The Real Rosie the Riveters: Rare Color Photographs of Women at Work During WW2

The Second World War was a groundbreaking time in history for women. As men were being drafted into the military, thousands of essential jobs across all sectors were being vacated. Workplaces had to adapt fast to the changes with industrial factories, in particular, needing more personnel to cope with the rising demand of the military.

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Image: Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group

At Popular Everything, we’ve collected the most sensational photos of the critical era. A time usually only seen in black-and-white, these color images capture the real “Rosie the Riveters” who stepped in to do what was back then seen as a “man’s job.” These shared experiences amongst the female workers of WWII changed how women saw themselves and their capabilities for good.

Assembling the Cowling for an Aircraft Motor

Pictured in Inglewood, California, this female plant employee is proving that anything men can do, she can do better. She is assembling part of the cowling for a motor that will be attached to a B-25 medium bomber aircraft. As part of the engineering department, she was expected to get down and dirty for the aerospace manufacturer, North American Aviation (NAA).

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Image: Library of Congress

Photographed in October of 1942, it was right in the throes of the Second World War. Over the course of the war, almost 300,000 individual aircraft were produced in North America. It wouldn’t have been possible without the “Rosies” working in defense plants.

Taking a Break in the Hot Californian Sun

Spending all that time in a dark room with poor ventilation encouraged this young woman to have her lunch break in the sun. She’s soaking up the Californian sunshine in the grounds of Douglas Aircraft Company, a plant located at Long Beach, and pouring herself a well-deserved beverage.

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Image: The Vintage News

Lunch breaks during the war were a far cry from what they are today. But what hasn’t changed much in 80 years is the contents of a worker’s lunch box. Sandwiches of sliced meat and lettuce were the most common meal, usually accompanied by a small desert, hearty soup, or hot beverage.

Constructing an Airplane Engine

Take a look at this rockabilly babe working on an airplane motor. It was a complicated job that, surprisingly, didn’t require previous experience or education. Many workers who came to a factory or plant simply learned their craft while on the job, regardless of their gender.

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Image: Reader’s Digest

Before the war, only one percent of the U.S. aircraft industry’s entire workforce was women. But after the attack on Pearl Habor in 1941, there was a wave of mass female enlistment. In fact, 31% of all World War II industry workers in the states had previously been full-time housewives.

Inspecting Large Wing Parts

Pictured in 1942, these safety inspectors are seen examing wing parts of C-47 transport planes at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant in Long Beach, California. Normal transport planes were large aircraft that carried several passengers or cargo. But military transport planes were specifically used to relocate troops or weapons. Ensuring the safety and quality control of the plane parts is an important job.

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Image: Mashable

Not all women were required to wear overalls at the plant. In this photo, the inspectors make their way around the wing parts of C-47 transport planes. They examine the finished products wearing fashionable skirts and cardigans and are surprisngly not asked to shy away from their everyday style.

Checking 25-Pounder Artillery Shells

In this photo, female employees at the small arms factory J & F Pool Ltd check 25-pound artillery shells, circa 1943. Based in Cornwall, England, the factory specialized in trench mortar bombs; they were accurate, small range weapons used by soldiers in the trenches. Having produced over one million shells, they treated their workers with a visit to the range that used the bombs. It was a gift for good measure for them to see their handiwork in action.

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Image: Imperial War Museums

As we can see, the employee on the left didn’t have to wear a hairnet and even wore makeup to her 9 to 5. Contemporary accounts have spoken about how many of the female employees came to work with a full face of makeup, or with their hair nicely arranged. It didn’t matter that they were working in a dimly lit factory!

Adding Finishing Touches to the Nose Section

This young woman is working on the aircraft for the bomber crew in the US Air Force. She is attending to some finishing touches on the nose section of a B-17F navy bomber, also known as the “Flying Fortress.” It’s a newer and further improved model of the B-17 bomber, which grew in prominence after its successful implementation in the South Pacific and Germany.

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Image: USS Elmore

The bomber itself is capable of carrying a crew of seven or nine people, and has space for enough military weaponry for a daylight mission. We love how this calm, almost serene photo of a young woman building the glass globe is in stark contrast to its violent purpose in war.

