Rosie the Riveter Goes West: The Mobilization and Migration of Women During World War II

Amanda Bevers
History 400
12.16.04

While other girls attend a favorite cocktail bar,
Sipping dry martinis, munching caviar;
There's a girl who's really put them to shame
Rosie is her name.

All the day long, whether rain or shine,
She's part of the assembly line,
She's making history working for victory,
Rosie, Rosie, Rosie, Rosie, Rosie, Rosie the riveter
[1]

When Rose Will Monroe, a worker at Ford Motor Company's Willow Run Aircraft Factory, was chosen during World War II to appear in propaganda encouraging women to work for the war effort, few anticipated the impact dear "Rosie" would have on women's history, let alone the war effort. [2] World War II, like so many wars before it, was an intensely difficult experience for everyone involved, and it upset the normalcy of life all over the world in ways that people had never before encountered. As historian Willard Waller noted at the beginning of the war, "When war begins, the habits of some millions of persons are broken; nearly everyone must stop doing what he has been doing and start doing something else." [3] Waller's gendered comments are ironically poignant with respect to the paradigm of the femal experience during the Second World War. Willard's argument that "no modern nation could wage a war without its women" holds especially true for World War II, as women proved an integral part of the war effort by taking on the traditional responsibilities of both genders and capitalizing on new opportunities that forever changed their identity. [4] As the war raged on, American women all across the country answered the call to patriotic support of the war effort by becoming the ideal patriotic woman--Rosie the Riveter.

Rosie the Riveter propaganda hustled women into factories and jobs that were formerly occupied by men in order to keep the war industry in business. Women became factory workers, welders, riveters, and held a number of other traditionally male positions, replacing the men fighting in the war and helping produce provisions necessary to win the war. While wars past dragged women into similar positions for the war effort, World War II mobilized women into a whole new 'frontier' of experience. Rosie the Riveter became the epitome of the patriotic American woman; she worked hard supporting her country as a riveter, mother, wife and volunteer. Perhaps these Rosies' most enduring characteristics were that they happily juggled several responsibilities, and gladly packed up and moved wherever they were most needed by the war effort. As they mobilized themselves, the Rosies of World War II encountered unique challenges and circumstances that helped them develop a different understanding of themselves as women. The westward migration of so many Rosies during the war provided more than a fundamentally new phenomenon; women's mobility during the war was symbolic of their experience moving into a new frontier, encountering in their new independence issues of gender, race and patriotism that had never been so intensely explored before.

Propaganda drove women working for paltry salaries trying to make ends meet towards more industrial centers. With the development of numerous military stations, naval shipyards and aircraft factories on the West Coast, women increasingly turned to California, Oregon, and Washington as the new frontier for competitive wages and better opportunities. The word spread rapidly that the West offered more opportunities for women, and with the patriotic call to duty they were hearing, it was hard to resist. The result was a migration westward that gave most women their first real taste of independence. As they mobilized by moving themselves, their families and their homes geographically, these women became part of a frontier movement in women's history that had never been seen before. While propagandists made it clear that the war could not be won without the compassion and strength of the new War-Wife-Worker, the women who came to embody Rosie the Riveter took on the fictitious image with more authority than anyone had anticipated. Stepping into men's shoes was nothing new for many of these women, but independently relocating for a war effort that would give them legitimacy as citizens certainly was. While the contribution of women to the war effort is well-documented, the westward migration and metaphoric new frontier experience they went through is not. This new, westward 'frontier' experience gave women the opportunity to work competitively and serve their country; at the same time it was the first instance of women independently settling a geographic and metaphoric frontier, taking their rightful place next to men as American settlers and citizens, confronting the controversial issues of a new area and era.

Migration Westward
The westward migration that occurred during World War II was a genuinely new phenomenon. Historian Doris Weatherford argues that "never before had so many people moved in so many different directions in so short a timeÉa giant restlessness characterized the land."[5] Indeed, as men fought on the fronts of Europe, Americans remaining behind stirred anxiously and began creating for themselves a patriotic front on American soil. This front required the mobilization of thousands of people, who relocated to the area of the country where they felt they were most needed by the war effort. Within this mobilization emerged the westward migration of women towards a new frontier that proved as expansive as the frontiers Americans had previously pursued. Historian Julia Kirk Blackwelder argues in Now Hiring: The Feminization of Work in the United States, that World War II stimulated specifically female migration in a number of ways. "Some women followed husbands or sweethearts who moved to military bases or civilian jobs," she says, while "many more, identifying new options in distant places, independently answered the labor call of expanding industries"[6] The West offered not only more opportunities for women to work, but also the promise of a new life in a new frontier. As the West provided the most numerous non-gendered labor opportunities, women were drawn westward by the magnet of developing war industry opportunities and the chance to journey independently and encounter a new frontier. Blackwelder argues that the women most likely to work during the war were the wives already at work when the war started, many of whom saw the West as a new challenge in their development as women and citizens. These working women "shifted to better-paid jobs," and "housewives who had never earned wages leapt at the chance to add welding or machine tooling to their responsibilities as homemakers."[7] The overall experience that these women shared broadened their horizons. They began to believe they could not only do work that men traditionally did, but also contribute to the war effort as necessarily as men by adapting to the new experiences and environments they encountered.

