Mightier Than the Sword: How the News Media Have Shaped American History

By Rodger Streitmatter | Go to book overview

9
Creating "Rosie the Riveter": Propelling the American Woman into the Workforce

WORLD WAR II WAS a watershed event in the evolution of the American woman. The demands that the international conflict made on the people of the United States offered women opportunities for new and expanded roles, profoundly changing the traditional social order. For when ten million working-age men donned military uniforms, a severe labor shortage developed in both the private sector and the rapidly expanding defense industries. Faced with a critical need for manpower, the nation turned to womanpower.

Women heeded the call. As millions of them entered the labor force for the first time, artist Norman Rockwell's classic Saturday Evening Post cover of Rosie the Riveter--young and beautiful, but also strong and confident with a powerful rivet gun resting across her muscular thighs and a copy of Mein Kampf under her feet--aptly symbolized the phenomenon for the American public. Many women worked in industrial jobs directly related to the wartime build-up, laboring in airplane plants, shipyards, and munitions depots. Others worked in offices both inside and outside the government, serving most often as typists, secretaries, and personnel managers. Many women wore military uniforms, joining the branches of the Army and Navy created for women, frequently as nurses. This surge in wartime employment radically altered the face--not to mention the shape--of the nation's workforce. In 1940, twelve million American women worked outside the home;

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