40 Colorful Pictures of Women Workers During WWII

Besides the bright ‘We Can Do It!’ poster of Rosie the Riveter, the women factory workers of World War II are difficult to imagine. It’s easy to think of soldiers and nurses, ever-present in WWII films, but all the women who took up rugged jobs assembling planes or operating machinery are harder to recall.

Fortunately, the Library of Congress has a treasure trove of color photography revealing the faces and personalities of women factory workers. These fascinating color images were made possible with 35mm Kodachrome slides, which the U.S. government provided to a small group of photographers in order to document life in the United States from 1939 to 1944. Since Kodachrome slides were still too costly for amateurs at that time, these specially-chosen photographers captured some of the only color shots of WWII. Their pictures show the Greatest Generation at its best, in all its strength, beauty and determination.

For more pictures, visit the Library of Congress online catalog or flickr photostream.

Woman aircraft worker, Vega Aircraft Corporation, Burbank, Calif. Shown checking electrical assemblies

Woman aircraft worker, Vega Aircraft Corporation, Burbank, Calif. Shown checking electrical assemblies by David Bransby

Women war workers

Women war workers by Alfred Palmer

Riveter at work on Consolidated bomber, Consolidated Aircraft Corp., Fort Worth, Texas

Riveter at work on Consolidated bomber, Consolidated Aircraft Corp., Fort Worth, Texas by Howard Hollem

Women workers install fixtures and assemblies to a tail fuselage section of a B-17F bomber at the Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif. Better known as the "Flying Fortress," the B-17F is a later model of the B-17 which distinguished itself in action in the South Pacific, over Germany and elsewhere. It is a long range, high altitude heavy bomber, with a crew of seven to nine men, and with armament sufficient to defend itself on daylight missions

Women workers install fixtures and assemblies to a tail fuselage section of a B-17F bomber at the Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif. Better known as the “Flying Fortress,” the B-17F is a later model of the B-17 which distinguished itself in action in the South Pacific, over Germany and elsewhere. It is a long range, high altitude heavy bomber, with a crew of seven to nine men, and with armament sufficient to defend itself on daylight missions by Alfred Palmer

A noontime rest for a full-fledged assembly worker at the Long Beach, Calif., plant of Douglas Aircraft Company. Nacelle parts for a heavy bomber form the background

A noontime rest for a full-fledged assembly worker at the Long Beach, Calif., plant of Douglas Aircraft Company. Nacelle parts for a heavy bomber form the background by Alfred Palmer

A girl riveting machine operator at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant joins sections of wing ribs to reinforce the inner wing assemblies of B-17F heavy bombers, Long Beach, Calif. Better known as the "Flying Fortress," the B-17F bomber is a later model of the B-17, which distinguished itself in action in the south Pacific, over Germany and elsewhere. It is a long range, high altitude, heavy bomber, with a crew of seven to nine men -- and with armament sufficient to defend itself on daylight missions

A girl riveting machine operator at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant joins sections of wing ribs to reinforce the inner wing assemblies of B-17F heavy bombers, Long Beach, Calif. Better known as the “Flying Fortress,” the B-17F bomber is a later model of the B-17, which distinguished itself in action in the south Pacific, over Germany and elsewhere. It is a long range, high altitude, heavy bomber, with a crew of seven to nine men — and with armament sufficient to defend itself on daylight missions by Alfred Palmer

Woman at work on motor, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif.

Woman at work on motor, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif. by Alfred Palmer

Woman machinist, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif.

Woman machinist, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif. by Alfred Palmer

Drilling on a Liberator Bomber, Consolidated Aircraft Corp., Fort Worth, Texas

Drilling on a Liberator Bomber, Consolidated Aircraft Corp., Fort Worth, Texas by Howard Hollem

Electronics technician, Goodyear Aircraft Corp., Akron, Ohio

Electronics technician, Goodyear Aircraft Corp., Akron, Ohio by Alfred Palmer

Mrs. Eloise J. Ellis has been appointed by civil service to be senior supervisor in the Assembly and Repairs Department at the Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas. She buoys up feminine morale in her department by arranging suitable living conditions for out-of-state employees and by helping them with their personal problems

Mrs. Eloise J. Ellis has been appointed by civil service to be senior supervisor in the Assembly and Repairs Department at the Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas. She buoys up feminine morale in her department by arranging suitable living conditions for out-of-state employees and by helping them with their personal problems by Howard Hollem

Lathe operator machining parts for transport planes at the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation plant, Fort Worth, Texas

Lathe operator machining parts for transport planes at the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation plant, Fort Worth, Texas by Howard Hollem

Woman working on an airplane motor at North American Aviation, Inc., plant in Calif.

Woman working on an airplane motor at North American Aviation, Inc., plant in Calif. by Alfred Palmer

Girl worker at lunch also absorbing California sunshine, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif.