Hundreds of women were initially attracted to the West simply because their husbands or sweethearts were stationed at West Coast bases, or had found better jobs on the West Coast. For example, Jackie Moxley Romaine followed her husband westward to the Navy base in San Francisco to which he had been shipped. Romaine wanted to be with him for as long as she could during the war, so she relocated and found a job in the shipyards.[8] Many of the women who had not previously worked found jobs during the war because they journeyed to more opportune areas of the country. For women determined to be with their husbands no matter where in the United States they were sent, the West was not as unique a frontier. Nevertheless, traveling to the West still provided them with a new Ôfrontier' experience. Geraldine Collogan Richey left Cardon, Iowa to be with her husband stationed at a Coast Guard boot camp in Oakland, California. For Richey, this was an excellent opportunity to move somewhere new, find a good job and help support her family. She raved about the wonderful job, social acceptance, and financial benefits she and her husband found in California, maintaining all the while that their motivation for relocating was "mainly patriotic." At the same time, Richey explained that she secretly looked forward to moving because of the experiences that awaited her on the West coast.[9] Nova Lee McGhee Holbrook and her husband left their home in Perry, Arkansas to take jobs at the increasingly popular Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond, California. There the two were able to work the same hours and save up enough money to get "a good start on life."[10] One young mother of three relocated with her husband when he found a job working on a railroad in Portland. She was motivated to leave Nebraska for the West not only because she wanted to follow her husband, but also because she had an interest in welding, and knew there would be better opportunities for her to work in Portland than in Nebraska. As a blacksmith's daughter, she enjoyed working with metal outdoors, and the range of opportunities that were available in the West made relocating her family there an easy decision.[11] Her husband relocated out of necessity, but Nova Lee's decision to move her family was one she made based on her own desire to keep her family together while pursuing her own frontier opportunity. For the Holbrooks and many other young couples, the West provided the perfect opportunity to start out new and earn enough money to begin a better life together.

Families became vulnerable as soldiers left for war and the fighting intensified. The result was a flocking of distant relatives to be closer to one another during a time of chaotic movement and reorganization. Women who migrated westward to help distant relatives and friends helped create a new type of community based on extended family support groups. After Annie Green Small's cousin left their small Louisiana town for Marinship California and the promise of better opportunities, her cousin begged Small to join her. When she heard success stories from both her cousin and other distant relatives who had migrated westward, Small encouraged the rest of her family to go with her to the West Coast. Small recalls it as a great opportunity for her entire family to prosper, noting how she was making "wonderful money" in comparison to her wages in Louisiana.[12] Family connections with the West became an important factor motivating westward migration. Mildred Admire Bedell traveled with her three children westward from Missouri to stay with her best friend to help with her new baby in California. Bedell went to the West to help a friend in need during the tense period of war and encountered many wonderful opportunities for herself. When her friend recommended she get a job, she applied at the local shipyard and became a welder. "I went to the welding plant," Bedell recalls, "and the next thing I knew, I was weldingÉI loved it."[13] Bedell was only one of thousands of women who relocated to the West in order to be with or assist family, friends, or distant relatives who needed extra help during the war. Helen Kooina Dowling moved herself and her two children from Sioux Falls, South Dakota to Chehalis, Washington to help care for her husband's brother. As the war intensified, many of her relatives came from South Dakota to join her in Washington.[14]

With or without connections in the West, thousands of women were motivated by not only patriotic determination to contribute to the war effort, but also financial interest in the West's attractive opportunities. With families to support, women flocked to the West in search of the better and higher-paying job opportunities available there. Katie Lee Clark Knight and her husband moved from El Paso, Texas to Richmond, California when the war started, in search of these opportunities. Knight explains, "Being young, we wanted to go where the big money was."[15] When she arrived in California, she was immediately hired as a shipfitter and quickly adapted to her new job, enjoying wearing the seemingly masculine clothing that she was forced to wear. Knight recognized that "people came from all over the United States to work [in California]. People knew it was a good place to get a job."[16] When the war was over, Knight and her husband had saved enough money working in California shipyards to afford the move back to El Paso and buy a house. For the Knights, the West provided rewards for patriotic serve that did extend beyond the war. At the same time, many women headed westward because it was the only viable option they had in order to survive. Jennie Fain Folan, an Arkansas farmer who lost several close friends and all her cattle and horses to the Depression and ensuing drought, saw the West truly as a frontier of hope. With four kids in tow, she went to Tacoma, Washington after seeing an advertisement for numerous job opportunities there. She saw herself as an opportunistic settler traveling westward towards a new and necessary frontier. For Folan, the hard trip westward was a small price to pay for the only glimmer of hope she could find in a time of great despair.[17] Whether these women had husbands or family in the West, this new frontier was symbolic for them of the opportunities they had not only as women, but as citizens of a country fighting an important war. As these women moved westward in search of better opportunity and through a process of becoming increasingly independent and mobile, they discovered more about the opportunities their country had to offer and just how they fit into the grand scheme of things.

Industry of the New Frontier
Because the West itself was still developing, and not overpopulated or overdeveloped like many areas in the East, it was a convenient location for the development of war industry. While war industries in the East were booming, the West was becoming an attractive array of boomtowns where opportunity abounded. As the burgeoning war industry grew and expanded into several areas of concentration, the West provided fertile ground not only for new ideas, but also new ventures. Two of the most important industries during the warÑfarming and shipyardsÑwere not only integral to the war effort, but also important in the development of industry in and attraction of workers to the West. As these industries in the West flourished, they opened to women with considerable more availability than in the East, and the influx and presence of women greatly affected the development of these industries. As illustrated in the cases to be discussed concerning farming and shipyards, the West accepted women more willingly, and gave them the new opportunities inherent of a developing frontier. The rules and regulations of industry with regards to gender and race discrimination developed alongside women's burgeoning new identities, and the two simultaneously affected each other.

