The Philly women who helped win World War II

As the simmering crisis preceding World War II boiled into total war, customs preventing certain professions from women were set aside as America’s economy was mobilized for a war effort the likes of which the nation had never seen before.

Hundreds of thousands of women served in the armed forces, and many times more found themselves (and their households) being asked to contribute in new and different ways.

This effort was multi-faceted and both public & private in nature. Rose the Riveter was one symbol created by the US government, aimed at encouraging women to enter jobs at munitions manufacturers filling roles vacated by new enlistees.

Government efforts at chronicling and promoting the mobilization ended up consolidated in the Office of War Information by 1943. OWI photographers were the last to be funded by the government in a tradition begun a decade earlier by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as part of the New Deal.

These photographs depict the variety of roles women found themselves during these years.

Miss Natalie O’Donald, a garage attendant at the Atlantic Refining Company. Taken by Jack Delano for the Office of War Information.
Miss Ruth Gusick, formerly a clerk in a drugstore, worked as a garage attendant at one of the Atlantic Refining Company garages. Taken by Jack Delano.
Miss Beatrice Paul, mother of two children, working on a generator at the garage of the Yellow Cab Company. Her husband also worked for the cab company, in the tire department. Taken by Jack Delano.
Miss Sarah Grabov, a driver for the Yellow Cab Company who had been employed by a dental factory before the war. Taken by Jack Delano.

The Burpee Seeds company, as it was colloquially known, had introduced a “war gardens” campaign in World War I that turned into “victory gardens” by World War II.

The company was based in the Nicetown neighborhood of Philadelphia. Taken by Arthur S. Siegel for the Office of War Information.
Burpee factory workers stand in front of a “typical” display rack of Burpee seeds. Burpee at the time was experimenting aggressively with hybrid seeds, first flowers and then vegetables. The 1940’s would represent a turning point in American gardening, with latter generations less and less likely to garden out of necessity. Taken by Arthur S. Siegel.
Much of the Burpee company’s sales were transacted through its mail-order catalog. A flatbed typewriter was used so labels could be typed while the employee looked at the receipt ahead. Taken by Arthur S. Siegel.

Located in the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot complex located along South 20th street, these employees of an Eastern quartermaster corps depot are sewing sleeves into army overcoats.

The Quartermaster Depot was expanded from the Schuykill Arsenal, which had been built on the site in 1800 and supplied the outfitting for the Lewis and Clark expedition. The complex was known locally as “the compound” and has provided ample employment for the area.

Taken by Howard Liberman for the Office of War Information.
“Making sergeants” – the phrase comes from the chevrons in the foreground which would be given to promoted enlisted men. Taken by Howard Liberman.
Women workers at quartermaster depot. This woman was handstitching sleeves on an army overcoat. Taken by Howard Liberman.
A woman serves as a “trainman” for the Pennsylvania Railroad, based then at the recently built Suburban Station. Taken by Alfred T. Palmer for the Office of War Information.
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