In August 1914, Europe plunged into world war I. European countries found themselves in desperate need of war materials, equipment and supplies. Many of their former factory workers, however, were men who were now serving as soldiers. In Europe and the United States which entered the war in 1917, women took on jobs formerly held almost exclusively by men. Women’s participation in the war effort would have dramatic social consequences.
With men off at war, women augmented or gave up their traditional roles as homemakers and domestic workers to manage farms or stores or to become factory workers, mail carriers, and bank tellers. They served in medical positions on the front lines.
After the war ended in 1918, many women left their jobs to make way for the men returning home from war. In the meanwhile, however, women had gained a new sense of independence that they did not want to lose. This economic independence often led to independence in other areas. For example. Some women began to cut their hair short and wear shorter skirts, breaking centuries-old traditions. Women gained the right to vote and so had a voice In the political process. Aviator Amelia Earhart symbolized the new attitude of many women in the 1920s and 1930s-strong, independent, willing to take the same risks that men took.
When world war II began in 1939, women once again made important contributions to the war effort. As members of the armed forces, women served as nurses and clerical workers. They entered and clerical workers. They entered the workforce in record numbers, with some four million women working in defense plants. These women were exemplified by ”Rosie the Riveter,” often seen on posters – the prototype of the able , independent young woman who worked in a factory building tanks, airplanes, or guns.
At the close of the war in 1945, women once again were expected to return to the home. By now, however, their role had permanently taken a new direction. Today women are an established part of the workforce. Female soldiers now train in boot camps alongside the men. Although women do not serve as front line infantry, they serve in almost every other military role, including as fighter pilots.