We Can Do It! 30 Vintage Photos That Will Change Your Perception of Women Factory Workers in WWII

World War II is one of the most-researched and documented periods in history. With the wealth of information left behind from the era, images play an important part of what we know about what life was like during those years. War history has previously been a discipline that has been dominated by the male personalities involved in the events, but the importance of women in World War II cannot be overlooked.

With the absence of men who enlisted in the military, many jobs and occupations that were previously assumed to be a “man’s job” were now open to women. Women were more than happy to rise to the occasion, joining the workforce in a variety of skilled jobs that allowed them to show their worth and abilities and assist the war effort in their respective countries.

Women’s influence on the war effort was felt in a variety of ways: they took on professional manufacturing jobs, they became nurses, and they served in the military. One particular avenue in which women found success was in factory work. Women filled empty jobs previously occupied by men in factories that manufactured aircrafts, ships, weapons, vehicles, and more. Some of the many jobs that women did in factories were riveting, painting radium on instruments, and cutting metal. Photographs from the time document these women factory workers and the jobs they performed during the war.

After the war ended, some of the men who left for the war returned home to their jobs, but many of them didn’t. World War II was the deadliest war in human history, and many of the men who left never came home. Many women were still able to remain in the workforce. Even though most of the factories shut down, women moved on to other professional jobs in the workforce, supporting themselves and their families in ways they hadn’t been able to before the start of the war.

Buffalo, New York. Women factory workers attending mass at nine a.m. Sunday directly after working the third shift. Photographed by Marjory Collins, April 1943. Farm Security Administration. Office of War Information photograph collection. Library of Congress.
The hand that rocks the cradle can also rock the Axis. American women are rapidly taking their places on the industrial front. Here in this small factory, the owner’s wife operates one of the machines making dies for incendiary bombs. Unknown photographer, February 1942. Franklin D. Roosevelt Library. Wikimedia Commons.
Women’s Factory War Work, England, UK, May 1941. Vera Elliot and another female war worker watch as the foreman of the workshop demonstrates the machine that Vera will be working on at this factory. Unknown photographer, 1941. Wikimedia Commons.
African-American war worker, ca. 1940s. Unknown photographer. Pinterest.
Factory workers, ca. 1945. Photographed by Howard Clifford, January 1945. University of Washington Libraries. Wikimedia Commons.
Poston, Arizona. Adobe factory. Women workers scraping mortar into adobe frames. Photographed by Francis Stewart, January 3, 1943. National Archives and Records Administration. Wikimedia Commons.
Woman worker poses with finished Sten sub-machine gun. Small arms plant, Long Branch, Ontario, Canada. Photographed by Nicholas Morant, 1942. Library and Archives Canada. Wikimedia Commons.
Safety garb for women workers. The uniform at the left, complete with the plastic “bra” on the right, will prevent future occupational accidents among feminine war workers. Los Angeles, California. Acme. Unknown photographer, ca. 1943. Department of Labor. Women’s Bureau. Wikimedia Commons.
Munitions Work at a Royal Ordinance Factory in the North of England. War worker Mrs. Wilkinson breaks down fuses at ROF Aycliffe, near Darlington, County Durham. Unknown photographer, 1942. Wikimedia Commons.
Drilling a wing bulkhead for a transport plane at the Consolidated Aircraft. Photographed by Howard R. Hollem, October 1942. Library of Congress. Wikimedia Commons.
Women workers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, New York, turning out National and signal flags for the expanding Navy. Unknown photographer, ca. 1941. Franklin D. Roosevelt Library. Wikimedia Commons.
Aluminum Industries, Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio. Aluminum paint production. Women work alongside of men in this Midwest aluminum factory now converted to production of war materials. These young workers are assembling 37mm armor-piercing shot prior to heat treating operations. Photographed by Alfred T. Palmer, February 1942. Library of Congress. Wikimedia Commons.
Women Aircraft Workers. Women man America’s Machines in a West Coast airplane factory, where the swing shift of drill press operators is composed almost entirely of women. Photographed by David Bransby, May 1942. Library of Congress.
Women’s War Work. Life in a Shell Factory, England, UK, 1942. Two women spray paint bombs at a factory in Yorkshire. They are both wearing masks to protect them from the paint fumes. Behind them, other munitions workers can be seen maneuvering the bombs into position ready for painting. Unknown photographer, 1942. Wikimedia Commons.
Women Aircraft Workers. An experienced girl worker in a West Coast airplane factory trains a new girl in the use of a rivet-squeezing machine. Photographed by David Bransby, May 1942. Library of Congress.