Oh now, there was no social life after work. We had work at home to do. I had a husband and two boys to feed. The housecleaning was my job too. My mom was very sick and she moved in with us in Massachusetts. We had a rough go of it, but we made it.
Question. What did they pay you at the munitions factory?
Aunt Etta. I think we got about $25 a week. It wasn't a lot of money but money went a lot farther back then. Plus we had a big garden and I canned vegetables and froze some too, like corn and lima beans. The worst day I had at that factory was the day they fired us all. It was one week after VJ day, and when we came in the place was quiet, no machines running. They lined us up, gave us our paychecks, and asked us to leave. We cried, some of us. I know I did.
Question. How sad. Were there psychological and emotional adjustments for the women who had worked in the war factories and now were sent home to be domestic women again?
Aunt Etta. I'm not sure what the question is honey. Well, I guess no, women know their duties and responsibilities so nobody had a hard time adjusting to being housewives again. But I took a job as a main in a hotel a few months after I lost my war job. I have worked all my life. You were going to ask me if it bothered me to make less than the men on those war jobs, right? Shoot no. I was just glad to have a job that helped us beat the Japs and the Nazis.
In the journal Labor History (Clive, 1979) the author quotes from Eleanor Straub's PhD dissertation about civilian women: "World War II permanently altered concepts of welfare, industrial technology… but no comparable changes in the status of women in American society are visible" (Clive, 1979, p. 45).
Sonya Jason writes in Newsweek about her experience at the end WWII: "Almost overnight, jaunty young men with crew cuts were everywhere, and store windows began featuring frilly, feminine clothing" (Jason, 2004, pp. 2-3). The returning soldiers wanted the women looking pretty, Jason continued. "Like the boys who were hurled into battle and emerged men, we gunpowder girls had to grow up fast," she explained. And though those gunpowder girls are "often overlooked by current feminists, our efforts gave a powerful impetus to the women's movement," Jason concluded (p. 3).
Did women's pay equal what the men got during the war period? According to Mark Aldrich -- using data from Social Security files -- notwithstanding women's "unprecedented movement into heavy manufacturing industries… the national all-industry earnings of women during the war fell compared to those of men" (Aldrich, 1989, p. 415).
There is a lot of scholarship on women's role during the Great Depression, and there is also good scholarship on women's efforts at home during the war. Mark Aldrich notes that women's pay went up during the war simply because women had made so little in their previous retail and domestic jobs. For example, the U.S. Women's Bureau surveyed employed women in 1944-45 and that survey revealed that for every 100 women employed in eating and drinking places prior to Pearl Harbor "30 of them had moved into war manufacturing" (Aldrich, 421). One woman (initials "B.A.") was making 20 cents an hour as a waitress "where she was not permitted to accept tips." However when she was hired at a bomber plant, she was earning $1.15 an hour, Aldrich writes. The history of women in the workplace needs continuing research, and not just because there are unanswered questions about wages and the dynamics in factories when men returned from war. Women's lives and careers have never been adequately reported and recorded, and for a writer who still remains astonished that women did not get the right to vote until 1920, a hundred and thirty-nine years after the Articles of Confederation went into effect, it seems appropriate to study women's history more thoroughly.
Aldrich, Mark. (1989). The Gender Gap in Earnings during World War II: New Evidence.
Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 42(3), 415-430.
Clive, Alan. (1979). Women Workers in World War II: Michigan as a Test Case. Labor History,
Hesse-Biber, Sharlene Nagy, and Carter, Gregg Lee. (2005). Working Women in America: