During World War II, women were forced to burden a variety of responsibilities for their countries.
During the war, several hundred thousand women served in combat roles. Women were especially prevalent in anti-aircraft units. The U.S., however, had decided not to use women in combat roles because of social perception and stigma but 400,000 served in non-combat roles. By the end of the war, 160,000 American women were killed by enemy fire
Women fought in the resistance movements of France, Italy, and Poland.
After the war ended and millions of men returned home, women were fired and forced out of the independent lives they had lived for years and back into the domestic sphere. The roles that women held in World War II catalyzed the Second-Wave Feminist movement that started in the early 1960s. These heroes had proved that they could do anything and wanted the opportunity to do it.
Princess Elizabeth in her ATS uniform in front of an ambulance. Wikipedia Mary Churchill, in her ATS uniform, accompanying her father Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Wikipedia Pte. Elizabeth Gourlay transmitting a radio message during the Second World War. Wikipedia Klavdiya Kalugina, one of the youngest female Soviet snipers (age 17 at the start of her military service in 1943). Wikipedia A woman machinist talking with Eleanor Roosevelt during her goodwill tour of Great Britain in 1942. Wikipedia Anna Leska, White Waltham airfield, England, 1942. A serving officer in the Polish air force, Anna Leska was one of three Polish women who served in the Air Transport Auxiliary. In this picture, she had only recently been cleared to do so. The women who flew in the ATA were extremely skillful, required as they were to fly a variety of different planes from the maintenance sheds to the airfields (in this image, Leska is in a Spitfire). Fifteen female pilots lost their lives during the war, some of whom were shot down. The Guardian A French woman is accused of collaborating with the Germans, Rennes, France, 1944. This woman was being interrogated before being publicly shamed as a collaborator. For Miller, hair was important. At the Imperial War Museum, this picture can be seen alongside a photograph of a female member of the FFI (Forces françaises de l’intérieur) who sports an extremely elaborate hairstyle. For the resistance, such styles sent a message of defiance: those who wore them were wasting their occupiers’ resources. The Guardian A member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in training on balloon command. Circa 1942. Telegraph A shelter marshal at the Canine Defence League puts a Scottie dog in a gas box designed by the League for use during a gas attack. May 10, 1941. Telegraph A Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) flight mechanic (airframe) wearing protective goggles when using an acetylene welder. Telegraph Grande Guillotte of Normandy, France, pays the price for being a collaborationist by having her hair sheared by avenging French patriots on July 10, 1944. The man at right looks on with grim satisfaction at the unhappy girl. rarehistoricalphotos Pilots Mona Friedlander (left) and Joan Hughes wearing parachutes for a demonstration flight for the Air Transport Auxiliary Service in which they are to replace male pilots, freeing them for combat duty in World War II. January 10, 1940. Telegraph Some of the S.S. women whose brutality was equal to that of their male counterparts at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Bergen, Germany, on April 21, 1945. rarehistoricalphotos Three members of WAAF, (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force), equipped with camera guns and aerial camera for overhaul at the School of Instrument and Repairers and Cine Projectionists. Circa 1943. Telegraph Trainee balloon operators in the southwest of England being questioned by their instructor with the aid of a model balloon. June 13, 1942. Telegraph Two women hoisting a propeller for an Empire machine at British Overseas Airways. March 1942. Telegraph Women and children, some of over 40,000 concentration camp inmates liberated by the British, suffering from typhus, starvation, and dysentery, huddle together in a barrack at Bergen-Belsen, Germany, in April 1945. rarehistoricalphotos Women fire guards on duty. October 31, 1942. Telegraph Women pilots leaving their B-17, Pistol-Packin’ Mama, at Lockbourne AFB, Ohio. Wikipedia ATS officers getting changed in Camberley, Surrey, 1944. After performing their drills in a muddy field, these trainee ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) officers rapidly change into uniform for their next assignment. This photograph reveals an intimacy with its subjects that only a woman could have achieved: had a man been behind the camera, the women would all have rushed to hide. The Guardian An exhausted nurse at the 44th evacuation hospital, Normandy, France, 1944. This photograph was taken a month after D-day at Bricqueville, Normandy. Forty nurses were attached to this mobile hospital, eight miles south of Omaha Beach. Between 5 July and 4 August, they treated some 4,500 patients, of which only 50 died. The Guardian A tired mother and son wait at a crossroads for transport, Luxembourg, 1945. After the liberation of Paris in August 1944, Miller followed the allied forces through Europe. Her eye was very much on the civilians caught up in the war through no fault of their own. This image captures some of the terrible weariness after so many years of conflict. The Guardian Homeless children in Budapest, Hungary, 1946. Miller’s first assignment after the war. After the war Hungary and Romania were coming under communist control; the poster on the wall proclaims democracy and uses the image of a woman