Plotting at the Coastal Defence Artillery Headquarters

The Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) was the female branch of the British Army during World War Two. Initially, it was formed as a voluntary service to be made up of women in the Territorial Army, the Women’s Transport Service, and the Women’s Legion. It was agreed that these women would be paid only two-thirds of what male soldiers earned.

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Image: Ted Dearbag / The Guardian

The women pictured work for ATS as plotters at the Coastal Defence Artillery Headquarters in Dover. It’s December 1942 and they are hard at work, consulting the charts. During the war, women began to work together in team positions previously entrusted to men.

Checking the Electrical Assemblies

This female worker is performing checks on the electrical assemblies at the aviation plant. It’s June 1942, and she is employed by the Vega Aircraft Corporation that’s based in Burbank, California. Her job is to ensure that the wiring installations and general electric systems aren’t damaged or improperly fitted.

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Image: Library of Congress

We can see from her arm badge that inspectors were labeled as such on their clothing. She is wearing tough leather gloves to protect her from any electric shocks that might occur. But besides that, she’s is dressed relatively normal. She is even working with her hair out and some red lipstick on!

Learning to Handle Injured Patients on the Field

Take a look at these student army flight nurses learning how to handle injured army patients during the Second World War. They are students of the AAF School of Air Evacuation in Kentucky and are using a dummy aircraft body of a Douglas C-47 transport to practice with.

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Image: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

Flight nurses were part of the Medical Air Evacuation team that was not highly prioritized before WWII. Nurses-in-training were even sent overseas to assist before they had even completed their course. After the war, they were understood to be an essential part of medical aid, that entailed more than just physical care.

Welding in an American Shipyard

This photo captures a young “Winnie the Welder” (a moniker given to women in the shipyard) in October 1943. She’s only 20 years old and working in a boat-and-sub-building yard amongst other male workers. Winnie, AKA Florence “Woo Woo” DiTullio Joyce, even remembered how she picked up her playful nickname.

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Image: LIFE Magazine

“I was a curvaceous 119 pounds,” she happily reminisced, adding “Every time I walked by, the guys would go, ‘Woo Woo!'” She wears welding spats over her legs that protect them from the flames. And her helmet and eye goggles shielded her from the spraying sparks. It was revolutionary that such a young woman would be working such a dangerous manual job.

Wiping Down Giant Diesel Locomotives

Pictured in Clinton, Iowa, three women wipers clean one of the giant “H” class locomotives in April 1943. They work at the roundhouse, i.e. the locomotive maintenance shed, tending to the railroad engines. As we can see, it wasn’t a glamorous job. Marcella Hart (left) and Elibia Siematter (right) would have to wear greasy overalls and keep their hair under wraps.

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Image: Claire L. Kovacs

As hefty steam trains, the women wipers would have to climb around to the body to clean those hard-to-reach places. This particular train belonged to the Chicago and North Western Railway Company and demonstrates another area in which women mobilized the war effort in the US.

Carrying Out a Detailed Engine Installation

You’d hardly believe this was a photo from October 1942. This sci-fi style photograph captures one of the female employees at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant in Long Beach, California. During the war, women were trained to specialize in precise and vital engine installation.

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Image: Library of Congress

This powerful image shows the female employee front and center to the action, with her male colleague supporting her from the side. Considering how a large proportion of the women at these factories had never worked before the war effort, handling huge and complicated pieces of machinery was empowering.

Illustrating Micro Terrain in Miniature Models

Check out this class in 1943 at New York University, in which one woman works alongside her male counterparts in making a model from an aerial photograph. With her paintbrush in hand, she applies meticulous detail to the model with unshakeable concentration.

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Image: Business Insider

She is preparing for a job in the army, in which she would be expected to work out camouflage schemes. This class is titled the “camouflage class,” and the task she’s undertaking is to correct camouflaging oversights that have been detected in the model defense plant. Despite performing the same job as other men, she would have been paid less than them.

Working Out the Landing Gear Mechanism of a Fighter

No, this young factory girl isn’t about to fire a cannon – she’s actually working on the landing gear mechanism of a P-51 fighter plane in 1942. The role of a fighter plane is to engage in air-to-air combat against other aircraft, so her job in putting together the landing instrument is crucial work.

