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Role of Women in World War II

Role of Women in World War II

Role of Women in World War II

What is World War II?

World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, Largest war in human history Involved countries, colonies, and territories around the entire world. Start 1 September 1939 to 2 September 1945 by the end, over 70 million were dead World bore loss of $1.075 trillion (1945).

Who was were in World War II?

Axis Power

  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Hungary
  • Romania
  • Bulgaria

Alliance Power

  • United States
  • Britain
  • France
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
  • Australia
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • China
  • Denmark
  • Greece
  • Netherland
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Poland

How did World War II Start?

Germany invaded Poland, Allies declare war on Germany then invades France, Belgium, etc.

Then Hitler invades Russia Germans use “blitzkrieg” to overwhelm other armies, Blitzkrieg means “lightening war” in German, Surround with tanks and troops in trucks.

How did World War II ended in Europe?

Operation Overlord- Allied invasion of France. Also called D-Day. Within a month 1 million Allied troops were stationed in Europe. Germany is surrounded with the USSR to the east surrenders in 1945 after Hitler commits suicide. Allies divide Germany up between them this helps start the Cold War Trials are held in Germany (and Japan) to try the people responsible for the war many are executed and jailed for war crimes. The Soviet Union defeated Germany at the Battle of Stalingrad in Feb 1943 The Axis suffered from 500,000 to 850,000 casualties This was the turning point of the WW2 in Eastern Europe for Axis.

Women and Work

Women have always worked, whether in paid jobs, or in the home, and often in both. But their work is generally unrecognized and undervalued. Today, women comprise nearly half of the UK’s workforce. While there have been many important changes in recent decades, there are many continuities in the issues women workers face in the workplace. Many people think that the majority of women did not do waged work until the second half of the twentieth century brought social change, the women’s liberation movement and equality legislation. This is a myth, and we now have evidence that women’s paid work has a long history dating back to even before the industrial revolution. This section gives an account of women’s waged work in the UK from the 19th century onwards. The issues examined here include the nature and types of work available to women, pay and conditions at work, women’s struggles for rights and the particular issues facing migrant women workers.


Understand that women have always worked, in a wide variety of jobs. Understand that women’s work is often unrecognized and undervalued and the reasons for this. Understand how women’s paid work has changed since the 19th century. Understand that women have contributed to social change through women’s liberation movements and struggles for improved rights for women and migrant workers.

Women role in World War II

Women in the Second World War took on many different roles during the War, including as combatants and workers on the home front. The Second World War involved global conflict on an unprecedented scale; the absolute urgency of mobilizing the entire population made the expansion of the role of women inevitable, although the particular roles varied from country to country. Millions of women of various ages were injured or died as a result of the war.


Women were left with the responsibilities of being a household and have jobs that women have never worked on (warm time job mostly in factories administration, truck drivers, mechanics, electricians). Approximately 350,000 women served as uniformed auxiliaries in non-combat roles in the armed forces. Several hundred thousand women served in combat roles restricted from combat zone many of become nurse. In the end of the war women wanted to keep their job because they enjoyed the economic and social independence. With men away to serve in the military and demands for the war material increasing, manufacturing jobs opened up to women and upped their earning power. Yet women’s employment was only encouraged as long as the war was on. Once the war was over, federal and civilian policies replaced women works with men.

Alliance Women’s World War II


Australian women played a larger role in World War 2 than they had done in World War I. Many women wanted to play an active role, and hundreds of voluntary women’s auxiliary and paramilitary organization’s had been formed by 1940. A shortage of male recruits forced the military to establish female branches in 1941 and 1942. These included the Women’s Transport Corps, Women’s Flying Club, Women’s Emergency Signaling Corps and Women’s Australian National Services. In July 1940 in Brisbane alone there were six different organization’s providing women with war-related training, the largest of which was the Queensland-based Women’s National Emergency Legion. The federal government and military did not initially support women being trained to serve in the armed forces, however, and these organizations were not taken seriously by the general public. A shortage of male recruits forced the military to establish female branches in 1941 and 1942. The Royal Australian Air Force established the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) in March 1941, the Army formed the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) in October 1941 and the Australian Army Medical Women’s Service (AAMWS) in December 1942, and the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) came into being in July 1942. In 1944 almost 50,000 women were serving in the military and thousands more had joined the civilian Australian Women’s Land Army (AWLA). Many of these women were trained to undertake skilled work in traditionally male occupations in order to free servicemen for operational service. Women were also encouraged to work in industry and volunteer for air raid precautions duties or clubs for Australian and Allied servicemen. The female branches of the military were disbanded after the war.


