What effect did World War II have on American women's attitudes toward their roles in the workplace?

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lhc | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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World War II had a similar effect on the United States as the Industrial Revolution had in the late 1700's and 1800's, in that a major shift in the composition of the workforce occurred.  While the Industrial Revolution involved large numbers of people, men, women and children, leaving agricultural pursuits to work in factories, World War II created a situation where factories needed more workers than ever to construct the tools of war, and the traditional male workers were leaving in droves to fight.  Thus, many women who had not worked outside the home found themselves doing just that; some found their way into clerical type positions, traditionally associated with females, but many more found themselves in factories wielding welding torches, working assembly lines, designing and building complicated machinery.  Other women rented out space in their homes for soldiers who might be stationed at an area base before shipping out.  With employment came spending money, and American women enjoyed buying products designed just for them, creating a whole new target market for advertising agencies.

When the war ended, America enjoyed an economic prosperity unlike anything it had seen before; suburbs sprang up, consumer credit was born, and returning soldiers could take advantage of the GI Bill to get an education.  However, whatever gains women might have made in the workforce, and in changing people's attitudes were more or less forgotten until 1963.  At that time, Betty Friedan rocked with world with her book, The Feminine Mystique, in which she theorized that American women had entertained hopes of a new world of opportunities post World War II, which had not come to pass, and that the vast majority of American women were generally unhappy because they were not able or encouraged to use their talents and skills outside the traditional home as a sort of June Cleaver figure.  In a rare interview, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis alluded to this as well, saying that the lack of opportunities for women "has been sad for many women of my generation". 

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