Rosie Goes to Work

By Mary Dellasega

Some of the highest wages and best working conditions found by “Rosies” were in the aircraft industry. Boeing, in Seattle, was one of these plants employing women.  Boeing’s Seattle-area employment went from 8,000 before the war to 46,000 during it, and the percentage of women employees increased from 3% to 50%. 

The shipyards, on the other hand, were more used to employing only men; they were not as fast to admit women, although the government wanted them to.  In 1940, of 100,000 shipyard workers, all were men but 36; in 1943, there were 1.5 million workers needed and the shipyards were forced to hire women.  The shipyards then trained and hired female workers, but considered them temporary replacements.  One housewife, however, saw it differently.  She said, “It’s really simple to build a ship.  You get your plan, cut out your pattern, prefabricate it, fit it together, and launch it.  Men have always made such a big deal out of it!”


“Rosies” did not have an easy life.  A female defense worker would typically work six days a week for 48 hours with one day off.  When she went home, she would have cleaning, shopping, cooking, and children to take care of. 

Many women defense workers, however, found a great deal of satisfaction in their new jobs.  Lyn Childs, for instance, worked in a shipyard; she said, “I took the job because, number one, I needed work; number two, I’d had bad experience in jobs before where I hadn’t felt any pride in the kind of work I was doing; number three, there was a war on and the people were all enthused about helping out in every way they could.”