World War II to 1950’s

July 17, 2013

Factory workers from the Boing Plant

During the Second World War American women were called to enter the workforce in support of their country, and they answered that call in droves. The number of women employed in manufacturing doubled, and women’s participation in the defense industry in particular rose 460 percent (Woloch 461). The lack of men available to work civilian jobs meant that women now had more opportunities available to them.

Before the war, women working in factories tended to be young, unmarried, and unskilled. All of which made her easy to replace. During the war, employers had to open up more jobs to more women, by necessity. By 1945, 75 percent of new hires were married, and one fourth of all married women now had jobs. These women tended to also be older, three fifths were former housewives, and one third had young children at home (Woloch 463). Where as before, work had been a stop-gap for many young women between their parent’s house and marriage, women now had to learn to balance full time work with their responsibilities as wives and mothers.

Women rose to the challenge. Surveys showed that most women, even older married women, wanted to keep their jobs after the war ended (Woloch 467). Alas, this was not to be. The end of the war saw the closing of war-related industries and returning veterans to replace women in the jobs that remained. So what was left for women now?

Women’s job was now to use her skills to run a household.

Enter housewifery as a career. Both the marriage rate and the birth rate boomed immediately following the war. Like the era before the war, housewifery took a scientific turn and it became a legitimate, indeed the only legitimate, career option for women. Yet no matter how involved, for many women caring for hearth and home was not enough. Women found that they needed to find work outside the home. Unfortunately, the idea that caring for the home was both women’s work and a career in and of itself would be a lasting one.


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