Women in War Work

January 26, 1942

Report Outline
Labor Requirements and Available Supply
Women Industrial Workers in World War I
War Work for Women in World War II

Labor Requirements and Available Supply

Future Shortages in Supply of Male Workers

Women now engaged in industrial work, and other women who may never have worked for wages before, will take over an ever larger share of the production of military goods as the war lengthens. The sharp increases in output called for by President Roosevelt in his message to Congress, January 6, will require a near trebling of the number of workers at present employed in war industries. Louis Levine, Federal Employment Service analyst, estimates that 17,500,000 workers—some 10,000,000 more than the number now employed in war goods production—will be required by the end of 1942 to fulfill the President's program. Six million of the new war workers will probably be drawn from plants now engaged in production of non-essential goods. The gap of 4,000,000 new workers must in part be filled by women not now in employment.

Brig. Gen. Hershey, director of Selective Service, said on January 5 that he expected to see “a gradual but constant substitution of women for men” and that the war effort might well require the service of every man and woman in the nation. Speaking at Chicago, January 7, Lt. Col. Battley, chief of the liaison division of the Office of Undersecretary of War, told a conference of draft occupational advisers that it was the responsibility of employers to fill war industry positions with women and that “eventually the only labor supply may be women.”

Voluntary vs. Compulsory Labor Service for Women

One year of compulsory labor by all unmarried women under 25 years of age who were planning careers rather than homes was decreed by the Nazis in February, 1938, twenty months before the outbreak of the present war. The first suggestion that girls in the United States might well be conscripted for a year's service to the community came in the summer of 1941 when Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt said she thought work programs conducted on a voluntary basis would not reach enough persons. It was her opinion that “if we could make a program which would mean that a girl would be expected to give a year's service to improve her community, and in so doing acquire some training which might be of value to her in her later life, there might be some value in the plan.” She explained that she did not have in mind “girls in camps, but … compulsory service in their own communities.” A woman official of the Department of Labor said that she and her colleagues “tried to ignore” the suggestion made by Mrs. Roosevelt, and Senator Hattie W. Caraway (D., Ark.) said in December, 1941, that “sanity both during and after the war will depend no little on the manner in which women accept their primary tasks—to their homes and families. War always breaks up family life and family ties. It is up to women to keep those ties as strong and as real as possible.”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Women and Work
Jul. 02, 2021  Women in the Workplace
Nov. 08, 2019  The Gender Pay Gap
Oct. 27, 2017  Workplace Sexual Harassment
Jul. 26, 2013  Women and Work
Apr. 14, 2006  Future of Feminism
Apr. 04, 2003  Mothers' Movement
Sep. 25, 1992  Women in the Military
May 10, 1985  Women's Economic Equity
Jul. 10, 1981  Women in the Military
Mar. 20, 1981  Equal Pay Fight
Jul. 04, 1980  Women in the Executive Suite
Jul. 13, 1979  Two-Income Families
Feb. 18, 1977  Women in the Work Force
Feb. 13, 1957  Woman's Place in the Economy
Apr. 22, 1944  Women Workers After the War
Jan. 26, 1942  Women in War Work
Jul. 13, 1926  Sex Equality and Protective Laws
U.S. at War: World War II
War and Conflict
Women in the Workplace
World War I
World War II