Historian Stephanie A. Carpenter argues that the Women's Land Army became an important organization during the war, mobilizing workers to provide help to farmers throughout the country. Established in 1943 as part of the Emergency Farm Labor Program, the Women's Land Army relocated thousands of women to farms where they were greatly needed.[18] The West was most willing to accept female farm labor during the war, and as a result, women found work more easily and faster than in other areas of the country.[19] Before the creation of the Women's Land Army, areas in the West were in dire need of labor after the majority of their Japanese American labor force was sent to internment camps. As a result, women began working on Western farms at a very early stage in the war, and it was just one of the many ways in which they contributed to the war effort right alongside men. Women provided a much needed source of labor not only because the labor supply had been depleted, but also because "California farmers required workers throughout the year. Unlike farmers in other parts of the country who 'relaxed' during the winter months, farmers in the West continued harvesting and farming." Indeed, the need for farm labor in the West continued even after large migrations of women came westward to fill farm labor quotas.[20] This dire need was one that transcended gendered spheres of influence because there was no reconciling the farm work that needed to be done without hiring women. As a result, women were a natural necessity in the farm labor industry, and valuable commodities as they traveled westward.

The documentation of women migrating westward to work on farms during the war is more limited than that of popular war time employment opportunities like factory work and shipbuilding, but it was just as significant. Farm labor opportunities in the West offered more competitive pay than in any other part of the country, and women were able to get a variety of jobs more easily. Of all of the regions across America debating whether or not to employ women as farm workers, it was easiest to convince California, Oregon, or Washington producers "that women made ideal agricultural laborers."[21] Women who were already working on farms in the West were treated well, and those who came West during the war were surprised to encounter less discrimination and hardship than they experienced in the Midwest and South. For the women who had been working on farms by themselves since the war began, the constant and laborious work on western farms was familiar to them. Relocating to the West and adapting to a new environment and way of life was a challenging process that changed them just as the Oregon Trail significantly affected the pioneers who traversed it in search of opportunity in the West. Just like these exploring the western frontier in America's early history, the Rosies of World War II endured a long hard journey to do the work their country needed done, thereby legitimizing their place as American women and citizens.[22]

Shipbuilding and shipyard work was another important field that flourished on the West coast during the war. The Kaiser Corporation built dozens of shipyards on the West Coast in response to wartime demand for ships and coastal ports.[23] Because these shipyards were a new development in the West, both men and women had to learn the trade at the start of the war. Women were hired to work in shipyards in the West much earlier than in the nation's other shipyards, and this was one trade they learned as quickly as the men who were just starting to learn.[24] Karen Beck Skold argues that women who worked in shipbuilding "gained access to high wages, to equal pay, and to jobs from which they had formerly been excluded. Wages in shipbuilding were the highest of any defense industry, averaging $63 a week in September 1943."[25] Shipbuilding was a burgeoning new industry that operated as the epitome of western frontier success for women migrating from other parts of the nation.

Shipbuilding companies relied so heavily on female labor that they introduced recruitment campaigns that "stressed high wages and the capabilities of women workers."[26] The mayor of Portland declared one June week in 1943 "Working Women Win Wars Week," and launched a far-reaching campaign to attract women workers to the city's numerous shipyards.[27] Targeting women shaped the campaigns and structure of these shipyards, temporarily breaking down barriers of gender and race. Because the shipyards were relatively new, and yet incredibly vital to the war effort, cities on the West Coast worked hard to fill them with laborers. While the Rosie the Riveter campaign aimed to attract women laborers to all aspects of the war industry, it was in fact the riveting business that profited the most from the campaign. Rosies migrated westward to a region whose expanding industry offered them greater opportunities as both patriots and female workers forging a new way through the wilderness of male labor. As they trekked westward, these Rosies broke down gender barriers and formed a more cohesive identity with other women they encountered, laying greater claim and giving more legitimacy to their value as both women and American citizens.

Life in the West
Moving from less densely populated cities in the sprawling plains of the Midwest and South, the women relocating themselves and their families to the West found it difficult to adjust. Getting to the West Coast was a long and arduous process, and establishing a home in this new frontier proved challenging. The influx of these female pioneers generated a need for some type of temporary housing and makeshift communities. As a result of the conglomeration of women from all over the country mixing together in these contingent areas of the West, women from different walks of life bonded in their patriotism and shared frontier experience. Betty Kirstine Gannon, who worked at a telephone company as well as at Sandpoint Naval Air Station in Seattle, recalled how "everybody was so kind to everybody. We all had somebody over there. So everybody understood."[28] World War II was not affecting a narrow group of people, but rather the entire nation. While women converged on the West Coast from a variety of different hometowns, bringing extremely different experiences to the mix, they often found a common bond in their independence, patriotism and having a husband or relative shipped off to fight in the war. This realization provided a comfort to the women who were traversing long distances in search of the patriotic frontier. Sharing their hopes and fears, these women also realized their importance in not only the war effort, but also American society. They became increasingly aware of how the war legitimized their identity as both women and American citizens.

