History Paper Final

History Paper Final - The Temporary Role of Women Working...

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Unformatted text preview: The Temporary Role of Women Working on the Home Front During World War II Evan Walsh History 13C: United States History, 20th Century Prof. Toby Higbie T.A. Caroline Luce 21 May 2008 Caption The image above was taken by Alfred T. Palmer at Douglas Aircraft Company in Long Beach, California at the height of US intervention in World War II. The influx of women into the workforce supporting the war effort is shown with 3 women at work on an engine of a C-47 transport aircraft. The image was published by the Office of War Information in October, 1942. Citation Photographer: Alfred T. Palmer Title: Women at work on C-47 Douglas cargo transport, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif. Publisher: US Office of War Information Date: October, 1942 URL: http:[email protected]([email protected](fsac+la35359)) The attached image, taken at the Douglas Aircraft Company during World War II shows three women working on the engine of a C-47 transport aircraft. This image was created as propaganda for the war effort by the Office of War Information, the federal agency in charge of all communication between the federal government and the American populace regarding the war. Realistically, it had two audiences. First, it served to lure women into the workforce on the home front. Second, it served as a reminder to the serviceman deployed oversees that his wife is indeed supporting his cause and that when he gets home, his wife will still be as pretty as when he left. The image is a vivid illustration of the relationship between the federal government and the market economy through the military-industrial complex because it shows how the government manipulated the roles of its citizens to maintain economic growth, both during and after World War II. In the image, three well dressed women are working on a large aircraft engine. Two of the women are sitting or kneeling on the wing of the aircraft while another is standing on a step below the engine. Wrenches are visible in the hands of two of the women. Whether or not they are installing the engine onto the plane or simply repairing it is not apparent by the activity of the women but the stamp on the propeller states that it was installed around the same date as the photo, October 1942. The photo was taken inside a hangar as indicated by the fluorescent lamps hung far overhead. In the center of the image is the giant radial engine, a mechanical symbol of the power of capitalism operating for the federal government. The engine, produced by Pratt & Whitney, is extremely powerful, generating around 1200 horsepower. The two engines on the C-47 provide enough power to carry a 3 ton payload. This physical power is a good representation of the economic and military power of American industry during the war. This power is dependant on labor just as the engine is dependant on the women in the image working on it. The women in the image working on the engine are shown working simultaneously, mirroring the emerging collective role of women on the home front of the war effort. The flux of women into the American work force was instrumental to manufacturing weapons and war technology, hence the motivation to create propaganda encouraging women to take jobs in industry. Also, as Foner puts it, "Advertisements assured women laboring in factories that they, too, were `fighting for freedom'." The OWI must have assumed that women had to be reminded that their presence in the labor force supporting the war was indeed needed. Further insight into the mechanical aspects of the image reveals some less obvious details. The engine seems to be already installed and is in a state of total assembly. The steps required to get the engine to this point would have required a hoist to lift its current position. All of the fourteen cylinders and major components are installed onto the engine giving it a clean appearance. No grease or oil is present to get the women dirty. This constrasts with the fact that radial aircraft engines from this era were notorious for leaking fluids. An image showing women operating a hoist lifting a massive engine dripping with oil would have surely portrayed the women differently. One image that contrasts sharply with the OWI photo is the famous "Rosie the Riveter" cover for the Saturday Evening Post, dated May 29, 1943. Here, the subject, Rosie, is shown eating lunch during a hard day's work. A rivet gun lies in her lap, probably still warm from hours of use that morning. She eats a sandwich from her lunch box which is primitively but effectively labeled "Rosie" with her dirty hands because she didn't wash them before starting to eat. Her rolled up sleeves expose her man-sized biceps and forearms which are still covered with grease. She sits atop a wooden crate which must have been all that was lying around where she was working; eating in a lunch room is obviously not for her because she has to get back to work soon. Her hair is short because long hair would certainly get in the way when working a job like hers. Goggles resting on her head are a safety requirement for her job which can be dangerous but she can definitely handle it. The blue overalls and red socks she wears give her the same color palate as the rippling American flag in the background of the image. The most symbolic element of the picture is Rosie's footrest, a copy of Mein Kampf, being put to good use by taking some of the load off of the feet she's been standing on all day. The difference in how these two images portray women in the American work force can be traced to their sources. Both images are meant to glamorize women in labor but they do it in different ways because they have different intended audiences. The OWI image tires to show the women on the home front that they could still exude femininity while going to work for America. This was primarily aimed at women concerned with their ability to perform a dual role of idealistic housewife and laborer in a dirty factory. Their deployed husbands were also a target audience for they would have surely liked their housewives to remain attractive to them upon their return. It should then be realized that the OWI image is not a reflection of growth of the citizenship of women in America. The women shown are participating in American society differently than they did before the war, that is not the purpose of the image or the agency that produced the image. The purpose was to provide women as workers to the economy. Foner reinforces this point by noting, "The government, employers, and unions depicted work as a temporary necessity, not an expansion of women's freedom." Women were needed to add economic fuel the war machine. On the other hand is the Rockwell image which glamorizes the working American woman through its portrayal of the woman's boldness and tireless strength in a time of need. Rosie the Riveter is a celebration of wartime expansion of the citizenship of women. It details the ways that a woman's role changed during the war. Because Rockwell painted Rosie during the war, he had not yet seen the eventual contraction of the citizenship of women after the war had ended. This fact may have changed the theme of Rosie to reflect the post war role of women, had Rosie been painted years after the war. Post war legislation, especially the Servicemen's Readjustment act, or GI bill as it was more commonly known, reinforced this return of women to traditional roles in the household. Men were returning home and resuming their jobs, pushing their wives back out of the workforce and into the domestic life they knew before the war. The baby boom that would soon take place also solidified the housewife ideology. Pursuit of the Four Freedoms spelled out by President Roosevelt at the forefront of the war became the responsibility of the breadwinner of the family; the father. Achievement of these freedoms was attainable, largely due to the college education and favorable housing afforded by the GI bill. In sum, the images analyzed are similar in their most basic sense, but further analysis reveals their differences. The market economy during World War II was in need of workers to temporarily fill the roles of men deployed overseas in the military. The booming economy was sparked by the demand for military technology. This boom created a need for temporary labor at home, opening up jobs for women. The image published by the OWI can be identified as a tool to get women to join the labor force in support of the war and economy, not to increase their citizenship in the US. The women shown in the picture are not really workers, but spokes models for the federal government, saying that femininity can still be had by those women who enter the workforce and they needn't worry about labor changing them into some dirty, manly beast that would repulse her husband upon his return home. Rose the Riveter sends a different message. She celebrates her new role and recognizes her contribution to the war effort. She doesn't care about femininity or what her husband thinks because she is doing what's right for the country. She has no need for facades. Little does she know that she would soon resume her position as the housewife. ...
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This note was uploaded on 06/08/2008 for the course HIST 13C taught by Professor Gantner during the Spring '07 term at UCLA.

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