At the beginning of the war 600,000 women in Canada held permanent jobs in the private sector, by the peak in 1943 1.2 million women had jobs. Women quickly gained a good reputation for their mechanical dexterity and fine precision due to their smaller stature. Canadian women in the World Wars became indispensable because the World Wars were total wars that required the maximum effort of the civilian population. While Canadians were deeply divided on the issue of conscription for men, there was wide agreement that women had important new roles to play in the home, in civic life, in industry, in nursing, and even in military uniforms. Historians debate whether there was much long-term impact on the postwar roles of women. When Canada declared war in 1939, women felt obligated to help the fight. In October 1938, the Women’s Volunteer Service was established in Victoria, British Columbia. A recruitment event was held in hopes of gaining around 20 new volunteers; over 100 women arrived to join the efforts. Shortly after, more British Columbian women felt the need to do their part, and when the 13 corps joined together the B.C. Women’s Service Corps was created. In addition to the Red Cross, several volunteer corps had designed themselves after auxiliary groups from Britain. These corps had uniforms, marching drills and a few had rifle training. It soon was clear, that a unified governing system would be beneficial to the corps. The volunteers in British Columbia donated $2 each to pay the expenses so a representative could talk to politicians in Ottawa. Although all of the politicians appeared sympathetic to the cause, it remained ‘premature’ in terms of national necessity the outbreak of World War II forced society to rethink women’s role outside of the home. The largest contribution by the majority of Canadian women was through unpaid volunteer work, through their domestic abilities and skills; women were able to support the nation and the war effort. The government called upon women to participate in volunteer programs. Women began collecting recycled items such as paper, metal, fat, bones, rags, rubber, and glass. Clothing was also collected by Canadian women for free distribution overseas. They also prepared care packages to send to the men and women overseas. When men left their factory jobs to fight overseas, women stepped up to fill their positions in mass. These jobs became essential during the war when munitions supplies became vital to the war effort Women’s work in factory during the second war is the most important role played by women on the home front. Women in the workforce meant that working mothers needed access to childcare. In anticipation of mothers in the workforce, the Federal Minister of Labor was empowered to enter into agreements for the establishment of daycare facilities for the children of mothers working in war industries. From 1942 to 1946. The CWAC was officially established on August 13, 1941, and by war’s end, it had some 21,000 members. Women trained as drivers, cooks, clerks, typists, stenographers, telephone operators, messengers, and quartermasters. However, these duties would expand to include more traditionally male jobs such as driving trucks and ambulances, and working as mechanics and radar operators. The Royal Canadian Navy was slow to create a women’s service, and established the WRCNS in July 1942, nearly a year after the Canadian Women’s Army Corps and the Royal Canadian Air Force Women’s Division. By the end of the war however nearly 7,000 women had served with the WRCNS in 39 different trades. The Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (CWAAF) was formed in 1941 as an element of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). Changing to the Women’s Division (WD) in 1942, this unit was formed to take over positions that would allow more men to participate in combat and training duties. Despite a large shift in the profession, Second World War nurses nonetheless joined the military with great numbers. Whereas previous Nursing Sisters had been members of the Canadian Expeditionary force attached to the British army, nurses in the Second World War were fully integrated into the Canadian Army Medical Corps, the Royal Canadian Air Force Medical Branch, and the Royal Canadian Naval Medical Service. In total 4079 military nurses served during the Second World War, comprising the largest group of nurses in Canadian military history. With few exceptions, Nursing Sisters served within Canadian medical units and wherever Canadian troops went throughout England, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, North Africa, Sicily and Hong Kong. As the nursing profession it became more professionalized, military nursing followed suit. Professional nurses serving in the R.C.A.M.C included laboratory technicians, therapists, dieticians, and physiotherapists.

