Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Terry Copp

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


The following paper is a study of the impact of World War II on Canadian women’s participation in the labour force between 1939 and 1951. The role which women played in the Canadian labour force prior to the outbreak of the war is discussed, as well as women’s experiences during the war years and the immediate postwar period. The paper demonstrates that, far from having the emanicipating effect which one might expect, women’s wartime experiences had relatively little lasting impact on their position in the labour force during the postwar period. The King government regarded women’s increased involvement in the labour force as a response to the extraordinary conditions of war, and introduced measures to facilitate women’s employment solely within the context of the war effort. The government’s traditional attitudes towards women’s proper roles in society and the work force are illustrated by its policies of selective recruitment of women workers, beginning with single women and turning to married women only when labour shortages were most severe. The speed with which the government cancelled measures such as the day nurseries program following the war also supports this argument, as does the fate of the government sponsored Report on the Postwar Problems of Women. An examination of the popular press during this period generally reveals its support for the government’s conservative attitudes towards women#&8217;s roles, an opinion which the Canadian public seems to have shared. The number of women in the labour force declined rapidly after the war, and they remained concentrated in the same limited number of traditional job they had held before the war. