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Photographs: Women at Work on the Homefront during World War II, 1941–1945

Use this primary source imagery to analyze major events in history.

Suggested Sequencing


The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II. The United States had already been using its industrial might to be the “arsenal of democracy” by sending equipment and munitions to nations fighting the Axis powers. However, the nation would now need to continue to produce enough war supplies for its allies as well as itself. In addition, millions of men left their work at factories, mines, shipyards, and other industries to join the military. The many job openings provided an opportunity unprecedented in U.S. history for women to find work outside of their home. Many women wanted to work or were already working at low-paying jobs and wanted higher wages.

Sourcing Questions

  1. Why did so many women begin to work outside of the home during World War II?

Figure 1: Photograph no. 1: New Britain, Connecticut. Women welders at the Landers, Frary, and Clark plant, June 1943.

Figure 2: Photograph no. 2: A group of women sewing at the Pacific Parachute Company, San Diego, California, 1942.

Figure 3: Photograph no. 3: A woman attaching a sheet of metal to a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber at the Boeing plant in Seattle, Washington, in December 1942.

Comprehension Questions

  1. (Figure 1) (Figure 2) (Figure 3) Notice how the women are dressed differently in each photograph. What does their clothing reveal about the nature of their work?
  2. (Figure 1) (Figure 2) (Figure 3) Consider the location where each photograph was taken. How would the work environment be different for each woman?
  3. (Figure 1) (Figure 2) (Figure 3) In what ways do these photos depict a breaking of gender norms of the day?

Historical Reasoning Questions

  1. Compare the jobs these women are working to the jobs that the typical women hold in the modern day. Are they similar or different? If different, what has changed?
  2. Two of the photographs depict African American women at work. What tensions could have existed for women like this who were supporting the war effort but still experienced segregation?

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Image 2:

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