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Image: Telegraph

It’s startling to see such a young girl – one who barely looks like she’s left high school – working on complex machinery. But beggars couldn’t be choosers during the war and a large proportion of men became soldiers. North American Aviation, Incorporated, had relaxed their entry requirements since the late thirties.

Carrying Paint Cans Across the Docks

Just because women were taking over industry jobs doesn’t mean they were treated as equals at the workplace. In this image, two women war workers stroll along the docks of the Electric Boat Co., holding cans of paint. It’s October 1943, and a group of sailors is seen sitting at the side and ogling them.

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Image: Bernard Hoffman / The LIFE Picture Collection

The Electric Boat Co. produced over 70 submarines for the US Navy throughout the Second World War, as well as 400 patrol torpedo boats. These women are walking back from a paint job to one of the seacrafts in unconventionally masculine pants. Both at work and socially, it became more normal for women to wear trousers during the war years.

Drilling a Wing Bulkhead for a Transport Plane

Your idea of a female driller in an aircraft factory may have brought to mind a robust and muscular woman, but you’d be sorely mistaken. Take, for instance, this teenage girl who’s busy drilling a wing bulkhead for a transport plane in 1942. She’s working for the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation plant in Fort Worth, Texas.

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Image: Library of Congress

With a pink bow in her hair, she’s hardly the kind of person you would have found working in an aircraft plant before WWII. But it’s worth remembering that female workers flooded every sector of the economy during the war years, taking on “men’s jobs” and doing them extremely well.

Driving a Truck With Royal Cargo Onboard

Even Queen Elizabeth II (at the time a princess and the next in line to the throne) served in the British Armed Forces during the Second World War. And she is the only female head of state to have done so. She had enlisted herself on her 18th birthday, taking after her father’s example. King George VI had served in WW1, but he had not been happy about his daughter’s decision to get involved.

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Image: Imperial War Museum

She enrolled in the Women’s ATS – the British equivalent of the American Women’s Army Corps – and trained as a truck driver and mechanic. It wasn’t a glamorous position, but she carried out her duties happily and with confidence. Even to this day, at 94 years old, she prefers to be behind the wheel rather than chauffeured around.

Painting on Repaired Navy Plane Wings

This photo captures Miss Grace Weaver, an employee of the Naval Air Base in Corpus Christi, Texas. Before the war, she was a school teacher but became a civil service worker during the fighting years in a bid to help the American war effort. Her brother worked as a flight instructor Army’s Air Force.

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Image: Business Insider

Grace is pictured in August 1942, painting American insignia on to a repaired Navy plane wing. It’s a patriotic image, representing how it took effort from people of all walks of life to help win the war. Whatever anyone’s skill level was, there was a job just right for you.

Eating Lunch With the Girls in the Break Room

Take a look at these Rosie the Riveters eating lunch together in the break room in April 1943. They all work as wipers for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad in Clinton, Iowa, and are each wearing a pair of dirty overalls, long sleeves, and a headscarf with goggles.

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Image: Library of Congress

This stunning photo reveals the reality of life as a female employee of a locomotive company. These manual workers would bring packed lunch boxes from home, eating indoors, and at the same time as each other. Seeing these ladies in such sharp quality and vivid colors makes it seem as if it could have been taken yesterday.

Assembling the Cockpit of a Bomber

Pictured in 1942, these women work for the Douglas Aircraft Company and are sat in the cockpit of a bomber plane, putting pieces together. It’s a B-17F heavy bomber AKA a ‘Flying Fortress” and considered one of the most important types of aircraft they produced at the time. The A-20 “Havoc” assault bomber and the C-47 heavy transport plane were the other two aircraft given high priority.

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The U.S. Office of War Information wrote beneath his photo: “American mothers and sisters like these women, give important help in producing dependable planes for their men at the front.” It is clear that women’s jobs at the plant in Long Beach, California, were seen as fundamental to the Army’s operation.

Making a Training Film on Deep-Sea Diving

This is a photo of Jean Selby, an illustrator for Walt Disney Studios, who joined the Women Accepted For Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVE) during the war years. She was one of several illustrators of the company who applied her artistic skills to the Navy to make training films.

