Rosie the Riveter mural on an abandoned building in Sacramento, Calif. Photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, 2012. Library of Congress.

Women at Work

A History

This time on BackStory, we look at women in the workforce, from 19th century domestic workers, to the Rosies of World War II, to the labs of Silicon Valley — where programming a computer was once very much a woman’s job. Find out how sexual harassment claims came into being, and why “protective” labor laws regarding women often amounted to discriminatory exclusion from certain jobs.

This episode and related resources are funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this {article, book, exhibition, film, program, database, report, Web resource}, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

00:00:00 / 00:00:00
View Resources

Women at Work Lesson Set

Note to teachers:

In this lesson, a number of documents are analyzed to help students develop this broader understanding. Through these, students can experience factory work as experienced by young women of the time and develop historical empathy rather than looking only through the lens of the present.

In reading these documents, students will be asked to distinguish between fact and opinion, or as phrased in History’s Habits of Mind: Read critically, to discern differences between evidence and assertion. They will also be asked to pose questions that foster informed discussion, develop a curiosity about the past, and develop skepticism about statements and assertions.

Understanding the life of mill workers might seem inconsequential, but developing the habits and skills of distinguishing between fact and opinion, of questioning assertions, and of evaluating evidence are most certainly not inconsequential. This lesson is a vehicle for teaching these habits and skills.