British Indian Army during World War II

The Women’s Auxiliary Corps operated from 1939 to 1947, with peak strength of 850 officers and 7,200 auxiliaries in the Indian army. A small naval section operated in the Royal Indian Navy. The Women’s Auxiliary Corps (India) was formed in May 1942; recruits had to be a minimum age of 18 years and their duties were clerical or domestic. In December 1942, the minimum age was reduced to 17 years and 11,500 women had enlisted by the end of the war. Volunteers could enlist on Local service or General service terms. Those on General Service could be sent to serve anywhere in India. Compared to over two million men, the corps of 11,500 women was small, but recruitment was always hampered by caste and communal inhibitions. Indian women at the time did not mix socially or at work with men and a large part of the corps was formed from the mixed-race Anglo–Indian community. The WAC(I) had an autonomous Air Wing, which served as the Indian counterpart of the WAAF: the women operated switchboards and similar duties at airfields and air headquarters (AHQ). In the earlier part of the war there was likewise a Naval Wing, but with the very localized environment of naval base and the very distinct ethos of the wartime naval services, British and Indian, this department was formally hived-off, in 1944, to become: the Women’s Royal Indian Naval Service (WRINS), with its own uniform, similar to WRNS.


After 1943 Italian women joined the anti-fascist resistance, and also served in the fascist army of Mussolini’s rump state that formed in 1943. They did not serve in the main Italian army. Some 35,000 women (and 170,000 men) joined in the Resistance. The women were used as auxiliary support and were not allowed in senior ranks. Most did cooking and laundry duty. Some were guides, messengers, and couriers near the front lines. A few were attached to small attack groups of five or six men engaged in sabotage. Some all-female units, engaged in civilian and political action. The Germans aggressively tried to suppress them, sending 5000 to prison, deporting 3000 to Germany. About 650 died in combat or by execution. On a much larger scale, non-military auxiliaries of the Catholic Centro Italian Feminine (CIF) and the leftist Union Donne Italian (UDI) were new organizations that gave women political legitimacy after the war.


The Polish military maintained a number of Women’s Military Assistance Battalions, trained by the Przysposobienie Wojskowe Kobiet (Female Military Training) and commanded by Maria Wittek. During the Invasion of Poland they saw combat, playing auxiliary roles in defensive action. Janina Lewandowsky was a pilot. Marianna Cel was a member of Henryk Dobrzański’s guerilla unit 1939-1940.

Soviet women in World War II

Soviet women played an important role in World War II (whose Eastern Front was known as the Great Patriotic War in the Soviet Union). While most toiled in industry, transport, agriculture and other civilian roles, working double shifts to free up enlisted men to fight and increase military production, a sizable number of women served in the army. The majority were in medical units. There were 800,000 women who served in the Soviet Armed Forces during the war, which is roughly 5 percent of total military personnel. The number of women in the Soviet military in 1943 was 348,309, 473,040 in 1944, and then 463,503 in 1945. Of the medical personnel in the Red Army, 40% of paramedics, 43% of surgeons, 46% of doctors, 57% of medical assistants, and 100% of nurses were women. Nearly 200,000 were decorated and 89 of them eventually received the Soviet Union’s highest award, the Hero of the Soviet Union, among which some served as pilots, snipers, machine gunners, tank crew members and partisans, as well as in auxiliary roles. At first, when Germany attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, thousands of women who volunteered were turned away. However, after massive losses in the face of Operation Barbarossa, attitudes had to be changed, ensuring a greater role for women who wanted to fight. In the early stages of the war, the fastest route to advancement in the military for women was service in medical and auxiliary units.

