Women Workers in Aircraft Maintenance and Manufacturing in the 1940s

After the war, the airline industry appeared to advance in leaps and bounds.  The technology improved.  The numbers of routes expanded.  The market for air travel grew.  But there was one component of the aircraft industry that shrank dramatically after the war:  that of the role of women in aircraft manufacturing jobs.

Take a close look at the picture below…especially the front rows of people, but also those at the back.  If this picture reminds you of “Rosie the Riveter,” it’s not surprising.  First identified in a song by the same name, “Rosie” was a fictional female WWII aircraft manufacturing employee in the U.S. whose character is thought to have been modelled after a range of American women workers.  These American women workers responded to the call for their labour during a wartime shortage of labour and simultaneous increase in demand for workers.

1940s - TCA - CF-TCN - a lot of female groundcrew - Lockheed Lodestars

1940s-era workers with two Lockheed Lodestars in the TCA hangar.  Notice the large number of women workers in dirty white coveralls.

Canada equally required increased numbers of workers in the aircraft manufacturing sector.  During the war, a growing demand for both military and commercial aircraft created an increased demand for workers at a time when there were fewer men available to fill this need.  Women stepped in to fill these positions during the war, both as an opportunity to do their duty for the war effort, but also to have the chance to work outside of the home.  But when the war ended, most of these women were dismissed from their positions.

Two of the justifications for dismissing women after the war arose from fears that mixing male and female workers would lead to inappropriate sexual contact, as well as worries about a “masculinising” of women.  But the opportunities that women workers obtained in the 1940s, even if short-lived, gave rise to a greater sense of self-confidence among these women, and set an example for their daughters.  As well, it led them to support advancements for women during the 1960s and onwards.

As indicated in the picture, TCA indeed began hiring women in considerable numbers, and in a wide range of roles after the start of WWII.  But what is unclear, from the picture above, is whether these particular women were working in manufacturing or in aircraft maintenance.  What is also unclear is whether these particular women were dismissed from their jobs or not, but the industry trend was to do so.

The link below is to a music video of the Four Vagabonds version of the 1942 song by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb that made the first reference to “Rosie the Riveter.”  The video uses 1940s-era footage of women working on WWII aircraft. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9CQ0M0wx00s

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