Whether they were assembling aircraft or cultivating crops, women played a pivotal role in World War II. But with color photography in its infancy, their extraordinary efforts were predominantly immortalized in black and white. Decades later, modern technology has allowed us to inject a splash of color into these historic images. And they cast a brand-new light on the astonishing achievements of working women in wartime.
Taking charge of their own destinies
While WWII would eventually open the doors to a greater variety of jobs, a good number of women were already part of the workforce. In fact, around 25 percent of U.S. women were employed outside their homes by 1940, according to the Khan Academy. But the majority of these women hailed from minority and working-class backgrounds – driven in part by the loss of income suffered in the Great Depression.
Furthermore, the jobs undertaken by these women were limited in scope. They were also usually related to what were female-dominated professions: such as teaching, typing, or sewing. And the majority of those who did work were also expected to leave their posts upon starting a family. Simply put, there weren’t many options for the ambitious working woman at the time.
Outdated social views
Many men had an antiquated view of working women at the time; for example, some held the view that women should only be allowed to work jobs that men preferred not to perform. Others believed that middle- or upper-class women should never have to work. And some even thought that employed women should relinquish their jobs to unemployed men – particularly amidst the Great Depression.
The fight for their lives
But these men would soon have no choice but to reconsider their attitudes towards female workers. You see, when the U.S. joined the conflict after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, it was forced to call on its entire population to aid the war effort. Women soon found themselves thrust into work, and this put the U.S. squarely at odds with Germany – where leader Adolf Hitler decreed that the role of women was solely as mothers and wives.