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Category: Elise Butler

History of Women’s Changing Roles During Wartime


This museum exhibit focuses on the topic of women during war time.  This includes how the roles of what women were typically able to do changed throughout these eras and will also include what women thought about what was going on. This project will cover from around the time of the First World War to modern warfare. The exhibit will be set up chronologically for the wars themselves; however, similar sources will be grouped together for each war. The eras that will be covered are World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Iraq War. The roles and jobs of women during war time have changed drastically since World War I. The women at this time have gone from taking over the male jobs that were left behind in factories and becoming workers outside of the household, to working as nurses, with some even gaining full military status in World War II.  This all eventually leads to women in the last fifteen years being legally allowed to take up active duty combat roles. The jobs that women had made an enormous difference to society and gave the US military the ability to be so successful throughout history.

One of the largest contributions that women could make during World War I and II was being hired in factories by the government to make supplies for the military.  The government during these times ran a successful campaign of propaganda in order to show women that it was okay to work in factories and help build planes to send across the sea. This worked in the government’s favor, because it made more men available to fight and they could pay women a lot less than they would pay men for the same work. The most famous example of this being “Rosie the Riveter,” who empowered women to work. During World War II women’s jobs were also expanding into working for the military in their own branch known as the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps.  Some of these women were overseas helping the war effort in a non-combat form, which also gave members full military status. Women who before the war had already gained their pilot’s license could join the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs.  They would test planes and transport cargo, which in turn made it possible for more men to join the front lines and not have to stay back to work non-combatant roles.

In the Vietnam war many women both helped the cause and became army nurses. These nurses were some of the first women to get close to actual combat and were not kept away from the danger completely.  Women during this war showed bravery and patriotism for their work to protect and help the injured, even if it meant their own lives were being put in danger in the process. However, other women were also taking a different side in the war and joining the antiwar movements to fight against the draft. They argued against the moral reasons of fighting and dying in a war that was not our own problem, since we could have stayed out of it. Women were joining the opposition when they were continuing to see men that they cared about going off to fight and even die in a brutal and bloody war. They had peaceful marches to try to keep their husbands and sons out of the fighting.

In more recent times women’s roles in the military have theoretically become almost equal to men’s roles.  Now they are even able to join the front line, that way they will not be kept away from the main fighting. This is because the nature of war has now become so different, since the front and the back lines are starting to blur together, with women seeing fighting and danger even before this rule was passed. There are still very few women who hold these positions, as they still must be able to pass the same fitness tests that the men must in order to prove that they can hold their own with their male counterparts. Women are starting to slowly be allowed to join sectors of the military that were never available to them before.  This has made a difference to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, because many women in these countries would not speak to male soldiers due to religious limitations and husbands who keep them away from foreign men. This means that before women could be on the front lines, the US was not even able to effectively communicate with a large part of the population; however, a female soldier has a better chance of not offending their beliefs and cultures.

This topic is significant to US History since 1877, because if women did not play the vital roles that they did throughout history, then the US’s resources would have been spread too thin, and the government would not have been able to send as many men to go fight because they would need them to continue to still work in the factories. Without these women the US might not have all the same outcomes that it did across history in order to become the powerhouse that it is today.


World War I

Women! Help America’s Sons Win the War

This poster was created in 1917 during the first world war by R. H. Porteous for the US government to help fund the fighting. This source is intended to persuade women to buy bonds and support the troops, by making the message personal to mothers, telling them to help their sons. The women in the forefront of the picture is meant to be a comforting and open person that makes the general public more inclined to trust what she is saying.  When the war first started the US stayed neutral for almost 3 years until the Germans sunk a US ship and brought america into the fight. When the US officially declared war they needed the support and funding from not only the military aged men would would be fighting, but the women that they were leaving behind as well. This campaign by the US government to use propaganda posters to influence the american public was widely successful and lead way for similar techniques to be used throughout many different wars following.

World War II

Rosie The Riveter

Rosie the Riveter was a iconic image, created in 1940 and was used during World War II to inspire women to join the war effort and to take over the factory jobs that men had been working. As the fighting continued the working aged men were being called to fight and protect the country. She became a symbol of womanhood throughout this time period. Her iconic “we can do it” became a cry for women to step out of the social norms that they had been accustomed to and help the US beat the Central Powers. During the 40’s the pay gap between women and men was vast so as the men were leaving their jobs the companies were able to fill them with workers that were willing to be payed much less then the men. This poster is one of many that were used throughout the Second World War and beyond to sway the public to the governments point of view. 

Women in the War: We Can’t Win without Them

This poster was created in 1942 by the US government in order to inspire women to work outside of the ordinary sphere of household or textile work and move into heavy lifting factory jobs that would have only been done by men before war times. However as more men were needed to fight the only people left in the factories was women so the government needed them more than ever in order to build plane and other heavy duty equipment that was needed to win the war. As the fighting continued these women were able to make a huge impact on the work being done. It shows that during this time even though women were not actually fighting in combat they were necessary for the war effort and the outcome could have been very different without them. By showing different jobs that women are able to accomplish to the public it is meant to inspire and influence women to show them what is possible, and how they do not have to be limited by the social structures set around them. 