United Kingdom

When Britain went to war, as before in World War I, previously forbidden job opportunities opened up for women. Women were called into the factories to create the weapons that were used on the battlefield. Women took on the responsibility of managing the home and became the heroines of the home front. According to Carruthers, this industrial employment of women significantly raised women’s self-esteem as it allowed them to carry out their full potential and do their part in the war. During the war, women’s normative roles of “house wife” transformed into a patriotic duty. As Carruthers put it, the housewife has become a heroine in the defeat of Hitler. The roles of women shifting from domestic to masculine and dangerous jobs in the workforce made for important changes in workplace structure and society. During the Second World War, society had specific ideals for the jobs in which both women and men participated. When women began to enter into the masculine workforce and munitions industries previously dominated by men, women’s segregation began to diminish. Increasing numbers of women were forced into industry jobs between 1940–1943. As surveyed by the Ministry of Labor, the percentage of women in industrial jobs went from 19.75 per cent to 27 per cent from 1938–1945. It was very difficult for women to spend their days in factories, and then come home to their domestic chores and care-giving, and as a result, many women were unable to hold their jobs in the workplace. Britain underwent a labor shortage where an estimated 1.5 million people were needed for the armed forces, and an additional 775,000 for munitions and other services in 1942. It was during this “labor famine” that propaganda aimed to induce people to join the labor force and do their bit in the war. Women were the target audience in the various forms of propaganda because they were paid substantially less than men. It was of no concern whether women were filling the same jobs that men previously held. Even if women were replacing jobs with the same skill level as a man, they were still paid significantly less due to their gender. In the engineering industry alone, the number of skilled and semi-skilled female workers increased from 75 per cent to 85 per cent from 1940–1942. According to Gazeley, even though women were paid less than men, it is clear that women engaging in war work and taking on jobs preserved by men reduced industrial segregation

American women in World War II

American women in World War II became involved in many tasks they rarely had before; as the war involved global conflict on an unprecedented scale, the absolute urgency of mobilizing the entire population made the expansion of the role of women inevitable. Their services were recruited through a variety of methods, including posters and other print advertising, as well as popular songs. Among the most iconic images were those depicting “Rosie the Riveter”, a woman factory laborer performing what was previously considered man’s work. With this added skill base channeled to paid employment opportunities, the presence of women in the American workforce continued to expand from what had occurred during World War I. Many sought and secured jobs in the war industry, building ships, aircraft, vehicles, and munitions or other weaponry. Others drove trucks or provided other logistical support for soldiers. Still, others worked on farms. Women also enlisted in significantly greater numbers in the military and as nurses serving on the front lines. During World War II, approximately 400,000 U.S. women served with the armed forces. As many as 543 died in war-related incidents, including 16 from enemy fire – even though U.S. political and military leaders had decided not to use women in combat because they feared public opinion. By 1948, however, women were finally recognized as a permanent part of the U.S. armed forces with the passage of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act of 1948. U.S. women also performed many kinds of non-military service in organizations such as the American Red Cross and the United Service Organizations (USO). Nineteen million American women filled out the home front labor force, not only as “Rosie the Riveters” in war factory jobs, but in transportation, agricultural, and office work of every variety. Women joined the federal government in massive numbers during World War II. Nearly a million “government girls” were recruited for war work. In addition, women volunteers aided the war effort by planting victory gardens, canning produce, selling war bonds, donating blood, salvaging needed commodities, and sending care packages. The Army established the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1942, a noteworthy year because WAACs served overseas in North Africa, and because Charity Adams Early also became the WAAC’s first African-American female commissioned officer that year. The organization never accomplished its goal of making available to “the national defense the knowledge, skill, and special training of the women of the nation”; however, as a result, the WAAC was converted to the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in 1943. Recognized as an official part of the regular army, more than 150,000 women served as WACs during the war with thousands were sent to the European and Pacific theaters. In 1944, WACs landed in Normandy after D-Day and served in Australia, New Guinea, and the Philippines in the Pacific. Several hundred women were recruited from colleges to take part in the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bomb. They worked as engineers, technicians, and mathematicians throughout the whole project. More than 60,000 Army nurses (all military nurses were women at the time) served stateside and overseas during World War II. Although most were kept far from combat, 67 were captured by the Japanese in the Philippines in 1942 and were held as POWs for over two and a half years. Another, an Army flight nurse who had been aboard an aircraft that was shot down behind enemy lines in Germany in 1944, was held as a POW for four months.