Girl worker at lunch also absorbing California sunshine, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif. by Alfred Palmer

Working with the electric wiring at Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif.

Working with the electric wiring at Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif. by Alfred Palmer

Women at work on bomber, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif.

Women at work on bomber, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif. by Alfred Palmer

Operating a hand drill at Vultee-Nashville, woman is working on a "Vengeance" dive bomber, Tennessee

Operating a hand drill at Vultee-Nashville, woman is working on a “Vengeance” dive bomber, Tennessee by Alfred Palmer

Operating a hand drill at Vultee-Nashville, woman is working on a "Vengeance" dive bomber, Tennessee

Operating a hand drill at Vultee-Nashville, woman is working on a “Vengeance” dive bomber, Tennessee by Alfred Palmer

Working in the Assembly and Repair Dept. of the Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas

Working in the Assembly and Repair Dept. of the Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas by Howard Hollem

Manufacture of self-sealing gas tanks, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., Akron, Ohio

Manufacture of self-sealing gas tanks, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., Akron, Ohio by Alfred Palmer

War production worker at the Vilter Manufacturing Company making M5 and M7 guns for the U.S. Army, Milwaukee, Wis. Ex-housewife, age 49, now doing bench work on small gun parts. Son is Second Lieutenant, Son-in-law, Captain in Army

War production worker at the Vilter Manufacturing Company making M5 and M7 guns for the U.S. Army, Milwaukee, Wis. Ex-housewife, age 49, now doing bench work on small gun parts. Son is Second Lieutenant, Son-in-law, Captain in Army by Howard Hollem

Women are trained to do precise and vital engine installation detail in Douglas Aircraft Company plants, Long Beach, Calif.

Women are trained to do precise and vital engine installation detail in Douglas Aircraft Company plants, Long Beach, Calif. by Alfred Palmer

C. & N.W. R.R., Mrs. Irene Bracker, mother of two children, employed at the roundhouse as a wiper, Clinton, Iowa

C. & N.W. R.R., Mrs. Irene Bracker, mother of two children, employed at the roundhouse as a wiper, Clinton, Iowa by Jack Delano

Women are trained as engine mechanics in thorough Douglas training methods, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif.

Women are trained as engine mechanics in thorough Douglas training methods, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif. by Alfred Palmer

One of the girls of Vilter Manufacturing Co. filing small gun parts, Milwaukee, Wisc. One brother in Coast Guard, one going to Army.

One of the girls of Vilter Manufacturing Co. filing small gun parts, Milwaukee, Wisc. One brother in Coast Guard, one going to Army. by Howard Hollem

C. & N.W. R.R., Mrs. Marcella Hart, mother of three children, employed as a wiper at the roundhouse, Clinton, Iowa

C. & N.W. R.R., Mrs. Marcella Hart, mother of three children, employed as a wiper at the roundhouse, Clinton, Iowa by Jack Delano

C. & N.W. R.R., Mrs. Dorothy Lucke, employed as a wiper at the roundhouse, Clinton, Iowa

C. & N.W. R.R., Mrs. Dorothy Lucke, employed as a wiper at the roundhouse, Clinton, Iowa by Jack Delano

With careful Douglas training, women do accurate electrical assembly and installation work, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif.

With careful Douglas training, women do accurate electrical assembly and installation work, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif. by Alfred Palmer

Assembly and Repairs Dept. mechanic Mary Josephine Farley works on a Wright Whirlwind motor, Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas

Assembly and Repairs Dept. mechanic Mary Josephine Farley works on a Wright Whirlwind motor, Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas by Howard Hollem

Beulah Faith, 20, used to be sales clerk in department store, reaming tools for transport on lathe machine, Consolidated Aircraft Corp., Fort Worth, Texas

Beulah Faith, 20, used to be sales clerk in department store, reaming tools for transport on lathe machine, Consolidated Aircraft Corp., Fort Worth, Texas by Howard Hollem

Lucile Mazurek, age 29, ex-housewife, husband going into the service. Working on black-out lamps to be used on the gasoline trailers in the Air Force, Heil and Co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Lucile Mazurek, age 29, ex-housewife, husband going into the service. Working on black-out lamps to be used on the gasoline trailers in the Air Force, Heil and Co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin by Howard Hollem

Mary Louise Stepan, 21, used to be a waitress. She has a brother in the air corps. She is working on transport parts in the hand mill, Consolidated Aircraft Corp., Fort Worth, Texas

Mary Louise Stepan, 21, used to be a waitress. She has a brother in the air corps. She is working on transport parts in the hand mill, Consolidated Aircraft Corp., Fort Worth, Texas by Howard Hollem

