Before the War
  War Begins
  Going to Work
  War Comes Home
  Daily Life
  The War Ends


By Penny Colman

Riveting was one of the jobs taken on by women in the war industry, like this woman working on a Consolidated bomber in Fort Worth, Texas, 1942. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

One of the most dramatic changes during World War II was the number of women who went to work. As the armed forces filled its ranks with manpower, industry filled its jobs with womanpower. For the duration of the war, the U.S. government and industry wooed American women to work in the war effort. The title of a song, "Rosie the Riveter," quickly became the catchphrase that represented all women war workers.

During World War II, more than six million women joined the workforce. In August 1943, Newsweek magazine reported: "They [women] are in the shipyards, lumber mills, steel mills, foundries. They are welders, electricians, mechanics, and even boilermakers. They operate streetcars, buses, cranes, and tractors. Women engineers are working in the drafting rooms and women physicists and chemists in the great industrial laboratories." More than two million women joined the war effort as clerical workers, nearly one million of whom were hired by the federal government. Women also became police officers, taxicab drivers, lawyers, statisticians, journalists, and members of symphony orchestras, as men left for the armed forces. Women ran farms, planted crops, tended animals, and harvested tons of vegetables, fruits, and grains.

Volunteers for the Civilian Defense took classes on how to care for the wounded, like these women in a first aid class in New York City in 1941. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

In addition, three million women served as Red Cross volunteers. Millions of women worked for the Civilian Defense as air-raid wardens, fire watchers messengers, drivers, auxiliary police. Women volunteers also devoted hours to scanning the sky with binoculars, looking out for enemy planes. Thousands of women joined the military through organizations like the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) and the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), and the Women's Army Corps (WAC).

About the time World War II ended, American factories had produced 296,429 airplanes, 102,351 tanks and self-propelled guns, 372,431 artillery pieces, 47 million tons of artillery ammunitions, 87,620 warships, and 44 billion rounds of small-arms ammunition. Time magazine called America's wartime production a miracle. The "miracle" would not have happened without Rosie the Riveter.

Penny Colman is the author of Rosie the Riveter: Women Working on the Home Front in World War II.

When the war ended in 1945, so did America's need for women workers. Rosie the Riveter disappeared as quickly as she had been created, but her memory lived on. Although America no longer needed women workers, the story of their wartime achievements and contributions to the war effort lives on in employment records and in statistics; in magazine and newspaper articles and on radio programs; and in thousands of posters, pamphlets, and photographs. This is an amazing story about a time when traditional barriers that had blocked women workers were lowered, and when women finally had a chance to prove what they could do on a national scale.

Betty Reilly's story is just one woman's experience of living during the war and working in a plant building PT boats. Every "Rosie the Riveter" has her own story to tell. This is Betty's.