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The Working Women of WWII: Analyzing Editorial Cartoons

American women played a vital role in the Allies victory in WWII. More than 400,000 served in the military and millions worked in defense industries on the Home Front. WWII gave women new opportunities for work and independence. Some people viewed these changes as positive, some as negative. Many people were ambivalent about the social changes that effected women during the war. This ambivalence can be explored in contemporary images of women from that era.

Students will learn about the social tensions brought about by women entering the workforce during WWII by analyzing portrayals of women in editorial cartoons.

Grade Level: 7-12

History Thinking Standard 4—the student interrogates historical data by uncovering the social, political, and economic context in which it was created. Historical Thinking Standard 5—the student identifies issues and problems in the past and analyzes the interests, values, perspectives, and points of view of those involved in the situation.

Content Era 8 (1929-1945) Standard 3C—the student understands the effects of World War II at home.

Time Requirement: One to two class periods

Download a printable pdf version of this lesson plan

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1. Present a brief lesson on women’s experiences of WWII. Focus on the fact that large numbers of women went to work to increase war production. Included in the lesson is a Fact Sheet on American Women in WWII that is helpful. Ask students what social conflicts this may have caused.

2. Pass out copies of the “Anything You Can Do” list and give students two minutes to complete the activity. Review their answers. Inform students that women held every one of the jobs on the list during WWII.

3. Pass out copies of the two editorial cartoons. Students may either answer the questions individually or as pairs on a separate sheet of paper, or you may hold a group discussion using the questions. Remind students to pay close attention to details when analyzing editorial cartoons.

4. If students answer questions on own their own, end the class with a group discussion. Discuss each question as a group.

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Components for assessment include the written questions and the class discussion.

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Have students find editorial cartoons in the newspaper and answer the following questions about them: what is the subject matter of the cartoon? How does the artist feel about the subject? Do you agree with the artist—why or why not?

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Anything You Can Do...: WWII Jobs for Women

During WWII women found jobs that had previously been performed only by men.

Identify the jobs that women in the United States held during WWII as well as the jobs that women were not allowed to do.

aerodynamic engineer

aircraft spotter




baseball player

bus driver


cargo loader


crane operator


drawbridge tender


fire fighter

flash welder

forest fire fighter

foundry helper

furnace operator

garbage collector



keel welder


maintenance worker







ordinance worker

packer and shipper



pipe fitter

postal carrier

radio engineer

railroad track tender



shell assembler


steam hammer operator

street cleaner


sweetbread puller

taxi driver

telegraph operator

ticket taker


tool machinist

traffic cop

train porter

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The Editorial Cartoon

Editorial cartoons that appear in newspapers and magazines are meant as entertainment, but they also reflect a political or moral stance, or present a critique on a current event or on society as a whole. Study this 1943 cartoon from the Daily Hampshire Gazette and answer the questions below.

This cartoon shows War Manpower Commissioner Paul McNutt judging a woman in a pageant, not for her beauty, but for her strength.

1. What was the artist’s purpose in drawing this cartoon?

2. What characteristics describe the woman?

3. Who was the artist’s audience (for whom was this cartoon meant?)

4. Does the artist make the reader feel patriotic, optimistic, and strong? How?

5. How does this cartoon make you feel? Why?

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Now compare the first cartoon to this one from the Des Moines Register, also printed in 1943. Answer the questions below.

1. What do you think the creator of this cartoon was trying to say?

2. Which characteristics describe the woman? Which describe the man?

3. Is the man in favor of or against women working outside the home?

4. Do you think others shared his opinion? Who?

5. How does this cartoon make you feel? Why?

6. Which cartoon do you like better and why?

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Download a printable pdf version of this lesson plan

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