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Women in the Workforce

Questions to Consider

Where did women work during World War II?

What kinds of work did they do?

Were they well integrated into the workforce? How can you tell?

About the Images

These images show women at work during World War II, when the shortage of male workers opened new jobs to women. Photographs depict women working in factories and engaged in hard physical labor.


With so many American men involved in the war abroad, there was an extreme shortage of workers at home. For the first time, women entered the workforce in large numbers, learning to do industrial jobs that previously had been done by men. The shipyard "dress code" poster for women reflects the newness of their transition into blue collar work.

In the early 1940s, when the photographs in this topic were taken, women working in heavy industry were a novelty and women building warships was groundbreaking. As these images show, women were engaged in work that was highly skilled, sometimes dangerous, and often involved heavy physical labor.

Women played a significant role in military production. Images here depict them working in shipyards welding, drafting, repairing tools, using heavy machinery, driving trucks. Women welders became known as "Rosie," and "Rosie the Riveter" became a nickname for female workers. Women working at the California shipyards were also called "Wendy the Welder." Toward the end of the war, women made up nearly one-third of the workforce of 90,000 at the Richmond Shipyards.

A few of these photographs were taken by photographer Dorothea Lange. In these images you can see the various jobs that women performed at the Richmond Shipyards, as well as the dedication and hard work they contributed to the war effort. You may also notice that there are women of color in some of the photographs, reflecting the migration of African Americans from the South into California that was occurring at the time.

California Content Standards

English-Language Arts

Grade 4:

1.0 Writing Strategies: Research and Technology

2.0 Writing Applications
2.3 Write information reports.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.2 Make informational presentations.

Grade 11:

1.0 Writing Strategies: Research and Technology

2.0 Writing Applications
2.4 Write historical investigation reports.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.2 Deliver oral reports on historical investigations.
2.4 Delivery multimedia presentations.

History-Social Science

Grade 4:

4.4 Students explain how California became an agricultural and industrial power, tracing the transformation of the California economy and its political and cultural development since the 1850s. (4.4.5)

Grade 11:

11.7 Students analyze America's participation in World War II. (11.7.6)

Visual Arts

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context Understanding the Historical Contributions and Cultural Dimensions of the Visual Arts. Students analyze the role and development of the visual arts in past and present cultures throughout the world, noting human diversity as it relates to the visual arts and artists.

Analysis Tools

6C's of Primary Source Analysis (PDF) (Source: UCI History Project)
Photographs (PDF) (Source: Library of Congress)
Primary Source Activity (PDF) (Source: Library of Congress)

Who was Dorothea Lange?

Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), a great American photographer, is perhaps best known for her photographs of Dust Bowl migrants during the Great Depression.

General note about Lange’s images

Due to the limits of technology and the scanning process used, the digitized versions of Dorothea Lange’s photographs in some cases do not accurately represent the high quality of the original images.