In 1940, Willard Waller argued in his book War and the Family that "war industries sometimes create entirely new communities," a concept that was proven true as women's westward migration necessitated the invention of new family groups and city communities.[29] As women left their close-knit, small-town communities and moved into the busy suburbs of the West, their perception of family and community changed. The westward migration of women during the war also greatly altered the makeup of cities in the West. Burbank, California grew from 12,000 to 60,000 in the first years of the war as it became a new industrial giant, and other cities in the West grew exponentially as well.[30] Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle numbered among the top cities across the country whose population increased by more than one third.[31] Blackwelder argues that as the number of women migrating westward increased, they faced "severe housing shortages in all labor centers." The result was that many women "found lodging in rooming houses, the YWCA, hotels, and hastily converted garages and warehouses."[32] The hasty creation and conversion of living spaces to accommodate the women migrating westward resulted in a different lifestyle for many women. Goldie Shamchoian Deckwa recalled staying in one house to sleep, and going for another for meals. The owners of the houses she stayed in were "from Texas, and they'd been recruited to come up and help provide housing"[33] Because housing was so scarce, women found lodging wherever they could, sacrificing living in a traditional family home for the assembly line of buildings that provided for their basic needs.

Wartime housing was a necessary commodity for the women moving their families westward in search of better opportunities and doing their part to contribute to the war. When she moved from Arkansas to California, Dee Davenport was pleasantly surprised to see that the government "built wartime housing about a block from the plant" where she worked. She and her husband were able to make a better living in California and even took the train home once a year.[34] Families like the Davenports considered themselves lucky not only to earn more money and have better jobs in the West, but also to have the government provide accommodations for them. In places where the government did not provide housing, people banded together to help each other on their own. The result was the creation of makeshift migrant towns where people came together as strangers laboring for the same cause. Lyllus Runyan Butler and her husband moved their family from Iowa to California before the war started, and opened up their two bedroom house to other people and families on the move. "Our house was a real hospitality house for friends and relatives whose husbands were in the service," Butler recalled. "We were very happy to help any of them," she said, after acknowledging that this hospitality took virtually all of their two paychecks to fund.[35] Butler and her family hosted many people in need of accommodations during the tumultuous war years, but she saw it as an inherent aspect of the war demand. Margaret Wolfe Barry moved to Seattle in 1942 to join her sister and twin brother at a Boeing Plant, and found the hospitality very encouraging. She and her siblings lived in boardinghouses, and she recalled, as "Apartments were hard to get with all the people in town for work, but people were wonderful opening their homes to us."[36] Indeed, the development of wartime boardinghouse communities flourished as more and more people flooded the West. These living arrangements very easily became new centers of entertainment and socializationÑplaces for people to feel at home and at the same time interact with other people they might not otherwise have had the opportunity to meet.

As more and more women went to work in support of the war effort, their participation greatly altered the structure of family life. With the men either fighting abroad or working outside the home and the women desperately needing to join them, care for children became a problematic issue. In previous years, women had not worked as much or in jobs that necessitated their frequent absence from the home. Care of children became especially problematic for women who did not have family or friends in the West. By the 1940s, the issue of childcare for working women's children was a matter of public debate. "By 1944, a significant number of married women wereÉworking outside the home, which translated for many into an urgent need for childcare."[37] Women who worked were expected to take care of their children, increasing the difficulty of their many roles. Historian Debran Rowland argues that, "In addition to attempting to balance the needs of wartime America, women who chose to work were still largely responsible for the care of their children."[38] For the women who traveled westward in search of better opportunities, childcare became an even more problematic issue. Crammed into an unfamiliar urban setting, the mother who moved West to find better work often encountered more difficult setbacks with regards to caring for her children.

Recognizing the intense need for childcare centers in the West, several companies like the Kaiser Corporation set to work organizing and constructing these accommodations. When companies could not provide child care for their employees, government-funded child care centers were established in the West as a response to these needs. Community-based centers, funded through the Lantham Act, were opened in cities like Portland, Vancouver and Seattle. The "Kaiser child-service centers" were "nationally known for their quality and innovations in workplace childcare."[39] While several companies made an honest effort to develop and construct childcare options and facilities that would meet the needs of their mostly female workers, these accommodations were very often found to be lacking. In the early stages of childcare development, many women were wary of the idea of corporate childcare being as nurturing and good for their children as they were. In her article on mothers working outside the home, Rhoda Pratt Hanson explains that many mothers found these company childcare centers to be "dumping grounds for the poor, [and] preferred to engage relatives or sitters for childcare," and were appalled at the idea that they should work instead of properly raising their children.[40] The issue of childcare then divided along the lines of class and geographic situation; wealthier women with family nearby had less problems with childcare than did the exhausted pioneer mothers who traveled across the country with nothing but their family and a hope for better opportunity. This opportunity fell short of the full package of happiness they expected when first setting out on the perilous journey that was relocating to the West. Childcare issues remained controversial throughout the war, and because childcare went hand in hand with the issue of women working in the first place, it became a central part of the women's labor movement controversy.

Issues of Race and Migration
Westward migration during World War II opened up a variety of doors that were previously closed to women. But these doors were not open to all women equally. Despite the gains made in narrowing the gender gap, there was still a wide racial divide. While there was an increasing need for women workers, racism pushed many minority women to the back of the line, and employers hired them only reluctantly. Contrary to the typical image of white settlers conquering the untamed West, this migration of a racially diverse range of women ultimately restructured the cities they flocked to, increasing the diversity of communities in the West. At the same time, white women migrating westward from isolated communities were confronted with this racial diversity and reacted in a variety of ways. Ultimately, the West provided greater opportunities for women of all races and walks of life, and byproducts of this situation included increased integration and racial awareness among women who would have not otherwise encountered such an eye-opening experience had they not traveled westward.