to do so. Miller was strongly critical of the part played by Germany’s allies, but this was always tempered by compassion. The Guardian Women in fire masks, Downshire Hill, Hampstead, London, 1941. One of Miller’s most famous war shots, this was taken during the blitz and was published in American Vogue as part of a feature that aimed to show how British women were able to “take” the conflict, hence its slightly humorous feel. The women sit on the steps of Miller’s own air-raid shelter, modeling the masks worn by those who did ARP (Air Raid Precautions) work. The Guardian A Soviet woman, harvesting a field torn by shells only a short time ago, shakes her fist at German prisoners of war as they march eastward under Soviet guard in the U.S.S.R., on February 14, 1944. rarehistoricalphotos A girl of the resistance movement is a member of a patrol to rout out the Germans snipers still left in areas in Paris, France, on August 29, 1944. The girl had killed two Germans in the Paris Fighting two days previously. rarehistoricalphotos 1) Filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl looks through the lens of a large camera prior to filming the 1934 Nuremberg Rally in Germany. The footage would be composed into the 1935 film “Triumph of the Will”, later hailed as one of the best propaganda films in history. rarehistoricalphotos Members of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) pose at Camp Shanks, New York, before leaving from New York Port of Embarkation on February 2, 1945. The women are with the first contingent of Black American WACs to go overseas for the war effort From left to right are, kneeling: Pvt. Rose Stone; Pvt. Virginia Blake; and Pfc. Marie B. Gillisspie. Second row: Pvt. Genevieve Marshall; T/5 Fanny L. Talbert; and Cpl. Callie K. Smith. Third row: Pvt. Gladys Schuster Carter; T/4 Evelyn C. Martin; and Pfc. Theodora Palmer. rarehistoricalphotos Japanese women look for possible flaws in the empty shells in a factory in Japan, on September 30, 1941. rarehistoricalphotos Symbolic of the defense of Sevastopol, Crimea, is this Russian girl sniper, Lyudmila Pavlichenko, who, by the end of the war, had killed a confirmed 309 Germans — the most successful female sniper in history. rarehistoricalphotos Woman workers inspect a partly inflated barrage balloon in New Bedford, Massachusetts on May 11, 1943. Each part of the balloon must be stamped by the worker who does the particular job, also by the work inspector of the division, and finally by the “G” inspector, who gives final approval. rarehistoricalphotos With some of New York’s skyscrapers looming through clouds of gas, some U.S. army nurses at the hospital post at Fort Jay, Governors Island, New York, wear gas masks as they drill on defense precautions, on November 27, 1941. rarehistoricphotos Three Soviet guerrillas in action in Russia during World War II. rarehistoricalphotos An Auxiliary Territorial Service girl crew, dressed in warm winter coats, works a searchlight near London, on January 19, 1943, trying to find German bombers for the anti-aircraft guns to hit. rarehistoricalphotos 4) The German Aviatrix, Captain Hanna Reitsch, shakes hands with German Chancellor Adolf Hitler after being awarded the Iron Cross second class at the Reich Chancellory in Berlin, Germany, in April 1941, for her service in the development of airplane armament instruments during World War II. In back, center is Reichsmarshal Hermann Goering. At the extreme right is Lt. Gen. Karl Bodenschatz of the German air ministry. rarehistoricalphotos The art assembly line of female students busily engaged in copying World War II propaganda posters in Port Washington, New York, on July 8, 1942. The master poster is hanging in the background. rarehistoricalphotos A group of young Jewish resistance fighters is being held under arrest by German SS soldiers in April/May 1943, during the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto by German troops after an uprising in the Jewish quarter. rarehistoricalphotos More and more girls are joining the Luftwaffe under Germany’s total conscription campaign. They are replacing men transferred to the army to take up arms instead of planes against the advancing allied forces. Here, German girls are shown in training with men of the Luftwaffe, somewhere in Germany, on December 7, 1944. rarehistoricalphotos 6) Specially chosen airwomen are being trained for police duties in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). They have to be quick-witted, intelligent and observant woman of the world – They attend an intensive course at the highly sufficient RAF police school – where their training runs parallel with that of the men. Keeping a man “in his place” – A WAAF member demonstrates self-defense on January 15, 1942. Rarehistoricalphotos The first “Women Guerrilla” corps has just been formed in the Philippines and Filipino women, trained in their local women’s auxiliary service, are seen here hard at work practicing on November 8, 1941, at a rifle range in Manila. rarehistoricalphotos Little known to the outside world, although they have been fighting fascist regimes since 1927, the Italian “Maquis” carry on their battle for freedom under the most hazardous conditions. Germans and fascist Italians are targets for their guns; and the icy, eternally snow-clad peaks of the French-Italian border are their battlefield. This school teacher of the Valley of Aosta fights side-by-side with her husband in the “White Patrol” above the pass of Little Saint Bernard in Italy, on January 4, 1945. rarehistoricalphotos Women of the defense corps form a “V” for victory with crossed hose lines at a demonstration of their abilities in Gloucester, Massachusetts, on November 14, 1941. rarehistoricalphotos A