When discussing the changing role of women in the U.S. in a social studies or history class, it’s important to thoroughly explain the catalysts for these changes that predate the social movements of the 1960s. Among them is the women’s suffrage movement leading to a woman’s right to vote in 1920. Another prime example, of course, was the necessity of women taking up men’s work in the 1940s during World War II, when most able-bodied men were called to war leaving thousands of job vacancies in their wake. The circumstances of World War II forced women out of a traditional subordinate role as homemakers and stay-at-home mothers and into traditional man’s work in factories and in the war industry building ships, aircraft, vehicles and weaponry.
An excellent video available on YouTube chronicles the changing role of women during WWII. After showing this video to your class, you can ask the following discussion questions:
Q: From the Great Depression up until WWII, what was the primary role of women in society?
A: A woman’s work was mostly in the home, where she was responsible for cooking, cleaning and raising the children. Women did not frequently work outside the home.
Q: When was the Attack on Pearl Harbor, and what was its relevance to WWII?
A: December 7, 1941. The attack induced the U.S. to declare war on Japan and enter WWII.
Q: Why did women enter the workforce during WWII?
A: Men left the civilian workforce in droves to join the war effort, and women were needed to work in factories and other traditionally male occupations.
Q: What did women on the home front do to support the troops?
A: Women collected cans, conserved rubber and even gave up their pantyhose for use as war materials.
Q: Name two military organizations that were put together specifically for women during the war.
A: The Woman’s Army Corps (WAC) and the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots).
Q: Name two occupations for women in the Women’s Army Corps that were mentioned in the video.
A: Nurses and secretaries.
Q: Who were the WASPs and what did they do?
A: Women pilots who served in non-combat roles for the Air Force. They flew planes to the battle front and brought supplies to the troops during transport missions.
Q: Did women continue to work in men’s roles after the war?
A: No, women returned to more traditional roles in the home after the war and in the 1950s.
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