Women’s History

Published 13 Jul 2017

Women faced two national crises the Great depression and the World War Two. In the world War Two over seventy million people were killed this included civilians. Both men and women were impacted by these two crises. This discussion will compare and contrast the impact of the two crises on women. Consider gains or losses encountered by women and the extent to which each crisis challenged or reinforced traditional gender ideology.

The Great Depression saw many women adjust to face the economic crisis that was facing the country. The married women gave birth to fewer children. Some postponed having babies or marriage. Eleanor Roosevelt 1933 “It’s up to the women” summarizes the great role the American women had in helping manage life through the current economic crisis. They looked for employment when some of their husbands lost their jobs or had pay cuts to keep their jobs (McGeehan, Gall, & Streitwieser, 2008).

Men who had been socialized as the providers for the families were depressed when they lost their job. They felt like failures who could not provide for their families. On the contrary women took this chance to help their families by juggling home chores and employment.

Through the gender roles set by traditions women were supposed to be provided for by males, yet this was not always the reality on the ground. We had households headed by women who had been divorced, windowed or deserted by their husbands. They had to fend for their families yet it was difficult. Women who went for relief or sought employment were scorned for trying to take jobs from men who deserved them more. The number of women working rose and few suggested that they should be fired to create opportunities for men. They had to contend with discrimination in work places according to gender (McGeehan et al, 2008).

Women struggled for equality in federal programs. The National Recovery Administration had different minimal wages for similar jobs fro men and women. Some agencies for example Civilian Conservation Corps only offered employment to men. Social Security structured around a model of male providers thus failed to recognize women workers. Women elected to leadership positions sought to challenge these arrangement and Eleanor Roosevelt help a lot in her position as the first lady. The traditional gender ideologies were reinforced during this time.

The World War Two impacted the women in a number of ways. There was a crisis for employment in the war time. More women were encouraged to join the work force unlike in the depression. For instance in 1941 classes were offered for women to train in chemical laboratory in the University of Alabama. They were encouraged to take these opportunities to replace men who were joining the combat work. This enabled the women financially and they also had a chance to serve the nation.

There was discrimination in wages for men and women during this time. Even where the army offered high pay for jobs considered risky they still paid women less for the same jobs.

Just like in the Great depression few urged the women to maintain their role by taking up jobs that were considered womanly like sewing. Some companies opposed hiring more female employees. They claimed they diluted the quality of work as the qualified ones had been employed initially.

In both crises men and women were paid different wages for the same jobs. However, the labor board came up with a policy of uniform pay for similar jobs. This encouraged more women to venture in fields formerly dominated by women. More black women were hired while initially they could only be hired after the white women were exhausted (McGeehan et al, 2008).

The contrast between the motive behind women looking for employment in the World War Two and the Great Depression is that in the later they did so purely to improve their financial status whereas in the former they had a desire to be part of the people who fought for the nation.

There were gains encountered in both crises. Women were able to work and help support themselves and their families. They also got a chance to render their services to the nation. Through these crises women got an opportunity to fight for equality and remove shame of women seeking paid employment.

The two crises helped to reinforce traditional gender roles by drawing a distinction between work for men and women. Women were expected to stick to roles associated with women while the men could handle the roles considered masculine. Though both men and women were working women were still expected to take care of their homes, their children and their husbands. This often led to absenteeism hence lower inputs and trouble at work places (McGeehan et al, 2008).

The hardest hit fields were the manufacturing and the heavy industries dominated by men. Fields dominated by women like sales were less affected and women had an upper hand here. Unfortunately this helped to reinforce the traditional stereotypes of women’s work. The number of women working for pay increased to ‘25.4% in 1940 from 24.3% in 1930′ (McGeehan et al, 2008).

The crises also challenged the gender ideology that men were the sole breadwinners. This was seen when women were forced by circumstances to look for work and substitute the family income. Those without the male care had to support their families. The contribution of men and women in running families and the country at large is very important. They should be given equal opportunities in the work place.


  • McGeehan, J. Gall, M. & Streitwieser, W. (2008). Barron’s Regents Exams and Answers: U.S. History and Government Barron’s Educational Series
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