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Image: Navy Photographic Laboratory

In this image, she is seen hard at work making celluloid transparencies for a training film on deep-sea diving. Not all working women of World War Two had come from a previously unemployed background – some of the women were highly specialized in a particular field and found a way to transfer their skills.

Riveting the Underside of a Bomber Plane

In this photo, women work on riveting the underside of a bomber at the Douglas Aircraft Company’s Long Beach plant in 1942. In their case, they’re wearing wide-leg pants that were considered masculine in the day. The only “feminine touch” in this Rosie’s outfit is in her bright pink headscarf.

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Image: Library of Congress

Bomber planes are designed with the specific purpose of carrying and dropping bombs on surface targets. They are heavy duty military aircraft created to do serious damage. Places like railroad facilities, factories, and bridges would be targeted by these weapons of war.

Stitching Harnesses for Military Parachutes

The Pioneer Parachute Company designed and manufactured parachutes and parafoils for the army during WWII. Pictured in the photo is Mary Saverick, one of the female seamstresses they employed during the war, at work in their base in Manchester, Connecticut, in the summer of 1942.

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Image: Library of Congress 

Mary is making parachute harnesses for the military, stitching them together using an iconic Singer sewing machine. As we can see from the wall behind her, the work would have been repetitive. But it was a crucial job that had to be executed perfectly. After all, soldiers depended on the strength of the items that seamstresses would create.

Working on the Port Outboard Engine

Three female aircraft mechanics work outdoors on the port outboard engine of a Pratt & Whitney R-2000 Twin Wasp. They’re in the Naval Air Station in Oakland, California, in the summer of 1945. This was a radial engine developed by the U.S. to power military aircraft.

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Image: Naval History and Heritage Command

From left to right, they are Seaman 1st Class Gene Reinhold, Seaman 1st Class Lorraine Taylor, and Seaman 1st Class Mary Harrison. All three of them were part of the Women Accepted For Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVE.) We can see just how selfless they were, especially Gene on the left, who courageously perches on the base of the engine fan.

Trying on the New Service Uniform Caps

This photo shows three women of the Women Accepted For Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES) trying on newly-authorized Overseas Cap’s in 1944. Left of the mirror is Yeoman 2nd Class Bernice Elliot and on the right is Yeoman 3rd Class Martha Dietlin. The one trying on the new hat style is Seaman 1st Class Kay Magee.

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Image: United States National Archives and Records Administration

The WAVES are in New Orleans, Lousiana, at the Naval Air Station. These Overseas Cap’s had just been commissioned, and as we can tell from their faces, didn’t particularly go down well. The one looking in the mirror, Martha, looks displeased with it on herself, while her friend Bernice gives a clear disapproving look!

Spray Painting Small Parts of a Gasoline Tank

This wartime worker is Elizabeth Little, and she’s one of the production workers spray painting in a hard-to-miss yellow color. She’s employed by the Heil Company that’s based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where her role is to make gasoline trailer tanks for the U.S. Army Air Corps.

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Image: Library of Congress

Elizabeth makes up one of the women who hadn’t worked a proper job before the war. It’s February 1943 in this photo and she is 30 years of age and a mother of two, working in this production while her husband runs their family farm. In her case, she benefitted from the influx of female employment.

Making Valves for Blood Transfusion Bottles

In this photo, we have Dorothy Cole circa October 1942, a former sculptress and tile designer who switched careers during the war. She turned her basement into a workshop to tin plate needles for valves that were used for blood transfusion bottles. These were provided to the medicine manufacturer Baxter Laboratories.

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Image: Library of Congress

Living in Glenview, Illinois, Dorothy turned the money she earned from Baxter Laboratories into war bonds, that she then used to fund her young nephew’s education. War bonds were debt instruments used to finance military spending during the war, often appealing to people’s patriotic zeal.

Building the Tail Section of a Cargo Plane

In this head-spinning photo, Helen Bray works between the bars of a C-87 Liberator Express cargo plane. She is employed by American aircraft manufacturing company, Consolidated Aircraft Corporation, who she left school to come and work for as a mechanic during the war.