nurse wraps a bandage around the hand of a Chinese soldier as another wounded soldier limps up for first aid treatment during fighting on the Salween River front in Yunnan Province, China, on June 22, 1943. rarehistoricalphotos Women workers groom lines of transparent noses for the A-20J attack bombers at Douglas Aircraft’s in Long Beach, California, in October of 1942. rarehistoricalphotos American film actress Veronica Lake illustrates what can happen to women war workers who wear their hair long while working at their benches, in a factory somewhere in America, on November 9, 1943. rarehistoricalphotos Ack-Ack Girls, members of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), run to action at an anti-aircraft gun emplacement in the London area on May 20, 1941, when the alarm is sounded. rarehistoricalphotos Two women of the German anti-aircraft gun auxiliary operating field telephones during World War II. rarehistoricalphotos Young Soviet girl tractor-drivers of Kirghizia (now Kyrgyzstan), efficiently replace their friends, brothers, and fathers who went to the front. Here, a girl tractor driver sows sugar beets on August 26, 1942. rarehistoricalphotos Steel-helmeted, uniformed Polish women march through the streets of Warsaw to aid in defense of their capital after German troops had started their invasion of Poland, on September 16, 1939. rarehistoricalphotos Nurses are seen clearing debris from one of the wards in St. Peter’s Hospital, Stepney, East London, on April 19, 1941. Four hospitals were among the buildings hit by German bombs during a full-scale attack on the British capital. rarehistoricalphotos Life magazine photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White wears high-altitude flying gear in front of an Allied Flying Fortress airplane during a World War II assignment in February 1943. rarehistoricalphotos Polish women are led through woods to their executions by German soldiers sometime in 1941. rarehistoricalphots These Northwestern University girls brave freezing weather to go through a Home Guard rifle drill on the campus in Evanston, Illinois on January 11, 1942. From left to right are: Jeanne Paul, age 18, of Oak Park, Illinois,; Virginia Paisley, 18, of Lakewood, Ohio; Marian Walsh, 19, also from Lakewood; Sarah Robinson, 20, of Jonesboro, Arkansas,; Elizabeth Cooper, 17, of Chicago; Harriet Ginsberg, 17. rarehistoricalphotos As they await assignment to their permanent field installations, these Army nurses go through gas mask drill as part of the many refresher courses being given them at a provisional headquarters hospital training area somewhere in Wales, on May 26, 1944. rarehistoricalphotos Movie actress Ida Lupino is a lieutenant in the Women’s Ambulance and Defense Corps and is shown at a telephone switchboard in Brentwood, California, on January 3, 1942. In an emergency, she can reach every ambulance post in the city. It is in her house and from here she can see the whole Los Angeles area. rarehistoricalphotos The first contingent of U.S. Army nurses to be sent to an Allied advanced base in New Guinea carry their equipment as they march single file to their quarter on November 12, 1942. The first four in line from the right are: Edith Whittaker, Pawtucket, Rhode Island,; Ruth Baucher, Wooster, O.; Helen Lawson, Athens, Tennessee,; and Juanita Hamilton, of Hendersonville, North Carolina. rarehistoricalphotos With practically every member present, the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, District of Columbia, hears its second woman speak other than a member, as Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, wife of China’s Generalissimo, pleads for maximum efforts to halt Japan’s war aims on February 18, 1943. rarehistoricalphotos U.S. nurses walk along a beach in Normandy, France on July 4, 1944, after they had waded through the surf from their landing craft. They are on their way to field hospitals to care for the wounded allied soldiers. rarehistoricalphotos A French man and woman fight with captured German weapons as both civilians and members of the French Forces of the Interior took the fight to the Germans, in Paris in August of 1944, prior to the surrender of German forces and the Liberation of Paris on August 25. rarehistoricalphotos A German soldier, wounded by a French bullet, is disarmed by two members of the French Forces of the interior, one a woman, during street fighting that preceded the entry of allied troops into Paris in 1944. rarehistoricalphotos Elisabeth “Lilo” Gloeden stands before judges, on trial for being involved in the attempt on Adolf Hitler’s life in July 1944. Elisabeth, along with her husband and mother, was convicted of hiding a fugitive from the July 20 Plot to assassinate Hitler. The three were executed by beheading on November 30th, 1944, their executions much-publicized later as a warning to others who might plot against the German ruling party. rarehistoricalphotos An army of Romanian civilians, men, and women, both young and old, dig anti-tank ditches in a border area, on June 22, 1944, in readiness to repel Soviet armies. rarehistoricalphotos Miss Jean Pitcaithy, a nurse with a New Zealand Hospital Unit stationed in Libya, wears goggles to protect her against whipping sands, on June 18, 1942. rarehistoricalphotos 62nd Stalingrad Army on the streets of Odessa (The 8th Guard of the Army of General Chuikov on the streets of Odessa) in April of 1944. A large group of Soviet soldiers, including two women in front, march down a street. rarehistoricalphoto British fighter aircraft are being produced in increasing numbers. Here are Spitfires in production, in a factory where women play an important part and are employed in nearly all branches of construction. April 3, 1941. Telegraph