World War II (WWII) lasted from 1939-1945. In addition to fighting around the world, WWII brought huge changes to the home front (the people who stayed in the U.S.). Women in Utah gained many new opportunities for working outside the home, and they built up traditional women’s volunteer networks to assist the war effort. Women were a vital part of the U.S. war effort, and the war changed women’s lives in many ways.
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World War II (WWII) began in Europe when Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Germany allied with Italy and Japan (the Axis) against Britain, France, and Russia (the Allies). The United States entered the war in 1941 after Japan attacked the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawai’i. WWII was a global war, with fighting in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. The United States had to mobilize quickly, building up its military forces with millions of young men, and building up new industries to produce weapons and supplies for the fighting. Both of these buildups created a host of new opportunities for women on Utah’s home front.
The federal government encouraged women to take new jobs in war industries, and coined the character “Rosie the Riveter” to help people understand this new role for women outside the home. The federal government also built many military installations in Utah. These were places where soldiers and pilots trained, and where weapons, machinery, and supplies were manufactured.
Utah women filled many jobs in these industries that were formerly reserved for men, such as inspectors, aircraft maintenance, safety specialists, and welders. They also did more traditional women’s work, such as sewing parachutes and clothing, and working as typists and receptionists. Women also took jobs as nurses and staff in military hospitals. By the end of the war, women made up almost 40% of Utah’s workforce. This was part of a major social and economic change in the U.S. that allowed women to work for wages outside the home on a large scale, all because of the war.
Utah’s Minute Women
The Minute Women were part of a national organization that gathered materials that could be used to make things for the war. This was similar to the recycling programs we know today. About 8,000 women in rural and urban communities all over Utah organized “salvage” efforts to collect tin cans, newspapers, household fats, scrap metals, and other items that could be recycled and made into guns, explosives, and other war supplies.
By the end of the war, Utah’s Minute Women had collected more than 2 million pounds of household fats (such as bacon grease), and 242 million pounds of scrap metal and iron.