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Image: Library of Congress

She’s in Forth Worth, Texas, and in the process of assembling the emplanage section, i.e. tail end, of a new consolidated transport plane. Built in 1942, it was a new model that was adapted from the B-24 bomber and was capable of carrying the greatest cargo and people load out of all of them.

Nursing a Patient in a Therapeutic Whirlpool

This woman isn’t actually a registered nurse – she’s a pharmacist’s assistant that was part of the Women Accepted For Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES.) This photo from the Spring season of 1945 shows Pharmacist’s Mate 1st Class Virginia LaGrange providing therapeutic treatment to an injured patient.

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Image: Naval History and Heritage Command

The patient is lying in a therapeutic whirlpool tank at San Diego’s Naval Hospital’s Physiotherapy Department. Interestingly, hydrotherapy was used to treat mental health issues as well as physical ailments during the war years. Virginia was just one of the 1000 WAVES that had been stationed to work at the hospital.

Fixing a Damaged Fighter Aircraft

This riveter is employed by aerospace and defense company Lockheed Martin Corporation, based in Burbank, California. It’s 1944, and she’s repairing a damaged piston-engined fighter aircraft, the P-38 Lightning. Considering that this is not a new assembly, there are a few options as to what had needed repair.

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Image: KK News

Holding a screwdriver and rivet, she could be helping someone on the inside of the aircraft mark a new location for a hole in the framework. Otherwise, this plane might have been impaired by artillery and requires a new internal framework. We can see the difference between the rivets in countersunk skin to the holes yet to be made.

Sighting Shell Bursts Through a Window Position Finder

In this image, two women from the British Auxiliary Territorial Service, also known as ATS, are stationed at the Royal Artillery Experimental Unit. It’s circa 1943, and the unit was situated in the rather destitute area of Shoeburyness, Essex, where experiments could be carried out in relative isolation.

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Image: Imperial War Museums

We can see these ladies engaging with what was known as a Window Position Finder, in other words, a glass screen with graph paper-like engravings. It was used to see and measure shell bursts in the air or water. It would require all of someone’s concentration to see it accurately.

Training on the Job as an Aircraft Engineer

This Rosie the Riveter is actually a mechanical engineer for aircraft. It’s October 1942 and she is undergoing training at the Douglas Aircraft Company in Long Beach, Calfornia. As previous engineering education or experience wasn’t necessary to get accepted for employment, this young woman was able to get the job.

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Image: Library of Congress

Douglas Aircraft Company had its own training methods to get their employees up to standard. As we can see, the one who is training her is male. This photo is a wonderful example of men passing the torch, so to speak, on to women who had previously not enjoyed the benefits of employment.

Ironing Laminate Layers of a Gas Tank

Take a look at this female employee of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company factory ironing together laminate layers of a gas tank in December 1941. Located in Akron, Ohio, this young woman is part of the manufacturing process of self-sealing gas tanks for Corsair aircraft

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Image: Library of Congress

She is wearing a popular dress of the 1940s, the Kitty Foyle. It was an everyday gown made up of a dark-colored main body and contrasting light-colored collars, cuffs, and buttons. It was said that the white accents of the dress would reflect light on to the face in a flattering way and was once of the reasons the style became so popular. We certainly think it’s a glamorous casual outfit.

Operating Machinery at a Seaplane Factory

Pictured at work in Fort Worth, Texas, Rita Rodriguez operates a machine at the Consolidated Aircraft plant in October 1942. She is dressed more practically than other female plant workers we’ve seen, with her kept under wraps in a hairnet and forgoing makeup altogether.

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Image: Library of Congress

The Consolidated Aircraft Corporation grew in prominence during the 1920s and 1930s for its line of seaplanes that could “fly” on water. They were some of the largest aircraft during the first half of the 20th century, so naturally, they had an extensive amount of components to manufacture. This was good news for women as it meant more available jobs.

Taking a Lunch Break in the Cornfield

This photo shows a group of young women taking a lunch break in Cedar Falls, Iowa. They are part of the Women Accepted For Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES) at yeoman school and are eating together on the cornfield where they have been working. There’s nothing like having lunch in the sun!

