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Suffrage parade, Washington, D.C.

[Detail] Suffrage parade, Washington, D.C.

On The Job

With the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, the United States was drawn into World War II. As men enlisted for service overseas, they left open skilled industrial positions in munitions and war goods factories. To fill these positions, women were hired for the first time for jobs which were not considered as their domain. Suddenly women were building airplanes, riveting, and operating heavy machinery.

The Office of War Information (OWI) was a government photography unit established in 1942. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs contains pictures produced by the OWI as propaganda to help promote the idea of women in the workforce.

Search on women AND employment, bombers, and assembly-line methods to see images of these women workers on the job.

While some women were entering the workforce for the first time, others already holding jobs found that the war offered them new professional opportunities. Women Come to the Front, a Library of Congress online exhibition, explores the careers of eight women who documented and reported on World War II.

Women were important members of the American workforce long before World War II. Touring Turn-of-the-Century America, 1880-1920 has a number of photographs of working women. Search on bookbinding, stenographers, and typewriters to find images of women on the job.

Inside an American Factory: Westinghouse Works, 1904 consists of 21 films documenting a factory and its labor force in turn-of-the-century America. Search on women workers to find films showing women in the work environment, such as Girls Winding Armatures, filmed on April 18, 1904, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Westinghouse was proud of it's “modern and progressive” factories.

Working women have often endured poor working conditions, discrimination, and low pay. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 , has many interviews with American women who spoke of the conditions of their work environs and how they dealt with them. For example, you can read the interviews with Henrietta Dozier, an architect, Marge Paca, a meat packinghouse worker, and Mary Willingham, a practical nurse. The Special Presentation Voices from the Thirties is an introduction to this rich collection. Read the interview excerpts in the section Making Do: Women and Work, to find more examples of women working in the workforce and in the home.