Representation of Women in World War II Propaganda
Wartime propaganda campaigns, such as “Rosie the Riveter” created by Howard J. Miller in 1942 motivated women to join the workforce to assist in U.S mobilization during World War II. At the beginning of World War II working class women and women of color had already been in the workforce in jobs that were considered feminine such as teaching, cleaning, caregivers and secretarial work. The need for women to take on jobs that was once only for men during World War II in areas such as farming, factories, engineering, and in the military created a change in gender roles. The campaigns, however, only targeted white, middle-class women who mostly had stayed at home before World War II. Working class women and women of color were not represented by propaganda at that time, as these campaigns targeted women based on class and racial identity. The visual representations found in World War II propaganda erased women of color and poor white women from the imagery of home front mobilization, making it seem that these women were not involved in the war effort.
Scholars’ interpretations of propaganda campaigns, such as “Rosie the Riveter,” has developed over time to include the impact of race, class, and gender attitudes in imagining the war effort. The role of mass media and the U.S government are common and significant themes within the field because of their involvement in the lack of visual representation of women of color and working class women. Some literature focuses on the portrayal of women in wartime propaganda where as others emphasize women in the workforce. Historians such as Maureen Honey and Leila J. Rupp address the relationship of these themes to provide a clearer understanding of the hardships faced by working class women and women of color during World War II as well as the extensive achievements of all women joining the workforce and military during the war. However, Honey and Rupp approach this relationship through two different analyses of propaganda. Honey’s argument through her work Creating Rosie the Riveter is central to research of visual representation of women in wartime propaganda because of her focus on the government targeting white, middle class women and not all women. Bitter Fruit by Honey is also significant within the field because it explores how women of color, particularly African American women were left out war time propaganda because the government created an image of white, middle-class women as the desired working women for our economy. Honey’s argument that the government’s influence in wartime propaganda was entirely class and racial based was developed through analysis of government propaganda campaigns. However, Rupp shares the same viewpoint as Honey but develops hers through comparing the United States and Germany’s use of wartime campaigns in her book Mobilizing Women for War. Rupp’s research contributes to the field because she argues how the United States wartime propaganda campaigns are more intensive than Germany’s. Rupp argues that this is due to the governments direct influence on how magazine writers and editors approached the topic of war and how they portrayed the need for mobilization by targeting white, middle-class women and not all women. Furthermore, both Honey and Rupp’s different analysis of wartime campaigns provide the same central viewpoint on how the government’s influence in wartime propaganda was entirely class and racial based, therefore leaving women of color and working class women out of the wartime narrative. Historians such as Rupp and Honey depict how interpretations wartime propaganda campaigns developed over time to include the impact of race, class, and gender attitudes in imagining the war effort.
On December 7, 1941 Japanese airplanes bombed United States Naval Base Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, Hawaii. The attack killed more than 2,400 Americans, and destroyed or damaged nearly eight battleships, twenty naval vessels, and over three hundred airplanes. The following day Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) presented to Congress and America his The Infamy Speech, which declared war on Japan. After this day the government establishment of the Office of War Information (OWI) as a central line of communication of wartime information for the public. OWI developed propaganda materials to censor negative information that could damage war effort and to mobilize the public. Photographers were sent around the country to factories, farms, and civilian jobs such as teaching, office jobs in local government, and engineering to gather images of Americans doing their part for the war. The campaigns created posters, radio programs, magazine articles, and advertisements as propaganda. The goal was to entice Americans, particularly women, to join the workforce, military jobs, and rationing to help fight Axis powers. As a creator of propaganda, the government was responsible for promoting the social acceptance of women in the workplace and military.
In June 1942, the OWI developed a magazine division known as the Magazine Bureau as a way to organize what the government wanted the media to portray of the war. The Magazine Bureau was in charge of sending information about the warfront to the public and telling Americans what to do on the homefront. The Bureau acted as a publicity agent of military campaigns by depicting to editors, writers, and photographers what themes of war, such as women’s role needed to be addressed. Dorothy Ducas, chief of the Magazine Bureau, recognized the government’s need to use propaganda to target women. In a memo to Ulric Bell, What the Magazine Bureau Needs From Magazine Industries, states: “only after you have considered the ages of the women in the group, their educational background, their work experiences and their social and economic status will you be able to suggest the field of war employment that are appropriate for them.”  This statement from the memo shows how the government and Magazine Bureau’s recruitment campaigns are focused on “developing stories that encouraged placement of women in jobs where they were needed.”  Ducas’s work displays the Magazine Bureau intention to influence women in taking on all types of work. In, “Women in Necessary Services” the Magazine Bureau addressed labor shortages in civilian jobs that the government believed women would not consider as part of war work.  One of Ducas’s memos to Bell explained how the OWI sought to make unglamorous jobs, such as agricultural work, “look attractive.”  The Magazine Bureau addressed to editors, writers, and publishers, “These jobs will have to be glorified as patriotic war service if American women are to be persuaded to take them and stick to them.”  Ducas’s memos depict the control the OWI had over magazines by telling magazine industries what types women were acceptable to address in their propaganda. The OWI asserted control over the magazine industries through memos such as Ducas’s in order to ensure that specific types of women were targeted through wartime propaganda campaigns.