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Image: Naval History and Heritage Command

It’s 1944, and they have been detasseling corn stalks during a labor shortage that could have had dire consequences. During this critical period, over 150 female volunteers helped complete the necessary work. WAVES were critical in fixing problems caused by a shortage of workmen.

Painting Over Factory Equipment

Here we can see two young women in the Kitty Foyle dresses painting factory equipment in 1942. They’re working for a factory in Ohio, but aren’t wearing any of the industrial worker clothes we’ve seen before. It’s is likely that they would not have had a particular specialty in their job.

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Image: Library of Congress

The reality was that of the millions of women that held down jobs throughout the Second World War, most were expected to return to everyday housework once the men had returned. The trades were still male-dominated, and it’s likely these women weren’t expected to pick up too many skills.

Maneuvering Around an Aircraft Engine

Take a look at this audacious employee. She’s a cowler under civil service for the Naval Air Base in Corpus Christi, Texas. Pictured in August 1942, she’s tending to the removable cover of an aircraft engine. But it sure does take a bit of work to move around it.

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Image: Library of Congress

Her name is Lorena Craig, and before working at the Naval Air Base during the war she had been a simple department store worker. The work she was carrying out here would have put her to much better use than her previous job. Working as a cowler had previously been the exclusive occupation of men.

Filing Green, Red, and White Liberty Cards

Two ladies that are part of the Women Accepted For Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES) are working together to file liberty cards. This photo shows Seaman 1st Class Gloria Dean Enarson attending to the wall of cards, while Yeoman 2nd Class Donna Neubauer takes notes.

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Image: Naval History and Heritage Command

They are working at the Naval Air Station’s Personnel Office in Moffett Field, California, sometime around 1944-45. The green and red cards on the wall indicate port and starboard watch assignments, while the white cards specify the people who are exempt from watch assignments.

Riveting the Underside of a Bomber Plane

This photo shows a female employee hard at work at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant located in Long Beach, California. She’s working on a Douglas A-20 Havoc bomber, which would be used either as an attack aircraft or for military observation. The date is October 1942.

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Image: Library of Congress

She is seen crouching into a tight spot, in which women of a smaller build were given the jobs to do. They were able to squeeze into the hard to reach spaces on an aircraft, meaning that they would often do the cable connections and wiring. There are even stories of some of these women applying lipstick and leaving kiss marks near electrical boxes for whoever would chance upon it!

Taking Photos on Top of a Bomber Engine

In this photo, we have America’s first accredited female photographer of World War Two, Margaret Bourke-White. Her talent at photo-capturing also led her to become the first woman that was authorized to fly on a combat mission. Here, she’s perched on top of a B-17 bomber engine in 1942, trying to get the perfect shot.

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Image: Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection

Her work was groundbreaking for a variety of reasons. She went above and beyond for her craft, sensitively documenting the reality of life during the war years and even being the first to portray the death camps of Europe. Her philosophy can be best summed up in this statement she once made: “Photography is a very subtle thing. You must let the camera take you by the hand, as it were, and lead you into your subject.”

Installing Intricate Aviation Engines

These women are installing an aviation engine at Douglas Aircraft Company in Long Beach, California. They have been trained in the precise craft of engine installation, a duty which they perform with care and concentration. It was great for women not only because they acquired new specialized skills, but because factory jobs would usually pay higher than the menial or administrative jobs they were used to.

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Image: Library of Congress

The government was known to campaign in order to encourage women to work during the war. These campaigns often exclusively targeted housewives. Their advertisements would ask questions like: “Can you use an electric mixer? If so, you can learn to operate a drill.” I was thought that housewives would need the most encouragement to join the workforce.

Working on Shell Caps for Munitions

This image shows a working woman on the job at a munitions factory in the United Kingdom. It’s May 1940, and along with other women, she is inspecting shell caps to ensure they meet the standard. It was part of the factory’s scheme to also have these women lead work-related discussion groups in the evenings.

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Image: International Photo Magazine

However, in the states, as soon as it looked as if they would win the war, the Government started encouraging women to leave the factory positions they had been holding down. They released campaigns encouraging women to return to housework. Naturally, many women didn’t want to leave their well-paying factory jobs or find lower-paying menial jobs. Still, female employment declined in the years following the war.

