Arsenal for Democracy
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The Martin Bomber Plant:
Women in the Workforce

We Can Do It poster
"We Can Do It!" by J. Howard Miller produced for the War Production
Co-Ordinating Committee.
A multitude of new jobs were created with the beginning of World War II. The tools of war had to be manufactured, and the defense factories were in desperate need of laborers. Women now had the opportunity to become part of the work force. Before the war, it was uncommon for women to work outside the home. During the war, about half of all American women worked outside their homes. The work of women during World War II proved that they could be trained to do the same industrial work as men. The number of working women rose from 14.6-million in 1941 to 19.4 million in 1944.

Women were motivated not only by patriotism and the desire for high wages, but by the sense of community they gained from participation in a huge undertaking. Without their labors, the U.S. war economy would never have been able to produce the military hardware needed to win the war. Their presence in the workplace sparked the beginning of a change not only in the working roles of men and women, but in the living styles and home duties of both sexes.

Grand Island Worker
When women went to work at the Ordnance Plant in Grand Island, Nebraska, officials documented their first days.
See the slide show here.

When the war ended, so did the military careers of millions of U.S. servicemen. Women, nationally and in Omaha, had given up their time and consumer goods during the war for their men, now they gave up their jobs. Most returned to their previous low-paying jobs, were fired, or returned to their household duties. The prevailing attitude was that women needed to return to their homes, raise children, and keep house.

But, the seed had been planted during the war that the possibility of paid employment outside the home existed for women. The women who worked during World War II, opened the door so that succeeding generations of women could enter the industrial work force and be successful. Women hadn't hit the glass ceiling yet. They were just entering the ground floor.