Do the Job He Left Behind

This poster was made in 1942 in order to persuade young women into getting a job. This poster depicts a woman working with large heavy metals and states that women should take over where their men left off. This poster was part of a much larger campaign that spreads throughout the course of the war in order to show women what they could do if they changed their lifestyle. This kind of poster was used by the government in order to make sure that while they were taking all the well bodied men for fighting that the United States industries would not collapse. This idea of women working for themselves leads into later feminist ideals that inspire women to work and think for themselves.

Release 6

link to full video:

This is a clip from 1942 showing women not only working in factories and lumber yards, but also working for the military testing the weapons that are going to be sent overseas to the men fighting. These women shown being used to show the public all of the opportunities that women are using in order to do their part in fight without actually being on the front lines. This video also shows a clip of women getting recognized as nurses for the vital roles that they played in getting american soldiers home safely. The women who worked in the different war jobs for the government shows the beginning of the Women’s Army Corp that allows women a greater role in the armed forces.

Release 105

Link to full video:

This video was created in 1944 by the United Newsreel Corporation in order to show the public that women can hold higher jobs in the military and making a lasting effect on the effort against the allied powers. This video primarily focuses on the Women’s army Corps or the WACs. These women work for the military to build aircrafts and other wartime equipment needed. Some of these women were even leaving their homes and going across the ocean in order to repair and work as an active part in the war effort. Many young women were getting jobs in order to sustain themselves while the men in their families were off fighting. These women were the start of popularizing women becoming a larger part in the victory in the Second World War.

Longing Won’t Bring Him Back Sooner . . . Get a War Job!

This image was made in 1944 in order to get women to take jobs that are left vacant by men who have gone off to fight. This poster shows a woman holding letters waiting for a man to come home to her with a longing look in her eyes.  While the caption is saying that doing nothing and just waiting for him to come home is just a waste of time and she should be doing something more productive like getting a job. At this point in WWII the US had been involved in the fight for about 3 years and some women just wanted their husbands back, however they couldn’t until the war won. This source is a later poster made that is trying harder to convince women that they should work because they have nothing better to do, while the earlier campaign posters worked to inspire women to want to help their country.

Interview by James H.R. Cromwell and William Bradford Huie Chronoscope, Helen Hayes

link to full video:

This video was recorded in 1951 and depicts Helen Hayes talking about the need for more women to join the armed forces. A new opportunity for women was forming as the option to go into the armed forces was becoming an actual career choice that was available to them. This was important, because as the war was ending many people thought that women would just go back to the home spheres that they were in before the war, however Hayes is trying to convince the public that women are still needed in these jobs and they are much better for them then a business or working in the private sector. These jobs were considered to be much more equal and came with better benefits than what was normally available for young women. This carried on until the time that the cult of domesticity was becoming popular in their attempts to put women back into household jobs.

Vietnam War

Women March Here to Protest Vietnam War

A group of 400 women, many accompanied by their young children, staged a march in protest against the war in Vietnam yesterday through throngs of startled midtown shoppers.

Chanting such slogans as: “End the war in Vietnam!” and “Bring the troops home- now!”, the demonstrators held a two hour rally at Park Avenue and 33rd Street and then paraded across town to the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

Link to full article:

This New York Times article from 1966 describes women fighting in their own way against the Vietnam War. These protests were used in order to try and stop the controversial war from continuing.  During the Vietnam War the draft was used in order to build the number of soldiers that the US has to fight with, however many people did not want to fight in Vietnam thinking that it is not their problem. These protests were very common during this time in order to try and appeal to the government and get them to remove the troop. These protests coincide with the second wave of feminism movements, and many used these protests to fight for what they wanted, however sometimes what they want to be accomplished was not the same as the person standing next to them.

Nurse Is the First Woman Decorated in Vietnam War

This New York Times article from 1968 talks about First Lieut. Jane A. Lombardi being the first woman to be decorated in the Vietnam War. This shows how even though women were not in combat roles while overseas they were still putting themselves at risk and doing their part to protect and help save the lives of the men protecting the US. As the US’s history of sending nurses into the field has shown these women work to serve their country in whatever way that they can. The US’s involvement in Vietnam War was highly criticized by many within the states along with the use of the draft in order to gain soldiers. However these women were not drafted into becoming nurses, but they did it because it they wanted to. Their commitment shows how important women were during this time in order to save as many lives as possible.

Equal Rights Amendment

Equality of Rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

link to full document: 

The Equal Rights Amendment was a proposed document that was passed through the House and the Senate by 1972 and just needed to be ratified by 2/3 of the states in order to become an amendment to the Constitution, however it fell short of the votes it needed after fighting against the “Stop ERA” movement. The ERA’s message was clear, saying that women should be equal in all accounts to men and should not be discriminated on based upon gender. This movement was one of the most famous proposed laws that was never actually passed through. The ERA protests were happening on the backs of the anti war and anti draft movements that had taken place in the years before. As these women were trying to win a fight that was started in the 1800’s the minority who did not want the ERA passed feared that it would hurt women’s rights instead of helping them. The leader of Stop ERA was Phyllis Schlafly and she was adamant against the ERA saying that it would take away the privileges that come with being a woman in the US. Parts of this movement are still being debated and questions on some of women’s basic rights of choice are still in question.