Yugoslavia women in World War II

The Yugoslav Partisans mobilized many women. The Yugoslav National Liberation Movement claimed 6,000,000 civilian supporters; its two million women formed the Antifascist Front of Women (AFŽ), in which the revolutionary coexisted with the traditional. The AFŽ managed schools, hospitals and even local governments. About 100,000 women served with 600,000 men in Tito’s Yugoslav National Liberation Army. It stressed its dedication to women’s rights and gender equality and used the imagery of traditional folklore heroines to attract and legitimize the partizanka (Partisan Woman). After the war, women returned to traditional gender roles, but Yugoslavia is unique as its historians paid extensive attention to women’s roles in the resistance, until the country broke up in the 1990s. Then the memory of the women soldiers faded away.

Axis Women’s World War II


Finnish women took part in defense: nursing, air raid signaling, rationing and hospitalization of the wounded. Their organization was called Lotta Savard, named after the poem, where voluntary women took part in auxiliary work of the armed forces to help those fighting on the front. Lotta Savard was one of the largest, if not the largest, voluntary group in World War II. They did not fire guns, a rule in Lotta Savard.


During the Second World War, temporarily contradicting their past claims, the National Socialists changed policy and allowed women to join the German army. Adolf Hitler had already affirmed in a speech to activists of the National Socialist Women’s League on September 13, 1936: “We possess a generation of healthy men – and we, National Socialists, are going to watch – Germany will not form any section of women grenade throwers or any corps of women elite snipers.” Therefore, women were not assigned to combat units during the war, but were regarded as auxiliary military personnel, responsible for logistical and administrative duties in the areas understaffed due to the number of men sent into combat. Other women also worked in factories or in military education. Military members of the Reichsbahn (National Company of Railways) or the Feuerwehr (firefighters) wore uniforms appropriate to the era, especially with a skirt. Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, NSDAP member and leader of the National Socialist Women’s League stated: beginning in 1943, the Reich Minister of the Economy introduced the job training program called Berufsausbildungsprogramm Ost for farming duty in the East (not to be confused with the ethnic cleansing of Generalplan Ost). The Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels in his Sportspalast speech delivered on February 18, 1943 at the Berlin Sports Hall, called on German women to work, and to be sober in their commitment:

“What use are beauty salons that encourage a cult of beauty and that takes up an enormous amount of our time and energy? They are wonderful during times of peace, but are a waste of time in a time of war. Our wives and our daughters will be able to welcome our victorious soldiers without their beautiful peacetime adornments.”

“It is why we hire men that do not work in the war economy and women do not work at all. They cannot and will not ignore our request. The duties of women are huge. This is not to say that only those included in the law can work. All are welcome. The more who join the war effort, the more we free up soldiers for the front.”

“For years, millions of German women have worked with brio in war production and they patiently wait to be joined and assisted by other women.”

“Especially for you women, do you want the government to do everything in its power to encourage German women to put all their strength into supporting the war effort, and to let me leave for the front when possible, helping the men at the front?”

“The great upheavals and crises of national life show us who the real men and women are. We no longer have the right to speak of the weaker sex, since both sexes show the same determination and the same spiritual force.”

In 1945, there numbered 500,000 women auxiliaries in the Wehrmacht (Wehrmachtshelferinnen), who were at the heart of the Heer, the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine. About half of them were volunteers, the others performing obligatory service connected to the war effort (Kriegshilfsdienst). They took part, under the same authority as prisoners of war (Hiwis), as auxiliary personnel of the army (Behelfspersonal) and they were assigned to duties not only within the heart of the Reich, but to a lesser extent, to the occupied territories, for example in the General government of occupied Poland, in France, and later in Yugoslavia, in Greece and in Romania.


More than 50,000 women, mostly in their twenties, took part in the Italian resistance movement during the Second World War, when Italy was under German occupation (1939-1945). Their mass participation marked the definitive entrance of women in Italian political life. After WW2, women were given the right to vote in national elections and to be elected to government positions. The new Italian Constitution of 1948 affirmed that women had equal rights. It was not however until the 1970s that women in Italy scored some major achievements with the introduction of laws regulating divorce (1970), abortion (1978), and the approval in 1975 of the new family code.