While the cultural stigma against women working broke down fairly fast with the onset of the war, it took longer for American society to justify black women working competitively. According to George E. Demar, an African American writer during the war, the black woman was "considered a newcomer to the American industrial scene" and was thus initially more disadvantaged than her white counterpart.[41] Propaganda promoting westward migration had promised these women a change from their stiff roles and a chance for a better life, a chance to restructure their identities as more than mothers and domestics. But Rosie the Riveter was a white woman, and the propaganda that attracted women of color to the West did not prepare them for the discrimination that historian Marilyn Johnson argues was still present to a degree. At the beginning of the flux into the West when opportunities were just opening up, white women were preferred over black women, but the promise of new war jobs opening up every day renewed their patience.[42] As more jobs became available, African American women were paid considerably less than the white women, and found themselves struggling to make ends meet. They encountered many of the same problems white women encountered as a result of earning less than men and being new to the work force.[43] They had to try to get by on very little money, and accommodate themselves to a lifestyle and work environment that was alien to them.

During the war, the West was considered to be the "new frontier of race relations in America and the way in which race was dealt with there was supposed to dictate the future of race relations." [44] Some initially negative reactions towards an influx of minorities into heavily populated areas like San Francisco, Seattle, and San Diego were the result of a culture of segregation at the time the war started. Prostitution and wasteful spending of newly acquired prosperity were quickly assumed to be activities characteristic of African American women, shortly after they had settled in the West and were unsuccessful finding jobs. Competing with white women, African American women did not find the promising frontier they had come in search of. With time, however, African Americans came to constitute a significant minority, establishing supportive communities throughout the bustling cities of the West.[45] African American women and men established niches in the Western communities that came to realize how valuable they were to the war effort. As a wider variety of government-sponsored and community driven measures such as U.S.O.-Y.W.C.A skating parties and cooperative programs were instituted, women of all races began to interact more with each other, and the racial climate of the West improved dramatically.[46]

A number of white women who have documented their accounts of being on the West Coast mentioned either neutral or positive aspects of interracial relationships with diverse workers. Mildred Admire Bedell moved from Missouri to California, where she took on her very first job in order to help support her family. At the shipyard where she worked, she encountered differences of race with seeming ease. She recalled "two black men, young men," and how the leadsman asked her and the other women if the women would accept them, "and we did, and they were on our crew."[47] In many cases, it was as simple as that. Despite being from the South, many women like Bedell had little problem working with African Americans; even when they did have a problem, they did not often show it because they knew and believed that everyone was working together for a greater cause. The labor shortage made workers less competitive and therefore more accepting of newer workers who may have otherwise been discriminated against if opportunity had not been there.[48] Employers and laborers alike began accepting racial differences in workers without taboo as it was necessary to the war effort.

In fact, many white women found to their surprise that there was little difference between them and women of color. A native Californian, Jane Ward Mayta noticed while working at Consolidated Aircraft Company, "the people I worked with were a tremendous mixture from all kinds of places I had never been." While she had never worked with Midwesterners, Southerners or Easterners before, Mayta found working with a variety of different people very pleasant because they were all working for the same cause. Betty Kirstine Gannon worked in Seattle during the war, but had lived in the South for a number of years and had not met any African Americans there, except in the capacity of servants. In Seattle, she noted that "probably every other person was black. It was the first time I really got to know blacks and I can remember thinking that they're just like us. It was an eye-opener for me." Gannon, like Mayta, found that the black women they worked with were no different from white women, as they had boyfriends and husbands overseas and worked for many of the same reasons. "They were wonderful to work with just like the white girls. No different," Gannon said.[49] The realization that women were working together for a similar cause and under similar circumstances was an experience unique to the war, and one that provided for greater racial acceptance. Many women from all over the country gathered on the West Coast to do the work the government told them was important, and just as they learned not to complain about the difficult new work, so also did they learn to get along with new and different people.

Not all interracial interactions went smoothly from the start, though. Many women from the Midwest or South, like Helen Kooina Dowling who moved from South Dakota to Seattle, were not used to seeing, let alone working with, so many different cultures and people. "It was a complete change for me," she admitted, noting that everything was overwhelmingly different from home. She had come to serve her country, and she often felt like she was in a foreign land. "People from the South were coming," she recalled, especially "African American people [whom] I had not had any close contact withÉbecause in the Midwest there were not many people living there at the time."[50] For Dowling, Seattle was especially strange because of the African American people, whose language and mannerisms were so incredibly alien to her. But Dowling reflected positively on the experience of this interaction, saying it broadened her horizons and was a great education to learn about "the different kinds of people who lived in the world and what were some of their problems."[51] For Dowling and others like her who got out of their "Midwestern area and way of thinking," work in the West was an incredible opportunity that enhanced their experiences during the war and gave them the awareness necessary to spur a greater consciousness of the role of women of all races in society. The creation of this kind of awareness from new experiences that migration provided was only the beginning of a more racially cooperative effort in the fight for women's rights. At the same time, this awareness was often a luxury on the part of the Caucasian women, as many African American women struggled under discrimination and labored under feelings of inferiority.

