When the United States entered World War II after the 1941 attacks on Pearl Harbor, men shipped overseas by the millions to serve in the war. This left many of the civilian and military jobs on the home front unfilled—and that's when women stepped in.
Before the war, some women worked in traditionally female-dominated positions, such as secretaries, store clerks and receptionists, but were otherwise rarely seen in the work force. With the labor force's high war-time demands, an estimated six million women started working in fields previously closed to them.
A U.S. government ad campaign to encourage women to enter the workforce featured a fictional icon "Rosie the Riveter," with the words, "We Can Do It!" U.S. women answered the call. By 1945, nearly one out of four married women was working outside the home.
Women labored in construction, drove trucks, cut lumber and worked on farms. They worked in factories, building munitions, planes, trains and ships. Nearly 350,000 American women also served in uniform, through clerical jobs, nursing and as part of the Women's Air Force Service Pilots (WASP), the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, the Navy Women’s Reserve (WAVES), the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve (SPARS), the Army Nurses Corps and the Navy Nurse Corps..
Since there was a war to cover—and fewer available men to cover it—the media world also presented opportunities to women as journalists, photographers, and broadcasters. Through the course of the war, the overall share of women in the U.S. workforce jumped from 27 to 37 percent.
While women's contributions during the war were essential—they weren't always treated fairly. Women workers often faced discrimination and harassment in the workplace, and they rarely took home more than half of what their male counterparts earned.
The call for working women was intended to only apply during the war. At the war’s end, even though many women wanted to keep their jobs, many were forced out by men returning home. Some women left their posts with new skills and confidence, while others sought ways to remain. Those who did were often demoted.
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Still, the wartime shift into the workplace had offered women the opportunity to prove their capabilities. A newly empowered league of women then persisted in a long, slow struggle for equal job opportunities and pay.
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