Mothers Warned Against Neglect

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Mothers Warned Against Neglect

Newspaper article

By: Anonymous

Date: January 8, 1945

Source: "Mothers Warned Against Neglect." New York Times (January 8, 1945).

About the Author: This article was published without a byline, and was written by a staff writer for the New York Times, a daily newspaper with a circulation of over one million readers worldwide.


The United States' entry into World War II brought enormous changes to life in America. As the war expanded, increasing numbers of civilian men were drafted and sent overseas, leaving their families to fend for themselves. Back home, basic commodities such as coffee, gasoline, and rubber were rationed, and new car production ceased as automobile factories were converted to produce bombers and battle tanks. As the nation began to flex its economic muscle, an urgent labor shortage began to develop. With several million men fighting overseas, businesses began struggling to fill their labor needs.

In response to the developing labor shortage, the War Department and U.S. industry took the unprecedented step of recruiting women. Although 250,000 women already served in the armed forces, most women in the 1940s did not work outside their homes, and those that did typically held non-industrial jobs. In order to overcome cultural expectations that women should remain at home, the Pentagon launched an extensive campaign to recruit women for wartime labor positions.

The campaign, featuring characters such as the famous Rosie the Riveter, encouraged women to join the workforce for several reasons. Patriotism was a primary motivation, and women were encouraged to do their part so that the war would end quickly and fewer soldiers would die. The campaign also reassured women that the work was temporary, and that their primary responsibility remained to their homes and children. Specific ads also targeted husbands, reassuring them that a working wife did not reflect poorly on their ability to provide for their families. The campaign portrayed women as talented and competent, able to get just as greasy as the men during the day but remain feminine in the evenings.

The campaign to recruit women was successful; by war's end the number of women in the U.S. workforce had climbed from twelve million to eighteen million. Many of these female workers continued to hold unskilled and low-paying jobs, freeing men for other tasks, however in many factories men and women worked side-by-side on the assembly lines, building airplanes and other equipment. Women were particularly suited to some jobs due to their generally smaller size. As the war progressed, the government began encouraging even women with small children to take jobs, raising public fears of increased juvenile delinquency among unsupervised children. In some cases, women who took jobs were criticized for allegedly abandoning their parenting responsibilities.


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Fears that mothers would abandon domestic life en masse for the workplace proved unfounded, and the vast majority of mothers remained at home or worked only temporarily during the war. Women entering the workforce for the first time often found that they were treated as second-class employees, frequently being assigned only menial tasks and generally earning lower pay than men received for identical work. Not until the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 would this practice of routinely paying men more become a violation of federal labor law.

Newly hired women also faced resistance from organized labor. Industrial unions were particularly powerful during the mid-twentieth century, with leaders opposing any change that might threaten job security for members. By potentially expanding the supply of available labor, women represented just such a threat, and unions generally resisted the hiring of women to replace union members called away by military duty.

Following the war most women returned to their homes and resumed their original roles; many were undoubtedly grateful to do so as they often were often expected to retain their home responsibilities while also working in industry. Those who remained in the workforce generally held clerical or similar lower-level positions and despite the nation's experience during the war, traditional workplace norms quickly reasserted themselves. Many years would pass before women would be treated as equals in the workplace, and even fifty years after the war some industries remained somewhat hostile to female employees.

In 2005 the U.S. Department of Labor reported that women made up forty-six percent of the domestic workforce, a number projected to grow to forty-seven percent by 2014; seventy-five percent of employed women worked full-time. Women headed major corporations, including several of the Fortune 500, the largest publicly traded firms in the United States. Women were also active in politics, with several having served in the United States Senate and many others holding cabinet level posts.

Barriers to women in the workplace still remain. In 2004, a federal judge expanded a gender discrimination suit against the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, to include 1.6 million women employed by the company since 1988. The suit claimed that Wal-Mart systematically discriminated against women in promotion and pay practices. Wal-Mart was expected to aggressively fight the suit; experts said a loss in the case could cost the company several billion dollars.



Anderson, Karen. Wartime Women: Sex Roles, Family Relations, and the Status of Women During World War II. New York: Berkley Books, 2001.

Gluck, Sherma B. Rosie the Riveter Revisited: Women, the War, and Social Change. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987.

Yalin, Emily. Our Mother's War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II. New York: Free Press, 2004.


Gillies, Val. "Working Class Mothers and School Life: Exploring the Role of Emotional Capital." Gender & Education 18 (1006): 281-293.

Rickman, Sarah. "Barbara Erickson: From 'Rosie the Riveter' to B-17 Pilot." Air Power History 52 (2005): 4-11.

Rupp, Leila J. "From Rosie the Riveter to the Global Assembly Line: American Women on the World Stage." OAH Magazine of History 18 (2004): 54-57.

Web sites

Columbia University. "Children of Mothers Working Full-Time in the First Year of Life Show Lower Cognitive, Verbal Development." January 29, 2004. 〈〉 (accessed July 22, 2006).

Eli Lilly and Company. "Lilly Recognized as 'One of 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers." 2005. 〈〉 (accessed July 22, 2006).

Medical News Today. "Working Mothers Healthier Than Full-Time Housewives." May 15, 2006. 〈〉 (accessed July 22, 2006).