While white women noticed a difference between races and came to terms with this experience, most women of color were used to being considered different. In many ways, the westward migration of women during the war brought many unlikely mixes of women together in their new jobs. As a black riveter working for Lockheed Aircraft in Los Angeles, Sybil Lewis noticed surprising differences in race that she had never before encountered. Explaining her work, she recalled, "I was the riveter, and this big, strong white girl from a cotton farm in Arkansas worked as the bucker. Bucking was harder than shooting rivets. It required more muscle. Riveting required more skill."[52] Lewis noticed that riveting and bucking at Lockheed was not separated along gender lines, but along lines of skill and ability. She worked with white and black women, and saw both doing different jobs. Penny Colman argues that although black women were often "hired last after white women and black men," they "persevered and got higher-paying jobs than the ones they had before the war."[53] Jayne Ward Mayta noticed the people she worked with "were a tremendous mixture from all kinds of places I'd never been. There were people from the Midwest, from the East, the Deep South."[54] For Mayta and other workers native to the West Coast, the people they encountered seemed strange at first, but the war effort familiarized them. "The women came because their husbands were there," Mayta recalled, "We were all in the same boat wanting to work for the war effort."[55] Black women like Sybil Lewis were, in fact, able to break racial barriers and work jobs that they were not previously allowed to work as women and African Americans. They were also able to work more competitively for higher wages and better treatment.

As the war raged on, opportunities for minorities in the West increased and they were given access not only to a larger number of jobs, but also a greater amount of privileges. Nearly 85 percent of black migrants who traveled to the West Coast remained there for a duration outlasting the war because of the many opportunities there.[56] At the same time, focus on the war and adapting to the new frontier they were encountering shifted attention away from racial issues and African American women were lumped together with Caucasian women in the history of women's contribution to the Second World War. As historian Maureen Honey characterizes it, "the bittersweet nature of wartime opportunities for black women were palpable, but so is a determination to make the most out of the little being offered."[57] African American women saw the gains they were making during the war, but the relativity of those gains would be determined in the years after the war ended.

The Experience and Legacy of Westward Migration
The westward migration of women and their families proved to be an eye-opening experience for everyone involved in or affected by the process. Encountering a growing melting pot of people from all over the country was a radically new experience for most of the women who went westward. As Nancy Baker Wise and Christy Wise argue in their book A Mouthful of Rivets, a lasting change that resulted from the war was "the breakdown of regional barriers and a greater understanding of the variety of individuals who make up the American scene."[58] For example, Helen Kooina Dowling recalled "there were so many different kinds of people working at Boeing from all over the nation and from all walks of life." At Boeing, Dowling encountered African Americans and many other types of people she had never before met, and she said it broadened her horizons. "[It] was a good education for me to know of the different kinds of people who lived in the world and what were some of their problems," she recalled.[59] For many women working in large plants and factories like Dowling, encountering different people from different 'walks of life' proved to be a wonderful educational opportunity. Many women were able to open their minds to ideas they had never before contemplated, and this open-mindedness helped them give value to their war experience. As Dowling later noted, "It was just a change in our complete society, the migration of people to different places, to war industries."[60] The experience that the war offered many women, then, was more than just an opportunity to make higher wages and display their patriotism. The war had helped them discover women just like them all over the country, as well as women who differed from them in such significant ways that they became more aware of the diverse makeup of America. This awareness created the grounds for a bonding between women of diverse backgrounds that would help them in years to come.

The irony of women's contributions to the war effort lies in the duality of roles they embodied throughout the war. World War II demanded much of American women, including the balancing of their roles as mothers, wives, and nurturers with their demanding role as breadwinners, patriots, and laborers. Women handled this pressure in a variety of ways, but few shirked what they considered their responsibility to the war effort. As women took on jobs that had traditionally belonged to men, a process of feminization of labor developed. This process developed with support from both the government and the women themselves. Many women found industry work to be similar to housework. LaVerne Bradley, writing for National Geographic, argued that "Riveting, after all, was nothing more than 'a kind of needlepoint in metals.'"[61] Katie Grant had a similar experience: "They said you weld like you crochet. Well, I did not know how to crochet, but I could sew and make a neat stitch. So I thought of that when they taught us to hold a welding rod with one hand and the torch fire in the right hand. I liked it pretty good."[62] Feminizing traditionally masculine work became a popular practice as the war developed, and women eagerly responded to this. Inasmuch as this feminization was a process used to attract women to labor, women soon equated this feminization with their increased ability to do traditionally masculine work.

At the same time, their work in traditionally male sectors of labor had a profound effect on women in America. The idea of female fragility was temporarily, but only temporarily, suspended as women worked jobs that necessitated strength they had never been prompted to demonstrate before. Margaret "Peggy" Hooper of San Pedro, California, detailed many of her accomplishments and strengths in her letters to her Navy Officer husband, George Hooper, during the war. In one letter, Peggy jokingly warned George, "You had better be careful how you talk to me 'cause I have developed a big muscle in my right arm and a good strong in my left arm, so take it easy, kidÉ"[63] Women like Peggy working in the war industry spoke proudly of their developed strength and all of the masculine barriers they believed they had broken. Nova Lee McGhee Holbrook, who left Arkansas to work at Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond, California, declared the war taught her that if she "could learn to weld like a man," she could "do anything it took to make a living." Holbrook boasted that working at the shipyards during the war gave her "the courage to go on and do better things."[64] Women in the Pacific Northwest made giant strides in the lumber industry, as several sawmills began hiring women, "confounding critics who charged that only husky men could do such work. These women pulled rough green lumber off a moving chain conveyor."[65] No matter how traditionally masculine the work, women answered the call to duty and temporarily broke down gender barriers, proving that they could do anything men could do.

