1945-46: The end of WW2, a downward turning point?

1945-6 marked a pivot-point for many Berkeley women. When WWII ended and demobilization began, women who had been invited during the war into previously all-male fields and positions were expected to step aside and make room for the returning servicemen. It was a common pattern, most often associated with female industrial workers, symbolized by Rosie the Riveter, a figure designed to recruit women into wartime manufacturing with the slogan “We can do it!” The expansion and then contraction of women’s horizons occurred in academic life as well, and these articles will explore both the new roles Berkeley’s women played in the war years and their postwar reorientation. Rather than simply recording gains and losses, however, the essays will also consider how the links between the war years and their aftermath reframed women’s expectations and common views of their capabilities.     

Because the university was a center of wartime research and training, Berkeley’s women played a variety of roles in the national war effort and made important contributions to the victory. But as the university swelled to accommodate thousands of returning veterans and the children of new arrivals in the state, there was a pronounced decline in women students’ enrollments. Their quantity began to shrink immediately after the war and remained beneath the 1939 level—5,495—throughout the 1950s. Women were both a smaller proportion of all students and a diminishing force on campus (https://pages.github.berkeley.edu/OPA/our-berkeley/enroll-history.html).  

graph of UCB female enrollment from 1868 to 1960s, with time on x axis and a number scale of 5k increments on y axis

For women faculty, the decline was also dramatic. Their percentage of the faculty dwindled after a high point during the war years. The fraction of women on the faculty had risen slowly from 1916 through the early 1940s, but it then diminished continuously from 1945 to 1970. 

graph of UCB female faculty from 1900 to 1970, with time on x axis and percentage of female faculty on y axis

Viewed through these charts, the immediate postwar years look like an avalanche that swept away much of the progress toward equal academic participation made during the two previous decades (chart adapted from Zachary Bleemer).  


Explore these phenomena in the following essays.