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Exhibit shows ‘We Can Do It’ attitude in San Diego

Homefront Womens Museum of California
The Heroines on the Homefront exhibit at the Women’s Museum of California celebrates women’s participation in the service and at home during World War II.
(Courtesy of Women’s Museum of California)

‘Heroines on the Homefront’ celebrates contributions of women during World War II.

As a city with a large population of service members and military families, San Diego has a rich history of sacrifice and allegiance to country. One local exhibit, Heroines on the Homefront, celebrates the critical role and contributions of women during World War II. Located at the Women’s Museum of California in Liberty Station, the show runs through Sept. 1 and is a must-see for all locals interested in the heritage and history of the military in America’s Finest City.

During World War II, approximately 350,000 women served in the United States armed services at home and abroad. Six million women joined the labor force in America, with around 400,000 African American women switching from domestic service to industrial labor, and more than 300,000 women working in the aircraft industry by 1943. The rise in female workers in the munitions industry was boosted by the government’s famous “Rosie the Riveter” campaign, which featured a bandana-clad, bicep-flexing woman proclaiming “We Can Do It,” encouraging women to work. This incredible shift in labor demographics resulted in a rise from 27 percent to 37 percent of women joining the workforce in the United States during World War II.

Homefront Women’s Museum of California
During World War II, more than 6 million women joined the labor force in America.
(Courtesy of Women’s Museum of California)

Locally, San Diego became a crucial element in the war effort, with its close proximity to the Pacific theater, military bases and aircraft production plants. By the peak of WWII, local women accounted for 40 percent of San Diego defense jobs. While fathers and husbands were called to duty, women naturally became the heads of households, and answered the call to meet shortages and nationwide demands. Thousands of rations were instituted across America, leading to restrictions and scarcity of such everyday items as sugar, butter, coffee, meat, rubber tires and gasoline.

The women of San Diego rose to these challenges and began collecting scrap rubber, newspaper, metal, tires and even bones, which were made into glue for aircraft construction. They began planting “victory gardens” in which they would harvest and can produce. Before shows downtown, women sold war bonds to raise money for the effort. With the Red Cross, they knitted caps and socks and learned first aid. They drove ambulances and visited patients in military hospitals and kept eyes out for aircraft near the local coastline for Civil Defense.

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Homefront Women’s Museum of California
Marketing campaigns such as this, and the famous “Rosie the Riveter” exclaiming “We Can Do It,” urged women to enter the workforce during World War II.
(Courtesy of Women’s Museum of California)

When the USO asked women to lift the hearts and raise morale of service members, local ladies provided baked goods, launched picnics and dances, and sewed the clothing of military personnel.

All of this and so much more can be gleaned from the various parts of the Heroines on the Homefront exhibit at the Women’s Museum of California, which runs through Sept. 1. The Women’s Museum of California is open noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

2730 Historic Decatur Rd. #206, 619.233.7963, womensmuseumca.org


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