Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Encouraging Women to Work

      Jenny on the job keeps fresh as a daisy. Today’s woman might find such a paternalistic attitude insulting, but during World War II, the government believed posters with such slogans to be necessary.
      With ten million men gone off to war, acute labor shortages resulted, and women needed to enter the workforce. Who else would build the planes, ships, and tanks the military needed? Many women had never held a job before, and now they occupied jobs traditionally reserved for men, often in factory jobs requiring taxing industrial labor.
      The ladies had lots of reasons not to work. Wartime rationing made shopping more time-consuming. Gas rationing limited car use for those who had them. Household help was hard to find as domestics sought better paying war jobs. And on the job, many men were hostile to the women invading their turf.
      Many women took jobs out of a desire to help their husbands, brothers, or sons. “My husband is in the Pacific and I want to help make weapons for him and his buddies,” was a common motivation. Areas with a high need for workers, such as the shipyards in New Britain, Connecticut, trained some of their women workers and sent them out to meet one-on-one with the five thousand women who had not responded to their recruitment letters.
      Nervous industrialists asked Washington for special material on training women. One weary official asked his secretary to rubber stamp “every printed piece we send out, reading, ‘This includes, women, Negroes, handicapped, Chinamen and Spaniards.’ The only difference between training men and women in industry is in the toilet facilities.”

      Toilets did garner attention. The ladies would not put up with the dirty restrooms good enough for men. Some employers provided showers and lockers so the workers could clean up after a grimy work before heading home.
      Jenny appeared in 1943 in a series of eight posters created by artist Kula Robbins, issued by the United States Public Health Services and distributed to workplaces around the country. She offered tips meant to keep production and efficiency as high as possible while also being practical and safe on the job. Always the model production worker, Jenny demonstrated safety tips and advice on things like correct posture for lifting boxes and getting plenty of sleep, doing her best to help the war effort.
      While women may have been new to industrial jobs, they excelled, becoming adept at handling industrial equipment such as hand drills, or wiring bomb fuses. Skills like knitting and crocheting prepared them with patience, steady hands, and attention to detail. Production speed and accuracy for women, the highest priorities at all times, rivaled that of the men in delicate work. Vocational trainers who feared teaching mechanically inept women discovered the ladies’ very lack of familiarity with mechanics proved to be an asset, for they had no bad habits to unlearn.

      Jenny eats a man-sized meal raised a lot of comments in an online discussion. Severe rationing may have prompted the poster to “grant permission” to eat a full meal. The Captains of Industry may have believed “frail women” would faint or become careless if they maintained a “lady-like” diet.  Or a man-sized meal was the best way to make sure women working for the war effort had enough energy to make it through the long workday of operating dangerous machinery.

      How would you feel if these posters appeared in today's work places?

The rest of the posters may be viewed at http://www.pinterest.com/terriwangard/women-working-in-wwii/

1 comment:

  1. I think if I saw these up these days I'd just have a good laugh.