The OWI and Magazine Bureau used propaganda to entice a specific demographic of women to join the workforce. Maureen Honey’s Creating Rosie the Riveter describes the government’s desired working woman as “housewives without work experience would make up the bulk of new workers and naturally they would leave their jobs once things returned to normal.”  This shows how the government targeted white, middle-class women to take on jobs in support of the war effort. The government desired white, middle-class women because they represent traditional femininity and domesticity, which portrays patriotism that could create a sense of victory for Americans on the homefront. The government assumed that the majority of women entering the work force would be women who had never worked before and expected to go back to their domestic duties once the war ended. This understanding of the white, middle class women as the perfect representation for women involvement in the war was then upheld by the OWI and Magazine Bureau who worked to sell the war to women. Both government groups sold the war to women through propaganda campaigns in the forms of newspapers, posters, radio advertisements, and fictional stories that required the help of magazine and newspaper editors and writers, as well as radio commenters.
The Magazine Bureau created the Magazine War Guide that communicated information from the government to the magazine industries. The Magazine War Guide, which began its bi monthly publication in July 1942 and ended in April 1945, provided thousands of editors, writers, and reporters with positive war information that was ready to be published. This guide was a way for the government to have influence over the media to ensure white, middle-class women were enticed to join the workforce. The guide provided instructions to effectively address women’s involvement in the war. For example, the Bureau published the “Supplement for Love Story” campaign that urged writers and publicists to create fictional romance and adventure stories that might influence women to join the workforce. In the 1944 story, “Mary” by the Saturday Evening Post, depicts an ordinary girl named Mary who took on the job as an ordinance worker after seeing a propaganda poster-requesting women to become ordinance workers in support of the war effort. After the war ended, Mary was rewarded for her help in the war effort by meeting a soldier. This story displays how only white, middle class women were represented through stories in the “Supplement for Love Story” campaign. Women were depicted as either young and single, married, or mothers who transform into a hardworking patriot. After the war the women either returns to her husband or wins the love of a soldier due to her dedication to the war effort. The way women were illustrated through the stories in the “Supplement for Love Story” campaign reflects on how the government addressed women based on the stereotype that women are emotional and might be influenced to take on wartime jobs in hope at having a fairytale romance. This wartime campaign not only misrepresented women as a gender but it excluded women of color and working class women from being apart of the war effort.
The “Women at War” campaign, launched in 1944 by the Magazine Bureau, was the largest wartime government campaign that recruited white, middle class women for civilian and military jobs. The campaign reached out to publishers of magazines, newspapers and advertisements to promote all jobs that were vital for the war effort. “The more women at work the sooner we will win”, was the slogan of the campaign established by the government. Overall, the goal of the year long campaign was for the government to have influence over how the media presented women in wartime propaganda. In the 1940’s The Saturday Evening Post was one of the most popular magazines that helped launch multiple campaigns concerning women in the workplace with a circulation of about three million copies per week. The Saturday Evening Post’s “Women at War” campaign used Norman Rockwell’s “Rosie to the Rescue,” a famous recreation of Howard Miller’s 1942 “Rosie.” Rockwell’s version depicted Rosie carrying equipment of multiple jobs such as a farming hoe, a dustpan, electrical wire, as well as a wrench on her back. There are thirty-one different occupations suggested through the equipment Rosie is carrying in reference to the need for women to take on different occupations. Even though Rockwell’s cover represents the multitude jobs available for women, it displays the government’s influence on how white, middle class women should be the only women taking on wartime jobs. This influence is shown through the recreation of “Rosie” as a white, middle class women. There is no reference to working class women or women of color through Rockwell’s “Rosie to the Rescue.” Furthermore, research shows how the relationships between the government and media groups were extensive in portraying women’s role in the war to ensure the economy operated as close as it did before the war.
The lack of representation of working lower class women workers depicts how wartime propaganda was entirely class based. Since working class women were already involved in the workforce, the government did not address them in propaganda campaigns.  However, the government believed that white, middle class women represented the all-American family that portrayed patriotism, which would then create a sense of victory for America during the war. This viewpoint explains why the government did not target or include women of lower classes in the wartime propaganda narrative. Women of lower classes were already involved in farming, factory, and civilian jobs, which were often seen as ‘men’s work’ before the war. The fact that these women had already been working at the same jobs as men created a stereotypes for lower class working women before and during the war because they were not the typical stay at home mothers that represented Americans domesticity. By focusing on portraying white, middle class women joining the workforce, the wartime campaigns away from the public seeing the achievements of lower class women who have been in the workforce even before the war.