While the image of Rosie the Riveter was originally only a propagandistic image, women like Peggy and Nova made Rosie real. With the development of their muscles, their devotion to their jobs and the war effort, and a tirelessly patriotic and enthusiastic attitude, women all over the country became the very embodiment of the fictitious character that first spurred them to action. In 1943, Business Week noted in one California mine that women workers "wield an 8-pound sledge in the best of manlike tradition."[66] What was traditionally a male tradition became fair game for women workers desperately needed for the war effort. From miners to assembly-workers, women broke traditional labor barriers to a degree never anticipated.

Post-War Lessons
By participating so extensively in the war, women took away a great deal of lessons as well as a greater knowledge of a new frontier they had explored. These lessons and the knowledge they attained helped them realize the possibility that they could have jobs and rights similar or equal to those of men. A graduate student who quit school to work at an Oakland, California shipyard, Alison Ely reflected on her wartime experience, "We learned to deal with deprivationÑrationing, being away from our husbands and families," she says.[67] Ely and thousands of patriotic women endured a great deal as their world was turned upside down by the war, and yet they were able to manage and learn from the experience. For Jane Ward Mayta, the war was an eye-opening experience where she "learned to be able to get along with and mingle with people from totally different backgrounds."[68] Mildred Admire Bedell related, how "Those years changed our lives, and nobody ever recognized the fact that we gave something to World War II."[69] Women like Bedell encountered their first experience working and juggling the role of mother and breadwinner during the war, and afterwards knew they had done something extraordinary. "All of a sudden," Bedell recalled, "I was making money. I was head of a household, and it made a different person of me. I have never been without a job since that day."[70] In the new geographic frontier they encountered, Bedell and many other women found for themselves new identities that forever changed them. As these women reflected on their experiences, they collectively realized the greatness of their contribution, and in demanding national recognition of this contribution, drove themselves closer toward the culmination of the new frontier they explored by attaining more rights and equality for women.

After the war ended, women workers became for a time what Rowland calls "the forgotten Rosies of the war, facing 'rewards' far less bountiful in a nation suddenly less enamored of their wartime efforts." Despite the propaganda that advertised women's mobilization for the war effort as a temporary drive to win the war, many women still expected to keep their jobs after the war was over.[71] Thousands of women did not want to give up the progress they had made by entering the workforce or taking on traditionally male jobs. The question for these women was whether they "should be returned to their  'proper' place in society, or allowed to work outside of the home, even if their husbands could afford to support the family."[72] The debate over who deserved the jobs available after the war was intensely controversial because women knew they had proven themselves as capable as men in so many respects. With the realization that they were capable of performing a wider range of tasks than their domestic work called for, these women were armed with the notion that they should be allowed to work.

The war had broken the rules of gender placement, but peacetime vowed to restore this balance. The argument of the time was that women should return to the home, because "If women weren't women, men wouldn't be men."[73] While women had always been held in place by society wanting to preserve traditional gender boundaries, the war had stretched what was acceptable for a woman to take on. The war was supposed to be a temporary situation that bent social barriers, rather than breaking them. Many women understood that the men who were returning from war deserved to get their jobs back, but others felt they had made a more permanent contribution to the labor industry and the fruits of that effort should have lasted beyond the war. Rosie the Riveter was a character who came to life during the war with the blood, sweat and tears of so many hardworking women, and could not be extinguished any more easily than victory was obtained.

Conclusion
Without women's patriotic response to the call for full war mobilization, fighting and winning World War II would not have been possible. Indeed, women were necessary in the capacity of their many roles, and all of these roles were integral to the war effort. Jean Bethke Elshtain points out that without women's compliance as housewives, consumers, and workers, the war effort would have been detrimentally affected.[74] They could have ignored government policies that made their many roles more complex and difficult to manage, shirked the labor that the war effort demanded they produce, and turned an unpatriotic back towards their country. Blackwelder argues, that "Women workers in World War II played an especially significant role in shifting women's status because they cracked occupational barriers and because they attracted widespread attention from public, press, and government while on the job."[75] Despite the hurdles women balancing jobs and marital, motherly and home responsibilities faced, World War II provided them with the spotlight to gain recognition for their performance. World War II had "clearly accelerated the feminization of the U.S. labor force and increased employment among married women."[76] Married or not, these women brought a slew of controversial issues to the forefront of American concerns as they moved westward, blazing a new trail in women's history. In agreeing to relocate for the war effort, these women proved their loyalty to America and demonstrated the independence and strength that allowed them to compete on an equal field with men. For a while, women juggled their responsibilities by working part-time and still taking care of children and maintaining the home, reinforcing previously established spheres of responsibility. In the end, however, World War II gave many women the springboard they needed to launch into a complete reworking of the gendered division of labor, as well as women's rights in America. These women had moved westward into a new frontier of possibility as they broke traditional barriers and questioned their role in both the private and public spheres. The result of their journey westward was the creation of a more cohesive American identity as women and citizens.


