Pictured above, Rosie the Riveter, famous ship builder in the Alameda, California shipyard. The Rosie the Riveter campaign encouraged women to take jobs in manufacturing to support the war effort.
Fifteen million Americans joined the armed forces during WWII. One out of every 50 people in the military were women (300,000). Since so many men were participating in the war, many women who stayed home did jobs that had previously been considered men’s work. It was not uncommon to find female welders, garbage collectors, truck drivers, and general laborers during the early 1940s.
Approximately 350,000 American women served in the armed forces during World War II.
Women who served in the military during WWII were initially not given military rank or benefits.
Women were initially barred from combat roles but served in a variety of support roles such as clerks, nurses, and radio operators.
The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program was established in 1942 to train women to fly military aircraft for non-combat missions. Over 1,000 women served in the WASP program, flying over 60 million miles during the war.
Women also worked in munitions factories, shipyards, and other industries supporting the war effort.
Women were also involved in espionage and code-breaking during WWII.
Over 640,000 British women served in the armed forces and in civilian support roles during WWII.
Women in the Soviet Union made up 800,000 of the 2.5 million soldiers who served in combat roles during the war, so approximately one in three Soviet soldiers were women.
Soviet sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko was credited with 309 kills during WWII, making her the most successful female sniper in history.
The Indian National Army formed by Subhas Chandra Bose during WWII had an all-female regiment called the Rani of Jhansi Regiment.
Australian nurses were among the prisoners of war captured by Japanese forces during the war.
Women in France served in various roles, including resistance fighters and members of the French Forces of the Interior.
One of the most famous resistance fighters was Josephine Baker who grew up street performing from a young age in New Orleans. She had a dance style while sometimes singing or playing a trombone that was rather quick and angular. Some say she was the inventor of hip hop. Due to racial discrimination, she moved to France where she became one of the biggest stars in Europe. Josephine liked to perform essentially nude, wearing only a ring of bananas as a skirt, which her audiences loved. Leveraging her social position, she was able to smuggle many German secrets into the hands of French intelligence.
Many women who served in WWII faced discrimination and harassment upon their return to civilian life. It wasn’t until the 1970s that laws were passed to grant them equal rights and recognition for their service.