The United States was in the midst of World War II with the hopes of leaving the Great Depression behind. With many of the nation's men fighting overseas, there was a labor shortage in the mainland United States. To address this issue, the War Manpower Commission (WMC) was established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942. Contrary to what the department's name suggests, women were at the forefront of this effort.
Your Labor Matters!
In the 1940's, the average American consumed media through radio or newspapers. The WMC used this as an opportunity to address the labor shortage by recruiting potential workers through advertisements on these mediums. The fields of industry and agriculture had the largest labor needs, which the ads highlighted by convincing workers that their labor participation in these sectors directly and positively contributed to the war effort and the nation itself.
Tent Production Job Recruitment Ad (1940/1945) by The National Archives at New York CityU.S. National Archives
Like the one above, this ad also shows the importance of wartime industry at home to GIs and the war effort abroad.
Your Work Leads to a "Quicker Victory"
Recruitment also happened on the ground. The Victory Center Volunteer Office provided unemployed people with information about job openings.
Women Recruiting at the Victory Center (1945) by The National Archives at New York CityU.S. National Archives
The volunteers at this recruitment office also demonstrated the type of work available.
Soldering Operation Demonstration at Victory Center (1945) by The National Archives at New York CityU.S. National Archives
The demonstrations were performed by women in wartime industries, thereby encouraging women to apply for these industrial jobs that directly helped with the war effort.
Assembly Operation Demonstration at Victory Center (1945) by The National Archives at New York CityU.S. National Archives
This worker is demonstrating assembly operation for a bomb fuse.
And First... We Train...
Once women applied and were accepted, they had to go to the workplace to train for their new jobs. Most of the jobs offered did not require prior experience, but rather, employers provided their new employees with proper training.
New York Navy Yard Training (1942/1945) by The National Archives at New York CityU.S. National Archives
The women in this class, shown here learning trade terminology on their first day of training, were among the first applicants for jobs as female mechanic learners at the New York Navy Yard in Brooklyn.
A Glimpse of the Future
By participating in wartime industry, women were not just working. They also changed the very fabric of the American workplace itself. The image above is a glimpse of what more workplaces would look like until they evolved to the point where women in the workplace was not an anomaly.
New York Navy Yard Shipfitter Shop (1942/1945) by The National Archives at New York CityU.S. National Archives
Nineteen year old Ann Rojack stencils a steel plate before layout in the shipfitter shop .
New York Navy Yard Welding (1942/1945) by The National Archives at New York CityU.S. National Archives
Doris Newman, twenty years old, does a bit of student welding.
Rationing & Farming
Well before the WMC, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) was created in 1937 to address rural poverty. The WMC helped compliment the FSA. Due to these programs, women contributed to agriculture as much as industry. The implementation of food rationing during WWII made women's work on farms imperative to keeping food on the tables of Americans across the country.
High School Aged Peas Pickers (1941-06) by The National Archives at New York CityU.S. National Archives
High school students going out to pick peas in Canyon County, Idaho.
Picking Berries (1940-07) by The National Archives at New York CityU.S. National Archives
Berry picking in Cashe County, Utah.
Womanpower is Here to Stay
The opportunities fostered by the WMC ended up being a testing ground for women across the country. They proved to the country and the world that they belonged in the workplace too. Whether it was a factory or a farm, the work women performed during the war helped redefine the American workforce, and the percentage of women in the labor force continued to climb in the postwar era.
Working Together for the Greater Good
Anna Rosenberg was the Regional Director of the WMC. She led the State of New York in the initiative to reduce unemployment and keep the state's economy afloat. Her work is a testament that a woman could not only occupy a position of power and perform well, but a statement that the nation could work together toward a common goal. The WMC helped make this possible.
Presenter: Carlos A. Santiago
Editor: Angela Tudico
National Archives at New York City