The lack of representation of women of color shows how wartime propaganda was also racialized. Maureen Honey’s Bitter Fruit discusses how the concept of race portrayed only white women as army nurses, concerned mothers, wives, and defense factory workers. This prosperity of white women propaganda took away the acknowledgement of contributions made in the war effort by women of color. African American women endured discrimination in trying to obtain jobs because they were not the idealistic “working American women.”  In 1944, the Chicago Tribune published, “Calumet Shipyard Riot” in reference to the Calumet Shipyard in Chicago, Illinois where African American workers protested over wartime racial job restrictions. The demand for labor was so great that the shipyard hired African American women for production jobs, which at the time was a huge achievement. Women, such as Hortense Johnson, who was a munitions worker, faced the constant threat of explosion were not represented by wartime propaganda. African American women faced racism while taking on dangerous wartime jobs during World War II and were never praised for their achievements by wartime propaganda. This lack of representation shows how biased government wartime propaganda campaigns were by focusing on encouraging white, middle class women involvement in wartime jobs.
Wartime propaganda campaigns were developed to motivate women to join the workforce to assist in U.S mobilization during World War II. The campaigns, however, only targeted white, middle-class women because the government believed these women represented patriotism that could created a sense of victory for America on the homefront. Working class women and women of color were not represented by propaganda at that time due to the campaigns targeting women based on class and racial identity. The visual representations found in World War II propaganda erased women of color and poor white women from the imagery of home front mobilization, making it seem that these women were not involved in the war effort. In conclusion, the representation of women in World War II propaganda campaigns is entirely based upon differences in class, race, and gender, thus creating hardships for women of color, women in the military and working class women.
“Editors Conference Report,” April 5, 1943, OWI Meetings for Magazine Editors file, Entry 339,Box 1695, National Archives and Records Administration.
Memo from Dorothy Ducas to Ulric Bell, July 15, 1942, OWI Historical Records file, Entry 339,Box 1695, National Archives and Records Administration.
Manly, Chesly. “Calumet Shipyard Riot.” Chicago Tribune, June 25, 1944, A1.
Peterson, Theodore. Magazines in the Twentieth Century (Urbana: University of Illinois Press,1964.)
Rockwell, Norman. Rosie to the Rescue. 1943. Norman Rockwell Museum.
“Supplement for Love Story and Western Love Magazines.” September 11, 1942, OWI Magazine War Guide file, Entry 345, Box 1700, National Archives and Records Administration.
Tebbel, John. George Horace Lorimer and the “Saturday Evening Post.”(New York: Double Day & Co.,1948).
“Women in Necessary Services,” Magazine War Guide Supplement, June-July 1943, entry 345, Box 1700. National Archives and Records Administration.
Adkins Covert, Tawnya J. Manipulating Images: World War II Mobilization of Women through Magazine Advertising. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2012.
Honey, Maureen. Bitter Fruit: African American Women in World War II. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999.
Honey, Maureen. Creating Rosie the Riveter: Class Gender, and Propaganda during World War II. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984.
Meyer, Leisa D. Creating GI Jane: Sexuality and Power in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.
Rupp, Leila J. Mobilizing Women for War: German and American Propaganda, 1939-1945.Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1978.
Yellin, Emily. Our Mothers’ War: American Women at Home and at the Front during World War II. New York: Free Press, 2004.
 Maureen Honey, Creating Rosie the Riveter: Class Gender, and Propaganda during World War II. (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984).
 Maureen Honey, Bitter Fruit: African American Women in World War II. (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999).
 Leila J. Rupp, Mobilizing Women for War: German and American Propaganda, 1939-1945,
(Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1978).
 Leila J. Rupp, Mobilizing Women for War, 34.
 Leila J. Rupp, Mobilizing Women for War: German and American Propaganda, 1939-1945,
(Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1978), 34.
 Maureen Honey, Creating Rosie the Riveter, 32.
 Honey, Creating Rosie the Riveter, 36.
 Memo, Dorothy Ducas to Ulric Bell, July 15, 1942, OWI Historical Records file, Entry 339, Box 1695, National Archives and Records Administration.
 “Women in Necessary Services,” Magazine War Guide Supplement, June-July 1943, entry 345, Box 1700. National Archives and Records Administration.
 Memo, Dorothy Ducas to Ulric Bell.
 Honey, Creating Rosie the Riveter, 37.
 Ibid, 38.
 “Supplement for Love Story and Western Love Magazines.” September 11, 1944, OWI Magazine War Guide file, Entry 345, Box 1700, National Archives and Records Administration.
 John Tebbel, George Horace Lorimer and the “Saturday Evening Post” (New York: Double Day & Co., 1948).
 Ibid., 62.
 Norman Rockwell, Rosie to the Rescue (Norman Rockwell Museum, 1943).
 Emily Yellin, Our Mothers’ War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II (New York: Free Press, 2004), 45.
 Ibid., 48.
 Honey, Creating Rosie the Riveter, 56.
 Honey, Bitter Fruit, 28.
 Ibid., 24
 Chesly Manly, “Calumet Shipyard Riot,” Chicago Tribune, June 25, 1944, A1.
 Honey, Bitter Fruit, 35.