This girl in a glass house is putting finishing touches on the bombardier nose section of a B-17F navy bomber, Long Beach, Calif. She's one of many capable women workers in the Douglas Aircraft Company plant. Better known as the "Flying Fortress," the B-17F is a later model of the B-17 which distinguished itself in action in the South Pacific, over Germany and elsewhere. It is a long range, high altitude heavy bomber, with a crew of seven to nine men, and with armament sufficient to defend itself on daylight missions

This girl in a glass house is putting finishing touches on the bombardier nose section of a B-17F navy bomber, Long Beach, Calif. She’s one of many capable women workers in the Douglas Aircraft Company plant. Better known as the “Flying Fortress,” the B-17F is a later model of the B-17 which distinguished itself in action in the South Pacific, over Germany and elsewhere. It is a long range, high altitude heavy bomber, with a crew of seven to nine men, and with armament sufficient to defend itself on daylight missions by Alfred Palmer

Part of the cowling for one of the motors for a B-25 bomber is assembled in the engine department of North American Aviation, Inc.'s Inglewood, Calif., plant

Part of the cowling for one of the motors for a B-25 bomber is assembled in the engine department of North American Aviation, Inc.’s Inglewood, Calif., plant by Alfred Palmer

Switch boxes on the firewalls of B-25 bombers are assembled by women workers at North American [Aviation, Inc.]'s Inglewood, Calif., plant

Switch boxes on the firewalls of B-25 bombers are assembled by women workers at North American [Aviation, Inc.]‘s Inglewood, Calif., plant by Alfred Palmer

Operating a hand drill at the North American Aviation, Inc., [a] woman is in the control surface department assembling a section of the leading edge for the horizontal stabilizer of a plane

Operating a hand drill at the North American Aviation, Inc., [a] woman is in the control surface department assembling a section of the leading edge for the horizontal stabilizer of a plane by Alfred Palmer

Oyida Peaks riveting as part of her NYA training to become a mechanic at the Naval Air Base, in the Assembly and Repair Department, Corpus Christi, Texas

Oyida Peaks riveting as part of her NYA training to become a mechanic at the Naval Air Base, in the Assembly and Repair Department, Corpus Christi, Texas by Howard Hollem

Women workers employed as wipers in the roundhouse having lunch in their rest room, C. & N.W. R.R., Clinton, Iowa

Women workers employed as wipers in the roundhouse having lunch in their rest room, C. & N.W. R.R., Clinton, Iowa by Jack Delano

Mrs. Cora Ann Bowen (left) works as a cowler at the Naval Air Base; Mrs. Eloise J. Ellis is a senior supervisor in the Assembly and Repairs Department, Corpus Christi, Texas

Mrs. Cora Ann Bowen (left) works as a cowler at the Naval Air Base; Mrs. Eloise J. Ellis is a senior supervisor in the Assembly and Repairs Department, Corpus Christi, Texas by Howard Hollem

Painting the American insignia on airplane wings is a job that Mrs. Irma Lee McElroy, a former office worker, does with precision and patriotic zeal. Mrs. McElroy is a civil service employee at the Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas. Her husband is a flight instructor

Painting the American insignia on airplane wings is a job that Mrs. Irma Lee McElroy, a former office worker, does with precision and patriotic zeal. Mrs. McElroy is a civil service employee at the Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas. Her husband is a flight instructor by Howard Hollem

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  1. DSLR Camera

    It’s so empowering, striking and inspiring looking at this photos. Even in WWII women have been doing rugged jobs and it brings pride to women. Go Girl Power.

    Anyway, the photos are really striking and beautifully shot given the comparison of today’s camera and the camera’s of WWII. These photos are lovely!

    More Power!

  2. Kristina

    Amazing photos!!!

  3. Michael S

    I wish you would have explored what these photos meant to women AND men coming home from WWII. It must have been excruciatingly rough on both sexes when the war ended. Imagine being a man who fought for years, coming home to find his wife and other wives were working their jobs, some women not wanting to give them up, relishing their new found independence. Then imagine being a woman, fighting to keep the family alive while the husband is off to war, never sure if he’ll survive, taking brutal physical labor work that actually continued the war. Then, once the men return, having to give up everything you’ve grown to love. No more being able to provide for yourself and your family, forced back into the kitchen and home by society and maybe even your own husband. It must have felt like indentured servitude after the freedom of the previous life. It must have been a hard time to be an American of either sex during that time, but way more difficult being a women in those years all the way leading up to the 70′s. Not like it’s perfect now.

  4. mono garcia

    i love this pictures! all the women look stunning

  5. unique menswear

    great pictures. girls have made a good works before.

  6. maria thereza de barros camargo from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

    Congratulation to all women thst during war times like these or in time of peace work hard and always, Some times men don’t understand them quite well and are afraid of their ‘independence’… Women just want be ‘free’… that’s all they want. to be free even to decide to stay… and not go away any more. This demands independence and freedom of mind!

  7. Susan Cluett

    Such wonderful photos! Thank you so much!

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