Within months of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into World War II, propaganda posters encouraging women to leave the home appeared. This was a dramatic shift from the widespread belief during the Great Depression that the best way for women to help the nation was by staying at home and taking care of the family. While housework remained vitally important, the need for people to fill the massive number of jobs vacated by men who went to war opened the door for many women to work outside the home.
The government and its affiliates developed elaborate campaigns, often using posters, to get the word out to women. War work was a patriotic duty. All kinds of work—nursing, factory production, agriculture, administrative support, computing—contributed to the war effort in direct and indirect ways.
Over six million American women entered the workforce for the for the first time during the war. Before the war, the female workforce was predominantly young and single. This changed with the war. The average age of workers rose, and more married women than ever before worked outside the home. Patriotism and the desire to contribute to the fight for freedom in a meaningful way motivated many women to work. In addition, salaries for women increased during the war, providing much-needed financial relief. Women also valued the excitement of a new environment. Many women workers learned new skills, built new social networks, and found purpose outside of the home for the first time in their lives.
Each of these posters was produced by a national organization or government agency seeking to recruit women to the war effort. All three embrace a stereotypical view of women as youthful, conventionally attractive, and white. While most war workers were indeed white, the complete lack of diversity hints at the challenges women of color faced breaking into war work.
The first poster was created by the Red Cross and encourages women to join the nursing corps.
The second poster encourages women to find a war job that suits their abilities or interests and mentions options in industry, agriculture, and business.
The third poster is like the second in that it promotes war work generally. Unlike the first and second posters that show a woman happily contributing to the war effort, this one shows a woman clutching a letter from a loved one who is fighting. The War Manpower Commission, which created this poster, accuses the woman of not doing enough to help.