Japanese women were typically not formed into auxiliary units. However, in some cases, such as the civilian resistance in Okinawa to the American invasion, they performed informal services. On Okinawa, the students and faculty of Daiichi Women’s High School and Shihan Women’s School were mobilized as a nursing unit by the Japanese army.


Romanian women played a role in the Royal Romanian Air Force. Inspired by the Finnish Lotta Svärd, the Ministry of the Air set up a specialized air ambulance unit called the 108th Medevac Light Transport Squadron, better known as the White Squadron (Escadrila Albă), which included mostly female pilots and included Mariana Drăgescu, Nadia Russo, Virginia Thomas, and Marina Știrbei. The unit was active between 1940-1943, participated in the campaigns at Odessa and Stalingrad and rose to fame during the war as the only unit of its kind in the world.[71] Romanian women also served as pilots in other transport and liaison units during the war. Captain Irina Burnaia, for example, commanded the Bessarabian Squadron between 1942-1944.

The Impact of World War II on Women’s Work

In many ways, the story of women’s employment during WWI was repeated during WWII. Despite their success in wartime industries during WWI, similar stereotypes about women’s capacity and ability to engage in ‘men’s work’ were circulated by the employers and the government. Trade unions again expressed concerns about men’s pay being pushed down and sought assurances that women’s wartime work would only be temporary. However, the needs of the wartime economy won again. In December 1941, the government conscripted single women aged 20-30 as auxiliaries to the Armed Forces, Civil Defense, or war industries. Propaganda leaflets urged women to participate in the war effort.

Government figures show that women’s employment  increased during the Second World War from about 5.1 million in 1939 (26%) to just over 7.25 million in 1943 (36%  of all women of working age). Forty six percent of all women aged between 14 and 59, and 90% of all able-bodied single women between the ages of 18 and 40 were engaged in some form of work or National Service by September 1943 (H M Government, 1943, p. 3). The level of employment could have been higher as domestic servants were excluded from these figures. Many domestic servants would have been redeployed to national service, but no exact figures exist.

Famous Women’s in World War II:

There are many heroes of World War II. Across all branches of service, our nation’s military went above and beyond the call of duty to serve our country and the world. However, there are also many unsung heroes of the war: the women who served in World War II.

Jane Kendeigh

On March 6, 1945, at just 22 years old, Ensign Jane Kendeigh – a Navy nurse – landed on Iwo Jima and made history. She was the first U.S. Navy flight nurse to fly an evacuation mission to an active battlefield, and the first to land on a Pacific battlefield.

As a flight nurse, Kendeigh was trained as a nurse and trained in crash procedures, survival, and how to adjust treatments on patients in high altitude.

Kendeigh and her fellow flight nurses would go on to evacuate approximately 2,393 Marines and sailors from Iwo Jima, attending to their patients in the process of transporting them to forward operating hospitals.

Of the 1,176,048 military patients evacuated on these dangerous flights throughout the war, only 46 died en route.

Nancy Harkness Love:

Nancy Harkness Love was the first female pilot in the Army Air Forces (AAF) and the founder and commander of the WAFS in World War II. Her passion for flying began early: Love earned her pilot’s license at the young age of 16 and although she attended Vassar College, her true goal in life was flying. After college, she worked as a test and commercial pilot alongside her husband, and also competed in National Air Races in her spare time.

Upon the U.S.’ entry into WWII, Love convinced the United States Army Air Forces (the predecessor to today’s Air Force) to create the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), which she commanded throughout the war.

The squadron was a group of female pilots used to ferry aircraft and supplies from factories to air bases, so more male pilots were available to move to the front. Love trained women that applied to the squadron, which would later combine with the better-known Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPS) in 1943.

After the war, Love was awarded the Air Medal, which recognizes single acts of heroism or achievement while participating in aerial flight, and in 1948 she was appointed lieutenant colonel of the Air Force Reserve. Love continued to fly recreationally and remained a champion of female military veterans, demanding recognition for the efforts of the WASPS, until she passed away in 1976.

