After the unbearable unemployment of the Great Depression, World War II brought a glut of high-paying manufacturing jobs. With so many soldiers leaving the country to serve overseas, there were not enough men to do the work.
With this glut of work and a dearth of employees, America’s women were suddenly thrust into unfamiliar work. For years women had been limited to sewing clothing, painting faces on watches and other low-paying jobs in light-manufacturing. Convincing America that women could handle heavy work like riveting aircraft cowls, welding personnel carriers and building military equipment became a huge public relations project.
The most famous effort in this project is the poster to the right of Rosie the Riveter. Women who worked the factories became known as Rosies, easily identifiable by her blue-jean overalls, red bandana and big attitude.
The poster was commissioned and paid for by the Westinghouse Corporation to be posted for just a couple months in the winter of 1944, but her image remains recognizable even today as a symbol of American strength and womanhood.
There were many more posters, songs, magazine ads, radio shows and other propaganda efforts by the government intended to urge women into the workforce. Some of them seem almost ludicrous today, focusing exclusively on the feminine and soft side of America’s women. The poster to the right is painted in soft lights, the hands weakly held over the heart and the slogan, “Longing for him won’t bring him back!” The message is that women are nothing without their man, that even getting a war job is only to reunited with her fella. This same image had limited women to low-paying office jobs, offering no raises or growth.
Unfortunately, it was that image of the soft and emotional woman that won out after the soldiers came back. Women who had served both their government and corporate America building the ships, planes and even the earliest computers that won the war were told to give up their positions to the men and go back home.