The upheaval of war time provided unprecedented opportunities for American women to enter the workforce, often into industries that were not previously open to them. Five million women entered the workforce between 1940 and 1945, taking positions in factories, transportation, and offices.
Rosie the Riveter, a popular propaganda image, showcased the ideal image of a tough but still feminine young woman moonlighting in a male-dominated space. This paternalistic treatment of women’s work enforced the attitude that women were merely “chipping in” in times of need, taking on roles that were not considered natural for women. Furthermore, the propaganda nearly always showcased white women, despite many women of color making meaningful gains in the skilled labor force. However, these advances were minimal in a country in which industry and the armed forces were still racially segregated.
During World War II, women served in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services (WAVES), and Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). On the homefront, non-military service organizations such as the United Service Organizations (USO) and the American Red Cross provided women with opportunities for volunteer and paid work.