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20 Amazing Images of Women in WWII

We’re all familiar with the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter, created during World War II to promote and support the idea of American women working in manufacturing jobs while their men went to war overseas. But you may not have seen too many actual photographs of women working those jobs, or of the women who were actually involved in the military during that time. Thankfully, The U.S. National Archives has assembled and shared a collection of such fascinating imagery, featured below. These black and white photos of women at work and at war are deeply gripping, inspiring and thought-provoking. Of particular interest is the way black women were an integral-yet-segregated part of the war effort. I also wonder how sexist ideas about women’s ability were able to thrive for even a minute in America after scores of women successfully built the weapons of war that functioned so well for the men in harm’s way.

  • Women in WWII 1 of 21
    women in wwII
  • 1941: Making Pup Tents 2 of 21
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    Original Caption: With the grade and dexterity of a master dressmaker, this attractive young woman fabricates "pup" tents for the expanding war army at the Langdon Tent & Awning Company., ca. 06/1941

  • 1941: Building Boats 3 of 21
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    Original Caption: Building assault boats for U.S. Marine Corps. by women workers., ca. 12/1941

  • 1942: High Schoolers Train with Guns 4 of 21
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    Original Caption: Training in marksmanship helps girls at Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles, Calif., develop into responsible women. Part of Victory Corps activities there, rifle practice encourages girls to be accurate in handling firearms., 08/1942

  • 1942: Auxiliaries Service a Truck 5 of 21
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    Original Caption: "Auxiliaries Ruth Wade and Lucille Mayo (left to right) further demonstrate their ability to service trucks as taught them during the processing period at Fort Des Moines and put into practice at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.", 12/08/1942

  • 1942: Learning ‘War Work’ 6 of 21
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    Original Caption: "Secretaries, housewives, waitresses, women from all over central Florida are getting into vocational schools to learn war work. Typical are these in the Daytona Beach branch of the Volusia county vocational school.", 04/1942

  • 1942: Making Airplanes 7 of 21
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    Original Caption: Women man America's machines in a west coast airplane factory, where the swing shift of drill press operators is composed almost entirely of women., 05/1942

  • 1942: B-25 Bomber 8 of 21
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    Original Caption: Part of the cowling for one of the motors for a B-25 bomber is assembled in the engine department of North American's Inglewood, Calif. plant., 10/1942

  • 1942: Pearl Harbor Widows 9 of 21
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    Original Caption: Pearl Harbor widows have gone into war to carry on the fight with a personal vengeance. Mrs. Virginia Young (right), whose husband was one of the first casualties of World War II, is a supervisor in the Assembly and Repairs Department of the Naval Air Base at Corpus Christi, Texas. Her job is to find convenient and comfortable living quarters for women workers from out of the state, like Ethel Mann, who operates an electric drill., 08/1942

  • 1942: Chippers 10 of 21
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    Original Caption: "Chippers." Women war workers of Marinship Corp, 1942

  • 1942: Pressing Sheet Metal 11 of 21
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    Original Caption: Women take over the operation of some of the heaviest machine tools at the Inglewood, Calif., plant of North American Aviation, Inc. Day and night, shifts of girl employees use this huge hydraulic press to form thousands of sheet metal parts for United Nations war planes., 10/1942

  • 1943: Nurses Receiving Mail 12 of 21
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    Original Caption: "A contingent of 15 nurses,...arrive in the southwest Pacific area, received their first batch of home mail at their station." 268th Station Hospital, Australia. Three of the nurses are Lts. Prudence L. Burns, Inez Holmes, and Birdie E. Brown, 11/29/1943

  • 1943: Picking Cotton 13 of 21
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    Original Caption: Women pick cotton for the U.S. Crop Corps, ca. 1943

  • Undated: Army Air Corps 14 of 21
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    Original Caption: Women working on a plane in the Army Air Corps

  • Undated: Making Ammo 15 of 21
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    Original Caption: MOTHER OF THE ASSEMBLY LINE - Clip spring and body assembly for .30 caliber cartridges at the Frankford Arsenal, Philadelphia.

  • 1944: Nurses Arrive in Scotland 16 of 21
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    Original Caption: "U.S. Army nurses, newly arrived, line the rail of their vessel as it pulls into port of Greenock, Scotland, in European Theater of Operations. They wait to disembark as the gangplank is lowered to the dock.", 08/15/1944

  • 1944: Naval Officers 17 of 21
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    Original Caption: "Lt.(jg.) Harriet Ida Pickens and Ens. Frances Wills, first Negro Waves to be commissioned. They were members of the final graduating class at Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School (WR) Northampton, MA.", 12/21/1944

  • 1944: Nurses in France 18 of 21
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    Original Caption: "Nurses of a field hospital who arrived in France via England and Egypt after three years service.", 08/12/1944

  • 1944: Surgery 19 of 21
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    Original Caption: "Surgical ward treatment at the 268th Station Hospital, Base A, Milne Bay, New Guinea. Left to right: Sgt. Lawrence McKreever, patient; 2nd Lt. Prudence Burns, ward nurse; 2nd Lt. Elcena Townscent, chief surgical nurse; and an unidentified nurse.", 06/22/1944

  • 1944: Army Nurses Stretching 20 of 21
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    Original Caption: "American Negro nurses, commissioned second lieutenants in the U.S. Army Nurses Corps, limber up their muscles in an early-morning workout during an advanced training course at a camp in Australia. The nurses, who already had extensive training in the U.S., will be assigned to Allied hospitals in advanced sectors of the southwest Pacific theater.", 02/1944

  • 1945: Nurses in France 21 of 21
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    Original Caption: "Members of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion take part in a parade ceremony in honor of Joan d'Arc at the marketplace where she was burned at the stake.", 05/27/1945 (The war ended in Europe on May 8, 1945.)

All photos via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr.

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