Susan Ahn Cuddy:

For Susan Ahn Cuddy, serving in the military as a woman in World War II was personal. In 1937, her father was killed by the Japanese during a visit to Seoul, in now-South Korea, for speaking out against Japanese occupation and oppression of Korea. Three years later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. Cuddy and her two brothers became determined to join the U.S.’ fight against Japan and all three joined the U.S. military.

Cuddy graduated from San Diego University and applied to join the WAVES program – and was rejected. Despite facing overwhelming discrimination as a woman and as an Asian American living in the United States following Pearl Harbor, Cuddy applied to WAVES again, and she became the first Asian American woman to join the U.S. Navy.

Cuddy became a Link Trainer, instructing aviators in air combat tactics. Later, she would become the first female gunnery officer in the U.S. Navy, teaching naval aviators how to fire a .50-caliber machine gun. She would retire from the Navy as a lieutenant and would go on to work for U.S. Navy Intelligence, the Library of Congress and the National Security Agency (NSA). She passed away in 2015 at the age of 100.

Mae Krier:

After watching her brother and other young men in her small North Dakota town head off to war following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Krier struck out on her own and moved to Seattle. Once there, she married a Navy sailor, and when he was deployed to the Pacific Theatre, Krier became a Rosie.

“Rosies“ were women in World War II who worked in factories and shipyards to produce munitions, planes, ships, tanks and war supplies. Krier worked on the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and B-29 Superfortress bombers during her two years as a Rosie, from 1943 to the war’s end in 1945. The work was grueling and often dangerous – it required Rosies to operate complicated machinery and work long hours.

Approximately 5 million civilian women worked as Rosies in factories across the United States, freeing up more men to fight and opening new doors for women in the workforce. Aside from being a crucial part of the war effort, Rosie the Riveters became an iconic cultural icon of American women in World War II.

Krier has continued to work as a Rosie in another capacity – by speaking publicly in front of Congress, the Pentagon and across the country about the Rosies’ importance to the nation. At the age of 94, she is currently campaigning for Congress to recognize Rosies with the Congressional Gold Medal, as well as with an established Annual Rosie the Riveter Day.

Ruby Bradley

Army Col. Ruby Bradley entered the U.S. Army Nurse Corps (ANC) as a surgical nurse – she would retire as one of the most decorated women in U.S. military history.

Bradley was serving as a hospital administrator at Camp John Hay in the Philippines when she was taken prisoner by the Japanese Army, only three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. She was eventually interned with other prisoners of war (POWs) at the Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manila.

While at the camp, Bradley got to work. She immediately began providing medical attention to other prisoners, smuggled food to those who needed it and often went hungry to make sure others didn’t. She lost so much weight that she was able to smuggle outdated medical equipment and supplies into the camp by hiding them under her clothes, without raising suspicion.

Throughout her 37 months in captivity, Bradley worked on 230 major surgeries and delivered 13 babies. By the time the camp was liberated in February 1945, Bradley weighed only 84 pounds – she had given most of her daily rations to the children in the camp. The other POWs called Bradley and her fellow nurses, “Angels in Fatigues.”

After WWII, Bradley continued her career in the Army and earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California, just four years after the end of the war. She would go on to also serve in the Korean War, eventually being promoted to the rank of colonel before retiring in 1963. Throughout her career she received 34 decorations, medals and awards, including the Bronze Star Medal.