[1] Penny Colman, Rosie the Riveter: Women Working on the Home Front in World War II, (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1995), 5..
[2] Siobhan McDonough, "'Rosies' Remember World War II," Associated Press, CBS News Online. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/05/21/national/main618942.shtml. Last accessed 24 November 2004.
[3] Willard Waller, War and the Family (New York: The Dryden Press, 1940), 13.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Doris Weatherford, American Women and World War II (New York: Facts On File, 1990), 119.
[6] Julia Kirk Blackwelder, Now Hiring: The Feminization of Work in the United States, 1900-1995 (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1997), 126-27.
[7] Ibid., 124.
[8] Jackie Moxley Romaine in A Mouthful of Rivets: Women at Work in World War II, Nancy Baker Wise and Christy Wise, ed.s (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1994), 62.
[9] Geraldine Collogan Richey in A Mouthful of Rivets, 121.
[10] Nova Lee McGhee Holbrook in A Mouthful of Rivets, 155.
[11] Karen J. Blair, ed. Women in Pacific Northwest History, revised edition (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988), 163.
[12] Annie Green Small in A Mouthful of Rivets, 12-13.
[13] Mildred Admire Bedell in A Mouthful of Rivets, 6.
[14] Helen Kooina Dowling in A Mouthful of Rivets, 18.
[15] Katie Lee Clark Knight in A Mouthful of Rivets, 24-25.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Jennie Fain Folan in A Mouthful of Rivets, 16.
[18] Stephanie A. Carpenter, On the Farm Front: The Women's Land Army in World War II (DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press, 2003), 4.
[19] Ibid., 4-5.
[20] Ibid., 25-26.
[21] Ibid., 59.
[22] Ibid., 109.
[23] Blair, Women in Pacific Northwest, 159.
[24] Dorothy K. Newman, "Employing Women in Shipyards," Women's Bureau Bulletin, 1944. 192-6; Oregonian, Jan. 30, 1942.
[25] Karen Beck Skold in Blair, Women in Pacific Northwest, 161.
[26] Ibid., 162.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Betty Kirstine Gannon in A Mouthful of Rivets, 21.
[29] Waller, War and the Family, 27.
[30] Weatherford, American Women, 119.
[31] Ibid.
[32] Blackwelder, Now Hiring, 26-27; Rhoda Pratt Hanson, "I'm Leaving Home Part-Time," Independent Woman 25 (December 1946): 363, 364.
[33] Goldie Shamchoian Deckwa in A Mouthful of Rivets, 113.
[34] Dee Davenport in A Mouthful of Rivets, 10.
[35] Lyllus Runyan Butler in A Mouthful of Rivets, 23.
[36] Margaret Wolfe Barry in A Mouthful of Rivets, 31.
[37] Debran Rowland, Boundaries of Her Body: A Troubling History of Women's Rights in America (Naperville, IL: Sphinx Publishing, 2004), 76.
[38] Ibid.
[39] Blair, 162.
[40] Hanson, "Leaving Home," 363-364.
[41] George E. Demar, "Negro Women are Workers Too," (1943) in Bitter Fruit: African American Women in World War II, ed. Maureen Honey (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1999), 104.
[42] Marilyn S. Johnson, The Second Gold Rush: Oakland and the East Bay in World War II (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 147.
[43] Ida Coker Clark, "Negro Woman Worker, What Now?" Opportunity (Spring 1944):110.
[44] L.D. Reddick, "The New Race Relations Frontier," in "Race Relations on the Pacific Coast," Journal of Educational Sociology 18 (November 1945): 129-45.
[45] Johnson, 153, 152.
[46] Clark, "Negro Woman Worker," 110.
[47] Wise and Wise, 7.
[48] Johnson, Second Gold Rush, 57.
[49] Betty Kirstine Gannon in A Mouthful of Rivets, 20.
[50] Helen Kooina Dowling, A Mouthful of Rivets, 20.
[51] Ibid.
[52] Sybil Lewis in Penny Colman, Rosie the Riveter: Women Working on the Home Front in World War II, (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1995), 31.
[53] Colman, Rosie the Riveter: Women Working, 31.
[54] Jayne Ward Mayta in A Mouthful of Rivets, 11.
[55] Ibid.
[56] Wilson Record, "Willie Stokes at the Golden Gate." Crisis 56 (June 1949): 187-88.
[57] Maureen Honey, ed. Bitter Fruit: African American Women in World War II (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1999), 38.
[58] Wise and Wise, 6.
[59] Helen Kooina Dowling in A Mouthful of Rivets, 18.
[60] Ibid., 19.
[61] LaVerne Bradley in Weatherford, American Woman, 130.
[62] Katie Grant in Out of the Kitchen, Into the War: Women's Winning Role in the Nation's Drama, Susan B. Anthony II (New York: Stephen Daye, 1943), 79.
[63] Margaret "Peggy" Hooper to George Hooper, San Pedro (March 15, 1944) in Judy Barrett Litoff and David C. Smith, Since You Went Away: World War II Letters from American Women on the Home Front (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 179.
[64] Nova Lee McGhee Holbrook in A Mouthful of Rivets, 155.
[65] Schwantes, 136.
[66] "WomenÑNow!," Business Week (January 9, 1943): p.72
[67] Alison Ely in Brokaw, The Greatest Generation (New York: Random House, 1998), 161.
[68] Mayta in A Mouthful of Rivets, 12.
[69] Mildred Admire Bedell in A Mouthful of Rivets, 7.
[70] Ibid.
[71] Rowland, Boundaries of Her Body, 78.
[72] Ibid., 84.
[73] Ibid., 85.
[74] Jean Bethke Elshtain, Women and War (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1987), 189.
[75] Blackwelder,186.
[76] Ibid.