With the war, more opportunities opened for women as chemists, researchers, engineers, and technical assistants.  While filling many positions that were closed to women before the war, they were often academically over-qualified for the lower-level jobs they performed.


Mary Sears, a planktonologist on loan from Radcliffe College to the Navy's Hydrographic Office, was a guiding force in the development of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and a major force in uniting the world oceanographic community. 

Hedy Lamarr, a world renowned actress, co-authored a patent for radio high frequency switching, originally designed as a torpedo guidance control system that became the basic technology for subsequent communications systems, including the cellular phone.

While filling many positions that were reserved for men before the war, women were often academically over-qualified for the lower-level technical jobs or inspection duties they performed.

The Office of Education subsidized "defense" training programs that spread to 227 colleges and universities across the nation --one of the first federal efforts to increase and train scientific manpower. Courses included elementary engineering, mathematics, chemistry, physics, and safety engineering. A ground breaking provision was that "no trainee shall be discriminated against because of sex, race or color," opening the door for women to pursue scientific careers.

Elda "Andy" Anderson  Ph.D. from the University of  Wisconsin  was a co-developer of the atomic bomb. She worked on studies of fission process and among other work, prepared the first sample of nearly pure uranium-235 received by Los Alamos for experiments.  Anderson was also a pioneer in radiation protection.


Read "The College Girl Goes to War" by Rita Halle Kleeman, Independent Woman (January 1943)
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Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu was only 30 years old when her work in nuclear fission attracted the attention of the U.S. government during World War II – and led to her inclusion as one of only a handful of women scientists working on the Manhattan Project at Columbia University in New York City. At the end of the war, Dr. Wu remained at Columbia as a research scientist, recognized as the “First Lady of Physics” – still one of the few women in the field. She received more than 40 honors and honorary degrees from around the world for her accomplishments.

Credit: Library of Congress

Women perform tests in a medical laboratory.

Credit: National Archives 

In the photo to the left a National Research Council employee measures the pitch of screw threads in the gauge testing laboratories, 1941.





The United States needed to develop and manufacture increasingly sophisticated weapons to win the war. Women played a role in the research that began the nuclear age. Women also participated in research and laboratory testing the led to other scientific advances and inventions that saved lives. 

The Manhattan Project, a super secret program to create the atomic bomb, incorporated at least 300 military and civilian women. WACs and wives of scientists were often assigned to clerical and service jobs. But women with advanced technical training served in important research positions.

Credit:  Library of Congress