Women in Industry Heading



The Depression and World War II (1930-1945)

Women’s involvement in organized labor during World War II expanded along with their role in the paid labor force.  More women joined unions and occupied leadership positions in labor unions because male members and leaders had been drafted, and unions began to pay more attention to women’s labor issues.(85)  During World War II, the United Auto Workers had 250,000 female members.  It established a Women’s Bureau in its War Policy Division that, in 1944, addressed pay inequalities between male and female workers.  The United Packinghouse Workers of America, the United Electrical Workers, and the American Federation of Teachers welcomed women into their chapters more than ever before.(86)  Women in locals of the CIO expanded their agendas to include lobbying for national health insurance, free daycare for working mothers, and maternity leave—campaigns that went beyond the efforts of the progressive women’s unions and reform groups of the early 20th century.  During the war years, women workers and their labor concerns enjoyed a higher status within organized labor.

United Domestic Workers Logo
United Domestic Workers Logo

Women office workers in Wisconsin, 1950
Women office workers in Wisconsin, 1950

Members of the Women's Auxillary of the United Auto Workers in Detroit, MI

Members of the Women's Auxiliary of
the United Auto Workers in Detroit, MI



By the end of World War II, more women were working and more women were organized than ever before.  As their experiences during the Depression and the New Deal era show, women in the 1930s and 1940s still faced the same sexism and racism that had plagued American women since the early 19th century.  These prejudices continued to limit the employment and organizational opportunities available to women.  However, in the 1940s, war-time needs combined with a long history of women’s activism to overcome some of the major inequalities between male and female workers, and between white and black women workers.  Discrimination in the workplace and in organized labor was not completely wiped out during the 1930s and 1940s by any means, nor has it been completely overcome today.  However, women workers’ experiences during this period inspired them with a strong belief in their right to work under fair conditions and a hope that future change was imminently possible.  The women workers and activists of the Depression, the New Deal era, and World War II are part of a long line of women, beginning in the early 19th century and extending to the present, devoted to establishing fair and equal conditions for the growing number of American women in the paid labor force.


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Image 1 from the homepage of Flint, Michigan, Image 2 from the United Domestic Workers of America,
Image 3 from the Wisconsin Historical Society


(c) Copyright National Women's History Museum 2007