Since the dawn of agriculture roughly 10,000 years ago, women have served a subservient role in society as homemakers and child bearers. Women were deemed inferior to men in almost every way, with the Catholic Church justifying the belief with the story of Eve dooming humanity in the Garden of Eden by giving in to temptation from Satan. The lowly status of women followed settlers across the Atlantic to the “New World”, as voting privileges were reserved solely for men in the British North American Colonies. African American men, despite being looked down upon with so much scorn and hatred from Anglo-Saxon Americans, were enfranchised by the 15th Amendment to the Constitution in 1870, 49 years before the 19th amendment finally enfranchised females.

The early 20th Century held little change for women, as they were still expected to stay at home and care for children, trapped in the cult of domesticity. On the eve of World War II, only 28% of the female population was employed in America. But after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent rush of men to enlist the army, a labor shortage pressed women into the workforce by pure necessity.

After centuries of caring for children, women were not only encouraged to join the workforce, they were expected to. The United States propaganda machine urged each American to do their part to win the war, and utilized the character of “Rosie the Riveter” to encourage women to occupy the jobs vacated by men on the war front. Females took up jobs in factories manufacturing war machines like fighter planes and tanks, and also served as behind the scenes staff in the Armed Forces as nurses or even ferrying planes from factories to bases in order to free up male pilots for active duty. Trusting women with significant duties represented a departure from the traditional belief that they were weaker beings incapable of carrying out tasks of any importance. Sexism still persisted through lower wages and glass ceilings, but the idea of women in the workplace became more tolerable. By the end of the war in 1945, over 37% of the female population was employed, up from 28% before the war.

When the men returned from combat, many women refused to leave the workforce because they realized that they were more than capable, and for some it was more satisfying than raising children. Ever since World War II, the amount of employed women has increased and has reached over 50% as of 2012. Without the catalyst of World War II, the transition of women from the home to the workplace would most likely have been greatly delayed.



  1. http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=2&psid=3493
  2. http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/american-women-in-world-war-ii
  3. http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/7027/
  4. http://www.nber.org/digest/nov02/w9013.html
  5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fifteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution
  6. http://www.answers.com/Q/How_did_the_role_of_women_change_during_World_War_2
  7. http://www.advisorperspectives.com/dshort/guest/Shedlock-120813-Job-and-Population-Growth.php
  8. http://core1220summer2012.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/women-working.jpg (picture)