Iraq War

A New War Brings New Role for Women

The Clinton administration’s decision in 1994 to lift the so-called risk rule means that about 90 percent on military jobs are open to women and that they serve in hostile zones. Over all more than 200,000 women serve in the armed forces… The role of women in the military began to grow significantly after 1973, when the draft ended and recruiters looked to women to help fill the ranks.

link to full article:

This New York Times article from 2003 Starts by telling the story of a female POW and debates on was it actually considered a support unit in a war with no real front line. After the turn over of the risk rule it is still up for debate for many US citizens whether women should be fighting in active duty combat roles. As the war in Iraq is growing and women are becoming better accepted into these combat roles many still say that seeing a woman as a POW bothers them much more than seeing a man. After 9/11 many men and women joined the armed forces in order to do their part and fight back for their country after seeing it so brutally attacked. The soldiers that fight for the US are meant to be considered as equals in the majority of positions that can be filled in the military, however some still think that women should not be in the middle of the fight.

Sunday Morning, Flashpoint: The Way Home

link to full video:

This source is a segment from the program Sunday Morning that aired in 2007 and highlights two female combat amputees who had lost an arm and a hand. Dawn and Juanita talk about how they  deal with a combat injury different then how men deal with them, because men tend to wear them as a badge of honor for their time serving, while women try to make them look as normal as possible and try to look normal.   During this point women are not supposed to be fighting on the front lines, however as the war in Iraq goes on it is clear that there is no true front line and many women are right in the middle of the fight. Women like Dawn and Juanita are the kind that set the path for more to follow them and take larger roles in order to be equal to their male counterparts.

The Marines Didn’t Think Women Belonged in the Infantry. She’s Proving Them Wrong

But Lieutenant Hierl is the first woman in the Marine Corps to lead an infantry platoon — a historic moment for a male-dominated organization that had fiercely opposed integrating female troops into combat, something that still unsettles many within the ranks.

Lieutenant Hierl is one of four platoon commanders in Echo Company. Her presence, first eyed with skepticism, appears to have been quietly accepted.

Thirty-seven women have attended the Marines Corps’ Infantry Officer Course at Quantico, Va., for 13 weeks of combat evaluations and miles long hikes carrying heavy loads. Only two women have passed.

Of those two women, only Lieutenant Hierl has been given a platoon of roughly 35 men to lead.

Link to full article:

This New York Times article from August 2018 is showing a historic change in the Marines through the addition of their first female platoon leader, Lieutenant Hierl. She says that she doesn’t want the extra attention that comes with being the first, she just wants to be treated equally. Because women were finally allowed into full combat roles in 2013 she wanted to be able to serve for her country and didn’t think that her being a woman was a reason that she shouldn’t be able to do it. As more women are trying to push through the armed forces highly male dominated positions it is clear that women want the same basic right to fight for their country that men have had from the start.  As the US continues to keep troops in the Middle east the fight that was started in September 2001 continues on.


Primary Sources

Porteous, R. H. Women! Help America’s Sons Win the War. 1917. Photograph.

“Rosie the Riveter.” In News Features & Internal Communications Image Collection. Primary Source Media, 1940. Associated Press Collections Online. 

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Women in the War: We Can’t Win without Them. Photograph. 1942. 

Office of War Information, and Office of Emergency Management. Do the Job He Left behind. 1942. Photograph. Accessed November 14, 2018.

Release 6, 1942. Produced by United Newsreel Corporation. 

Release 105, 1944. Produced by United Newsreel Corporation. 

Wilbur, Lawrence. Longing Won`t Bring Him Back Sooner . . . Get a War Job! 1944. Photograph. 

Columbia Broadcasting System. “Interview by James H.R. Cromwell and William Bradford Huie Chronoscope, Helen Hayes.” Video file. 1951. 

Robinson, Douglas. 1966. “Women March here to Protest Vietnam War.” New York Times (1923-Current File), May 08, 2.

“Nurse is the First Woman Decorated in Vietnam War.” 1968.New York Times (1923-Current File), Oct 08, 5.

ERA; The Equal Rights Amendment And You. [Place of publication not identified] :National Education Association, 1975.

Wilgoren, Jodi. “A New War Brings New Role for Women.” New York Times (1923-Current file), Mar 28, 2003, pp. 2. ProQuest,

Flashpoint: The Way Home. Produced by Reid Orvedahl. Columbia Broadcasting System, 2007. 

Gibbons- Neff, Thomas. “The Marines Didn’t Think Women Belonged in the Infantry. She’s Proving Them Wrong.” The New York Times, August 9, 2018. Accessed November 14, 2018. 

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