“We Can Do It!” is the banner across one of the most well-known posters during World War II encouraging women to join the workforce for the war effort. You probably remember it - the image of a woman with a red bandana on her head, rolling up her blue shirt sleeve as she makes a fist. It always communicates to me a woman’s strength and determination. Recently I picked up a book titled “Rosie the Riveter” about this amazing workforce shift in American history and came to appreciate just how much this phenomenon set in motion a new level of women’s independence.

Women joined the U.S. workforce in never before seen numbers and in never before seen roles during World War II. More than 6 million women became welders, electricians, mechanics, boiler makers, streetcar operators, crane operators, bus drivers, taxicab drivers, chemists, physicists, statisticians, journalists, secretaries, federal government workers, farm managers, and more. They contributed to meeting the military needs called for by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in January 1942 of 60,000 planes, 45,000 tanks and 20,000 antiaircraft guns. They also contributed to keeping the internal operation of the country going while most of the able-bodied men were away.

In the name of patriotism and fighting the domination of Adolph Hitler, women were experiencing a watershed moment whose effects would last well beyond the war. As stated by Penny Colman, author of “Rosie the Riveter”:

“The opening and then closing of the door to nontraditional job opportunities for women had happened before in America – in particular, every time there was a war. But during World War II, the mobilization of women workers was extraordinary. Never before had the government and industry launched nationwide propaganda campaigns to recruit women workers. Never before had so many women responded. And, although three million workers left the workforce by 1946 [when the war ended], there were still more women in the workforce then there had been before the war began. By 1948 the number of women in the workforce started to increase again and record numbers of women continued to enter the workforce in the 1990s.”

Just being given the opportunity to expand their skill and knowledge gave lots of women new confidence. “I had the chance to prove something, and I did” said Rachel Wray about her experience as a riveter at Convair Aircraft. When that happens, there’s no turning back. “Women war workers never forgot the job experience they had for the duration of World War II,” writes Colman. “They never forgot the thrill of getting the satisfaction of earning good wages. They never forgot the excitement of being independent. They never forgot that once there was a time in America when women were told that they could do anything. And they did.”

I’m thankful for these brave American women who dared to expand themselves and society by taking on new challenges. It’s very possible that without this world crisis, which required new ways of thinking, I would have not grown up hearing or believing my parent’s words “You can be and do anything you want.” I knew it might be harder because I was a girl, but it wasn’t impossible. I would eventually learn that being bodacious was a key element to overcoming obstacles.

It strikes me that 60 years later women are experiencing another new level of economic and psychological independence in the work world. They are starting their own businesses in record numbers. New statistics from the Center for Women’s Business Research indicate that one in eleven women in the U.S. is a business owner for a new total high of 10.1 million women. Never before has this happened in American history, let alone human history. It bodes well with the spirit of independence set in motion by our country’s forefathers more than 200 years ago. And it makes me think that perhaps now we need an updated poster for women that reads: “We Can Do It...Again!”

Author's Bio: 

Experiencing Mary Foley is experiencing bodaciousness. At age 33, Mary retired from America Online, where she started 10 years earlier as an $8 an hour customer service rep. During those years she learned that being bold, courageous – bodacious – was the only way to thrive as a woman in today’s world

Through her books, Bodacious! Career: Outrageous Success for Working Women and Bodacious! Woman: Outrageously in Charge of Your Life and Lovin' It!, audio programs, Bodacious Woman’s Club, live events and more, Mary shares strategies for career and personal success.

Rather than CEO or President of her company Bodacious! Ventures (http://www.gobodacious.com ), Mary proudly refers to herself as Woman in Charge. She holds a bachelor’s in industrial engineering from Virginia Tech and a masters in organization development from Pepperdine University.

Experiencing Mary Foley is experiencing bodaciousness. At age 33, Mary retired from America Online, where she started 10 years earlier as an $8 an hour customer service rep. During those years she learned that being bold, courageous – bodacious – was the only way to thrive as a woman in today’s world

Through her books, Bodacious! Career: Outrageous Success for Working Women and Bodacious! Woman: Outrageously in Charge of Your Life and Lovin' It!, audio programs, Bodacious Woman’s Club, live events and more, Mary inspires women to "Live Like Your Nail Color" – full up on passion & fully alive!

Rather than CEO or President of her company Bodacious! Ventures (gobodacious.com), Mary proudly refers to herself as Woman in Charge. She holds a bachelor’s in industrial engineering from Virginia Tech and a masters in organization development from Pepperdine University.