Although World War II began in Europe in early September of 1939, the United States did not join until December 8, 1941, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Entering the war drastically changed the United States economy, and the nation immediately demanded more from its men and women. Since women's participation in the war effort was essential for an Allied victory, gender roles were dramatically altered, at least temporarily. While some women joined the new female branches of the military, many of those who stayed at home went to work in factories and filled other traditionally male jobs while their husbands, fathers, boyfriends, brothers, and sons left to fight. Many women who did not fight or work for pay chose to volunteer their time and energies for the war effort.
Minnesota women participated a great deal in the home front war effort. In the Twin Cities Ordnance Plant, sixty percent of the workers during the war were women. Women worked in the shipyards in Duluth and on Lake Superior and as streetcar conductors for the Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company. They also worked on farms to replace their husbands and the hired workers who had gone to fight. Wives and daughters were often left in charge of family farms when their husbands and fathers were drafted.
Although only one-third of the state's adult female population was employed during the war, the two-thirds that were not employed found other ways to assist the war effort. Among many volunteer activities, women offered their services to the Red Cross and the Office of Civilian Defense, providing recreation to the men in canteens and selling war bonds.
Gale Family Library
Minnesota Historical Society Library
Located on the Second Floor of the Minnesota History Center
345 West Kellogg Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55102
Thursday to Saturday: 10am to 4pm
Sunday to Wednesday: Closed
MNHS Reference Staff