from discouraged to work outside the home in the 1930s to legally encouraged to pursue professional endeavors in the 1970s. Educational opportunities extended to women in the 1970s with the passing of Title IX. By 1978, over half of all families had two incomes compared to only one third in the 1950s (Cady, 363). Today, in the 2000s, women have come a long way thanks to the predecessors.
In the American society of today, women are mothers and professionals at once. Glass ceilings do still exist and obstacles are not obsolete. Equal pay is still not a fact but becoming achievable. Women can apply for any job they choose and earn any position they have the skills to do. Women can attend college and take courses without restriction. Were it not for the World War II women workers and their feminist daughters of the 1970s women today would not have these opportunities. Even those glass ceilings still in place will crack under the pressure of determined women.
Cady, Kathryn A. “Labor and Women’s Liberation: Popular Readings of The Feminine
Mystique.” Women’s Studies in Communication 32.3 (2009): 348-380. ProQuest. Web. 13 August 2010.
Kaufman, Pat. “Rosie the Riveter Remembers.” Magazine of History 16.3 (2002): 25-30.
Proquest. Web. 13 August 2010.
Lockhart, Nikki., &Pergande, Jenna. “Women Who Answered the Call: World War II as a
Turning Point for Women in the Workforce.” Journal of Women’s History 13.2 (2001): 154-158. Proquest. Web. 13 August 2010.