Cleaning a Giant Diesel Engine

Photographed in April 1943 in Clinton, Iowa, two female wipers make their way up a giant “H” class diesel locomotive engine. They’re just a couple of the women employed by the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad during the Second World War, taking over the positions previously held by men.

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Image: Library of Congress

Mrs. Viola Sievers ascends the stair with Mrs. Marcella Hart following behind her. Becoming a railroad worker was one way women were able to serve their country during the war, while the men were being drafted. Critical jobs needed to be filled and luckily, these women wanted to do their bit.

Installing Oxygen Racks Above a Flight Deck

This female employee works for the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation, circa 1942. Her name is Cabbie Coleman, and she gained employment at the western aircraft plant during WWII, having previously been a housewife. Here, she’s installing oxygen tank racks above the flight deck of an aircraft.

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Image: Library of Congress

Oxygen racks keep oxygen storage safe and secure during flight. It’s extremely important they are installed correctly as they can burst and cause fatalities to onboard personnel. We don’t know about you, but the cylindrical chrome interiors put us in mind of something from the future rather than the past.

Working on a Training Plane Engine

These female aircraft mechanics were part of the Women Accepted For Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES) circa 1943-45. They’re attending to a Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp radial engine that makes up a North American SNJ training plane, at the Naval Auxiliary Air Station in Florida.

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Image: Naval History and Heritage Command

These women are wearing loose-fitting denim work pants with chambray shirts, breaking style norms of the day by wearing the same clothes as their male counterparts. 27,000 women joined the WAVES during WWII, which means an unprecedented amount of women in denim!

Operating a Hand Drill on a Vengeance Dive Bomber

This photo from February 1943 shows a woman working at the Vultee Aircraft plant in Nashville, Tennessee. She’s the quintessential Rosie the Riveter, working an electric hand drill while wearing a pink headscarf and blue overalls. She is drilling on a Vultee A-31 “Vengeance” dive bomber.

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Image: Library of Congress

The Vengeance bombers were created to dive directly at their targets for greater accuracy and were often implemented at ships. Despite being an American aircraft, it was designed for sale to overseas markets. Because of this, the American Army didn’t end up using them, but the British and Australian air forces did.

Directing Air Traffic Arrivals and Departures

Specialist 3rd Class Dorothy Knee (left) and Specialist Genevieve Close (right) are both a part of the Women Accepted For Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES), pictured in early 1943. They are working as control tower operators in this photo, at the Naval Air Station in Anacostia, Washington D.C.

50 Rare Color Photographs of Women at Work During WW227
Image: Naval History and Heritage Command

F6F, GB, and GH planes line the left-hand side of the field, whereas SNJ, F4F SBD, and SB2A planes are pictured along the right-hand side and down the runway. Dorothy and Genevieve’s job is essential and difficult work, that requires complete focus to ensure everyone’s safety.

Driving a Battery Cart Into Position

These two are mechanics that came from the Women Accepted For Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES.) Pictured sometimes in 1945 working at the Naval Air Station in Oakland, California, they had been assigned to the Naval Air Transport Squadron Four.

50 Rare Color Photographs of Women at Work During WW231
Image: United States National Archives

On the left is Seamen 1st Class Billy Ikard, accompanied by Barbara A. Patterson driving the battery cart. They are getting it into position on the airfield beside the Service R5D-1 Skymaster aircraft. These planes were robust, featuring strengthened mainframes and increased fuel capacity. Mostly, it was used for cargo or personnel transportation.

Climbing on Top of an Aircraft Motor

We hope this worker at the Douglas Aircraft Company has a good insurance policy… This determined employee climbs on top of an aircraft motor to access a hard to reach place. With a plant in Long Beach, California, Douglas Aircraft managed to produce nearly 30,000 planes for the war from 1942 to 1945.

50 Rare Color Photographs of Women at Work During WW242
Image: Library of Congress

They built a wide variety of aircraft for the United States Navy, Army Air Forces, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. They were among the top five corporations to provide wartime aircraft to the U.S., growing their workforce to 160,000 employees during WWII. And 40% of them were female.