This image shows two of the many women who found employment in aerospace in Seattle during World War II. These new jobs offered promise: the promise of training in a skilled trade and higher wages than the oft below-subsistence wage work women were confined to. Seattle, as the hometown of Boeing, had a number of these jobs. This work opened a path for employment to not only women but also black Americans who had traditionally been kept out of skilled positions [and blocked from settlement in the Pacific Northwest].
But opportunities for new employment did not automatically bring an end to sexism, racism and labor abuses. Women in the war industries soon found that the promises made by the Office of War Information in their ads were far from the actual conditions they found on the job. Yet these women thrived in this work, defying years of sexist rhetoric and practice that claimed women weren't "built" for such work.
With the end of the war and the return of American GIs, the Rosies of Seattle, like their counterparts around the country, were forced to give up their jobs in aerospace, shipbuilding and other industries. While some did so willingly--glad to return home--many did so knowing this meant a return to dead-end, low-wage work that would not adequately provide for their families. Further, they left knowing that despite the victories they'd won against sexism on the job, the nation still viewed them as second-class citizens who should be happy to step aside and make room for the men.
Although forced to put down the riveting gun, many of these women and people of color took up a new charge. On the heels of US victory in WWII they opened up a new field of battle and ushered in the Civil Rights Movement.
For further information watch the excellent documentary The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter (1980) directed by Connie Field
In 1918 Seattle launched its first public health nursing program. The 3-month course aimed to train young women quickly in the practice of public health nursing to meet the demands of World War I. The course took place on the University of Washington campus and was funded by the Washington Tuberculosis Association. Nursing offered women a toehold in the rapidly professionalizing field of medicine (one that had been lost due to the marginalization of midwifery).
Women in Seattle took advantage of this opportunity. They saw nursing as more than a job, but as an opportunity to gain respect as professionals in their own right. Nurses in Seattle blended together this professionalizing sentiment (already the norm among doctors and their supporting organization, the American Medical Association) by forming their own local nursing associations with something more akin to the local radicalism. Washington nurses used the language of the labor movement to argue for better working conditions and greater respect from the doctors. They didn't necessarily bridge a divide between workers and professionals, rather they found it useful and necessary to make use of strategies and politics from both camps.