In the 1930s, women were told, “Don’t steal a job from a man.” Twenty-six states had laws prohibiting married women from working. Single, white women could find jobs as salesgirls, beauticians, school teachers, nurses, and secretaries. Women of color were restricted to jobs like maid, cook, and laundress. More than three-fourths of the women worked because they had to, but the common cultural wisdom was they worked for “pin money”; money spent of frivolous things. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, they also blew apart this conventional wisdom.
With thousands of men leaving the workforce to join the armed services, there was no one in the plants to manufacture the planes, the ships, and the ammo the men would need; thus entered Rosie the Riveter. After the war, polls showed that eighty percent of the women who were working wanted to continue to work. But they also wanted to be reunited with their sweethearts or husbands and wanted to start families. They wanted both, and did not want to give up either. However, when the war was over, women were told to sashay back into their homes, and the kitchens, and let the men earn the money. As soon as the Japanese signed the surrender papers, more than 4 million American women were fired.
[Blogger’s Note: My mother was 30 years old and married when the United States entered World War II. She went to work and never stopped until she retired.]
My mother worked outside of the home as well as inside of it. She was not alone. In 1960, one in five women with children aged six or younger worked outside of the home. Nearly 38 percent of all women over 16 were in the labor force. They earned 60 percent of what the men earned basically because they were restricted to low-paying jobs like school teacher, beautician, waitress, nurse, and secretary. Then they came home and cared for the children and all the household chores. There were contradictions between my mother and the moms on television. Television moms didn’t work. June Cleaver’s attitude on life and how to raise children was very different from my mother’s attitude and child psychology. June Cleaver was never harried. My mother was always harried. By 1963, women like my mother were in an untenable position. They worked all the time, yet their work inside and outside the home were taken for granted and poorly valued.
[Blogger’s note: I found this true to my life as well. My mother went to work during this time and continued to work until she retired. Upon her return from a day of working in the office, she was expected to cook dinner, do the dishes, and then work on sewing or crocheting after the meal. Saturdays were for cleaning the house and Sundays were for church.
I also agree with the statement about work for women during this time. When I began high school in 1974, I went to a vocational / trade school. As a woman, I had the choice between home economics, health sciences, or business administration as my choice of a future vocation.]
Reference: Douglas, S. (1995) Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media. New York: Three Rivers Press