Women’s History Month Challenge, Day 26: Real Rosies

Though Rosie the Riveter was fictional, there were plenty of women who worked as nurses or in industrial jobs during World War II.  Industrial jobs that opened up to women did so because of the number of men drafted into the army and also because of the increased need for production to support the war effort.  As middle-class women traditionally had not been able to work outside the home, companies had to come up with ways to entice new women into the workforce.  Factories needed women to produce goods, the Red Cross and U.S. Army Nurses Corps needed nurses and nurses aides, and the government used women to fill empty spaces in the armed forces through the creation of programs such as the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC, later WAC), the Women Air Service Pilots (WASP), the Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES), and the U.S. Coast Guard Women’s Reserve (SPARS).

Factories required women to wear uniforms, which is one of the ways pants came to be a more acceptable fashion for women, as they (or jumpsuits) were much safer in factories than skirts.  From “Flying Fortress Fashions,” Life Magazine, 17 May 1943, page 64:

"A factory with whirling machinery is obviously no place for a skirt, but it took nearly a year to convince women working in war plants that any old pair of slacks or pants was not the solution to the problem of appropriate attire.  Baggy slacks, or slacks with cuffs or flapping pockets can be a greater hazard than a skirt…As soon as it became apparent that many accidents were traceable to wearing apparel, safety engineers took a hand in designing what women should wear…[the new uniforms] have snug, slimming waistlines, flattering high-cut bosom lines, sleek tapered trousers."

The above photos are from Library of Congress’s collection and show women performing a variety of different industrial tasks.

 Source: Mary Weakes-Baxter, Christine Bruun, and Catherine Forslund.  We Are a College at War: Women Working for Victory in World War II.  Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2010.