Rosie the Riveter
During World War II, because so many American men were in the Armed Services, American women were called upon to come to work in the munitions industry. From 1940-1945, the percentage of women working rose to 37% from 27%. By 1945, one of four married women worked outside the home However, women workers never earned more than about 50% of what males earned for the same job.
Many of the women who went to work to help their country were mothers with small children. They joined with other mothers to help with childcare. Some even shared homes or apartments to save money. Working in the important defense jobs gave the women a great sense of accomplishment.
The industry which saw the greatest number of female workers was the aviation industry. By 1943, 65% of the aviation workers were women, compared to 1% before the war. That equaled 310,000 women. Women also went to work in the munitions factories making arms and ammunition for the government. The symbol for the women who went to work in the munitions industry was the figure of Rosie the Riveter wearing a red bandana. She became the focus of the recruiting campaign for women. In 1943, a song was even written and recorded about her by a popular singing quartet. She became a strong image of women going to work to help the country during wartime.
The ad campaign with Rosie the Riveter was carried on in newspapers, movies, magazines and posters everywhere. On May 29, 1943, a popular magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, pictured Rosie on the cover of its issue. She had a flag behind her and her feet were crushing Adolph Hitler's autobiography, Mein Kampf. This image, painted by Norman Rockwell, became the most well-known, but the Westinghouse Power Company had invented her in 1942. A poster of Rosie contained the words, 'We can do it!'
Besides working in factories in the United States, over 350,000 women joined the Armed Services. Women's groups and even the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, encouraged the United States to set up a women's branch of the service. General George Marshall agreed with this idea. The Women's Auxiliary Army Corps was formed by Congress in 1942. Later, the status of the group became full-time and its name became the Women's Army Corps.
The members of the group were called WACs. They served in 200 different jobs inside the United States and overseas in every location where the military served. By 1945, there were 1,000 officers in the WAC and 100,000 enlistees. WAVES were Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service in the Navy. They held support jobs at home. A smaller number of women eventually joined the Coast Guard and the Marine Corps.
The WASPs were not as well-known as the other women's branches of service. They were women who had already earned their pilot's license before the war and became part of the Women's Airforce Service Pilots. They were the first women to fly American military planes. They didn't engage in fighting but provided important services so that the fighter pilots could be free to go into battle.
The WASPs helped by flying new planes from the factories to the air bases. They carried cargo from place to place. They took part in simulation missions. The women pilots racked up more than 60 million miles. More than 1,000 women served as WASPs, and 38 died in the war. Those who died received no military honors or benefits, unlike their male counterparts. In 1977, Congress gave them full military status.
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