Gains and losses for Women’s after World War II

The gains made during the Second World War proved transitory as women were demobilised from ‘men’s work’ to make way for the returning servicemen, as had happened following the First World War. However, unlike the 1920s, the late 1940s and 50s were periods of sustained economic growth. The post-war reconstruction effort made the need for an expanded labour force urgent. In the late 1940s, the government launched campaigns to encourage women to enter or stay in the labour market, and encouraged the migration of workers from (former) British colonies to fill the labour shortages. The welfare state created many job opportunities in what was seen as ‘women’s work’. Jobs were available in the the newly created National Health Service for nurses, midwives, cleaners and clerical staff. Banking, textile and light industries such as electronics also expanded during this period and provided women with opportunities in clerical, secretarial and assembly work. Jobs were still strictly segregated by gender and routine repetitive work was categorised as women’s work for women’s (lower) wages. The proportion of women in the labour force as a percentage of women of working age (15-64) increased from 45.9% in 1955 to 51% in 1965. Despite this increase in the rate of women’s employment, women were still considered to be ‘secondary workers’. Women’s wages were not considered central to families’ income, instead it was thought that women’s wages were for ‘extras’ such as holidays or new consumer durables. Mothers of young children were once again discouraged from working and most of the state funded nurseries set up during the WWII were closed by the post-war Labour government. Welfare payments for families were based on the assumption that a man’s income supported his wife and children who were his dependants (the ‘family wage’). The benefit rates for married women were set at a lower level than those for married men. In the early 50s, many employers still operated a ‘Marriage bar’, whereby married women were barred from certain occupations like teaching and clerical jobs (but not lower paid jobs) and those working were sacked upon marriage. But throughout the 1950s and 60s it became more common for married women to work for wages – at least part-time. By the 1960, 38% of married women worked but women were routinely sacked when they got pregnant and continued to be paid less than men even if they did the same jobs.

The struggle for Equal Pay

Women workers continued to campaign for equal pay through the 1950s. Women teachers and some civil servants were the first to win equal pay in 1961 and 62 respectively. However, these early victories only applied where women and men were employed in exactly the same jobs. However, most women workers in the public sector had jobs which were gender segregated and where no men were employed in roles such as secretaries, cleaners and typists. Women in these workplaces remained excluded from any of the ongoing debates about equal pay, as did women who worked in the private sector. Women’s trade union membership increased through the 1950s and the 60s. In 1946, some 1.6 million women workers were unionised (24% of all women workers) and by 1969 this had risen to 2.5 million (29% of all women workers) (Undy, 2012). However, during this period trade unions continued to be led by white men who did not always prioritise the demands of their women and non-white members. 1968 was a significant year in the struggle for equal pay. Women sewing machinists who sewed car seat covers at the Ford car factory in Dagenham went on strike. They were angry because their jobs had been re-graded as unskilled, which resulted in them being paid 13% less than the male assembly workers. The women argued that their job required the same level of skill as the men’s jobs. The strikers had to overcome the initial reluctance of male workers and the trade union to support their cause. Eventually, the women accepted an increase which took their pay to 92% of the men’s pay. This was followed by other strikes over equal pay across the country and to renewed trade union support and campaigning on this issue. These campaigns led to the passage of the Equal Pay Act (1970), which applied to the public and private sectors where men and women were engaged in the same or broadly similar work.

Migrant workers in the UK labour market: 1946-1970

From the 1950s onwards, due to the labour shortages following WWII, the UK government encouraged the immigration of migrant workers to rebuild Britain and service the newly created NHS. While more men than women migrated in the earlier years, from the late 1960s, there were significant numbers of women who migrated to join their families settled in the UK. Many of these women worked in the health service but, like women from all ethnic backgrounds, were more likely than men to be engaged in repetitive jobs which were poorly paid and had little prospect of promotion. Even where migrant women were educated in English and held professional qualifications, they found that only low-paid, unskilled jobs were open to them. In those days, there were occasions when trade unions colluded with the management to maintain differential wages between men and women, and between white and non-white workers. In 1963, Bristol Omnibus Company, supported by the local Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) branch, refused to employ black or Asian bus crews. At this, the local black communities boycotted bus services for four months until the company backed down and overturned the ‘colour bar’. Similarly, a strike by black workers took place at Courtauld’s Red Scar Mill, Preston, when the management forced Asian workers to work more machines for less pay, with the collusion of white workers and their union. Such attitudes by trade unions of the day meant that migrant women workers were disadvantaged in the labour market both because they were women and also because they were immigrants.


Describe the gains and losses experienced by women in the workplace after World War II and the contributing factors. Explain the changes that took place in post WWII Britain for women, including the struggle for rights at work. Examine the role strikes have played in gaining rights for women in the workplace. Understand the reasons why the British government encouraged the immigration of workers after WWII.


kevin Younus

The writer is a student of University of Balochistan

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