Women’s History Month: Skilled Trades During World Wars
March marks Women’s History Month, the perfect time to remember the impact women made during our World Wars.
Women’s History Month: Women Workers Made the Difference, When the World was at War
During World War I, women became America’s secret weapon when they stepped up and excelled in taking over factory jobs that the men were leaving behind in order to fight for their country. These women worked in the skilled trades to produce heavy machinery needed for the war while others entered the electrical field in large numbers. They took over jobs welding, riveting, repairing engines, and assembling and connecting motors. Female industry workers played major roles building trucks, tanks and airplanes that went towards the war effort.
It was during WWII that “Rosie the Riveter” emerged as part of the government’s campaign aimed at recruiting more female workers to fill vacant jobs when the men were once again called to battle overseas. The Rosie the Riveter campaign helped recruit a large amount of women to work in the aviation industry. More than 310,000 women worked in the US aircraft industry in 1943, which made up 65% of the industry’s total workforce. (To put it in perspective, it was a marginal 1% before the war.) Rosie’s image became the most iconic image of working women during World War II and remains just as recognizable today.
Rosie the Riveter helped recruit women who were able to follow precise specifications all while working in very small spaces and remaining focused on the task at hand. Since most of these women were well-educated, they became ideal replacements for jobs the men left behind.
However, as the women took over factory positions, they were largely underpaid – leading to the early demands for equal pay for their skills. The majority of the women were paid a staggering 53% less than their male counterparts. Despite the fact that they were paid less, they were highly skilled and technically adept. These women were the early pioneers in proving that women were just as capable of manual and technical labor as were men.