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Did Your Grandma Assemble a WWII Bomber? 20 Must See Photos of Women in the Workforce from the 1940s

Prior to WWII, few women pursued careers outside of the home and those women who did choose to work held roles such as nurse, teacher, or secretary which were considered to be ‘traditional’ female roles.

All of that changed when the war broke out and millions of men left home to join the military. Suddenly jobs previously held by men were open and women began to fill them in droves, eager to aid in the war efforts. Women took jobs in factories as mechanics and supervisors. They ran heavy machinery. They sewed parachutes. They painted planes and used power tools. They assembled guns.

In an attempt to attract women to these factory positions, advertisers depicted their female workers as glamorous even under a layer of grime and dirt. After a look through the photographs from the era collected by the Library of Congress, I’m inclined to agree. Our grandmothers were fabulous.

Take a look at these fascinating color photographs of women in the workforce from the 1940s:

nggallery id=’124210′

  • October 1942 1 of 20
    October 1942
    A woman works to put the finishing touches on the nose section of a navy bomber in Long Beach, California.
    Photo credit: The Library of Congress on Flickr
  • October 1942 2 of 20
    October 1942
    Eva Herzberg and Elve Burnham, pictured here, were navy wives who entered war work after the husbands joined the service. In this photograph they are shown assembling bands for blood transfusion bottles.
    Photo credit: The Library of Congress on Flickr
  • August 1942 3 of 20
    August 1942
    A woman works alongside a man at a cutting machine in a factory in Corpus Christi, Texas.
    Photo credit: The Library of Congress on Flickr
  • August 1942 4 of 20
    August 1942
    Mrs. Eloise J. Ellis (right) majored in Sociology at the University of Souther California before coming to work at the Naval Air Base in Corpus Christi, Texas. She was a supervisor under civil service in the Assembly and Repair Depatrment.
    Photo credit: The Library of Congress on Flickr
  • August 1942 5 of 20
    August 1942
    A woman mechanic works on a motor at a Naval Air Base in Texas.
    Photo credit: The Library of Congress on Flickr
  • August 1942 6 of 20
    August 1942
    Trainee Oyida Peaks rivets as part of her training to become a mechanic in the Assembly and Repair Department of a Naval Air Base in Texas.
    Photo credit: The Library of Congress on Flickr
  • August 1942 7 of 20
    August 1942
    A former school teacher paints the American insignia on a plane wing.
    Photo credit: The Library of Congress on Flickr
  • October 1942 8 of 20
    October 1942
    Two women work on a bomber at the Douglas Aircraft Company.
    Photo credit: The Library of Congress on Flickr
  • June 1942 9 of 20
    June 1942
    A woman works on an airplane motor at North American Aviation, Inc.
    Photo credit: The Library of Congress on Flickr
  • October 1942 10 of 20
    October 1942
    Women of the 1940s knew how to use a hand drill like this lady from Inglewood, California.
    Photo credit: The Library of Congress on Flickr
  • September 1942 11 of 20
    September 1942
    Using a sextant, this young woman and student at Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles, California is learning how to determine latitude, a skill taught as part of the a program to help students aid in the war effort.
    Photo credit: The LIbrary of Congress on Flickr
  • December 1941 12 of 20
    December 1941
    It may look like she is just ironing, but this woman is actually helping to manufacture self-sealing gas tanks for Goodyear Tire in Akron, Ohio.
    Photo credit: The Library of Congress on Flickr
  • April 1943 13 of 20
    April 1943
    A mother of three, Mrs. Marcella Hart pictured here worked as a wiper at the roundhouse in Clinton, Iowa.
    Photo credit: The Library of Congress on Flickr
  • 1942 October 14 of 20
    1942 October
    A trio of women help to assemble the wing of a plane in Fort Worth, Texas.
    Photo credit: The Library of Congress on Flickr
  • October 1942 15 of 20
    October 1942
    Formerly a waitress, Mary Louise Stephen, 21, worked on transport parts for Consolidated Aircraft Corporation in Fort Worth Texas.
    Photo credit: The Library of Congress on Flickr
  • October 1942 16 of 20
    October 1942
    This 20-year-old woman was a sales clerk before joining the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation.
    Photo credit: The Library of Congress on Flickr
  • April 1943 17 of 20
    April 1943
    Women workers have lunch together at a factory in Clinton, Iowa.
    Photo credit: The Library of Congress on Flickr
  • July 1942 18 of 20
    July 1942
    A young woman sews parachute harnesses at Pioneer Parachute Company in Manchester, Connecticut.
    Photo credit: The Library of Congress on Flickr
  • June 1942 19 of 20
    June 1942
    n aircraft worker in Burbank California checks electrical assemblies.
    Photo credit: The Library of Congress on Flickr
  • October 1942 20 of 20
    October 1942
    A girl inspector confers with a worker as she checks the wings of a transport plane.
    Photo credit: The Library of Congress on Flickr

For more photographs from the 1940s visit the Library of Congress Flickr photostream.

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