Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Fenton Elizabeth

Second Advisor

Nicole Phelps


Abstract: World War II was not a dramatic change for U.S. paid women workers. The United States underwent two dramatic economic transformations during the war period. First, the economy had to transfer out of the Great Depression and into wartime manufacturing. At its peak, this meant that upwards of nineteen million women were in the workforce. For working-class women, this transition meant they had an opportunity to leave sex-segregated labor for better paying and better respected, male-coded, defense manufacturing jobs. Middle-class women also had access to these jobs, but under the caveat that they would cease work altogether after the war to preserve their femininity. Conservative women disapproved of women working for the war effort, though they conceded that it was a wartime necessity. Second, after the war was over, the economy had to transition to consumer manufacturing. For working-class women this meant a return to sex-segregated labor as they did not have the financial means to stop working. Many middle-class women likely did not have the means to cease work as well, but they were bombarded with proscriptive messaging from the U.S. government, corporate advertisers, and conservative commentators who argued that in the postwar, proper femininity aligned with domesticity and consumption, not employment. Conservative women seconded this notion, highlighting the damage paid war work had done to U.S. femininity, women, and the home. The idea that women followed this messaging, which still appears today in U.S. popular memory and consciousness, is a myth constructed to promote an idealized version of U.S. femininity and womanhood. It is not a historical reality. Though women were certainly displaced by the end of the war, most would find their way back into the workforce in form or another. Due to their class, working-class women would have to work regardless. So would many middle-class women. The proscriptive messaging was only a model, not a reality. Conservative women would continue to disapprove of paid working women, but most women’s live were influenced by other factors, primarily class, which meant many did not have opportunity to acquiesce to such notions of femininity even if they desired to do so.



Number of Pages

115 p.

Available for download on Friday, April 17, 2026

Included in

History Commons