Women in WWII (USA & UK): Change over time (1939-1945)

Jennifer Chen


Introduction: Overview

    WWII not only had encouraged women to be in the working fields, but also had changed the way people dress and promoted less of racial difference. Women in WWII were distinct by two major groups: workers and soldiers. Everyone was involved in WWII, no matter where and who people were. Women in USA and UK took similar roles in different ways and titles. Women had to get a job for livelihood, but they had to take care of the household as well. It is not unusual to see women having their babies on their back in the working fields, and propagandas were all over everywhere to urge people to join the war. Just like WWI, women played a vital role during the war. However, as with WWI, women at the end of WWII found that the advances they had made were greatly reduced when the soldiers returned from their fighting abroad. Overall, the role and status of women had increased because of the war, but those had decreased by the end of the war.

The Stocking Story:

Before the war, women used silk stocking, which was more expensive and better quality than nylon stockings. However, as the WWII progessed and the countries focused their supplies and war effort on weapon and army, nylon stocking replaced silk stocking. When the war effort dramatically reduced civilian supplies of nylon, used for women's stockings, many women took to drawing lines on the back of their legs to simulate the appearance of stockings.6 This showed the poor working conditions women were experiencing during the war. In the winter, women would have to suffer from the extreme weather and went to work without real stockings.
WWII_nylon_stockings.jpeg get.jpegSilk Stocking before the war

Women in USA during the war:

Women in USA stood an important role since they supplied many industrial weapons and agricultural food. Many women became nurses and spies, joined Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and Navy Women's Reserve called Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), and Marine Corps Women's Reserve. Women on the home front also performed many kinds of non-military service such as the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), American Red Cross, and the Untied Service Organizations (USO). Base on the groups above, there were many newborn ideas and effort to work on the war, and they helped women to gain status and importance in the war. Before the war, there were no such organizations, and women were supposed to stay home taking care of the children and cleaning the house. Different from the past, women took part in various occupation and became less of stereotype women, who people believed that they should be weak and stay home. Many African-American women also worked with the others and made the social difference between race less obvious.2 Therefore, there were new organizations in the states as well as more job opportunities for women to be involved in nursing and charity.

HTubman.gifHarriet Tubman, an African-American woman, served as a spy, scout, and nurse
worldWar1NursesSoldiers.jpegAmerican Red Cross nurses tending to wounded soldiers on the battlefield in WWI
American_Women%27s_Voluntary_Services.jpegAmerican Women's Voluntary Services
020927-o-9999A-002.jpegWomen joining the air force
Women_working_at_Douglas_Aircraft.jpegWomen working on the aircraft
What you must know as a women during WWII

Women in Europe during the war:

Compare to women in the states, women in Europe joined Women's Land Army (WLA), factory work, Women's Voluntary Service (WVS), Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), secret agents, and entertainers. Americans and Europeans had similar groups and actions with different titles. For factory workers, the sex segregation of the workforce provided further social justification for the economic fact that women receive lower wages, and in giving men higher wages it also ensured that they remained the prime breadwinners and that women's incomes are seen as supplementary. Even though the wage differential remained, women's incomes increased substantially during the war.8By the end of the war, the war in Europe ended in May 1945. At this time there were 460,000 women in the military and over 6.5 million in civilian war work.1

Wounded_on_Way_to_Hospital.jpegWomen Nursing: Wounded on Way to Hospital
women_3.jpegThe recruiting poster for the ATS
Women at work WWII 1943

After the War:

Between WWI and WWII (1920-1940), women in U.K. had got full voting equality with men when in 1928 a law was passed which stated that any person over the age of 21 could vote. At the end of WWII, women who had found alternate employment from the normal for women lost their jobs. The returning soldiers had to found jobs and many wanted society to return to pre-war situation. Therefore by 1939, many young girls found employment in domestic service - 2 million of them, just as had happened in WWI.1 Still, the phenomenon of women working side by side with men was not unusual anymore. However, there was gap between women and men. When women found employment in the Civil Service, in teaching and in medicine, in contrast to men they had to leave when they got married. Men had more equality and job rights.


  1. "Women in World War Two." historylearningsite.co.uk. 2012. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/women_WW2.htm
  2. "Celebrating the Legacy: African-American Women Serving in Our Nation's Defense." Women in Miliraty Service for America Memorial Foundation, Inc.: news and events. http://www.womensmemorial.org/News/BHM07.html
  3. Koonz, Claudia. Mothers in the Fatherland: Women, the Family and Nazi Politics. St. Martin's Press 1987. New York, N.Y.
  4. Minns, Raynes. Bombers & Mash: The Domestic Front 1939-45. Virago Press 1999. London.
  5. Bryant, Arthur. The Turn of the Tide 1939-1943. Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York. 1957.
  6. "Women at Work." http://www.netplaces.com/world-war-ii/the-roles-of-women-during-the-war/women-at-work.htm
  7. "Representation of the People Acts: From Women in Europea History." Women in European History. http://womenineuropeanhistory.org/index.php?title=Representation_of_the_People_Acts
  8. "Women in Industry World War II." Education Branch, Office of Public Programs. National Archives. http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/CAS/HISTORY/AmericaLevel2/Women/women.htm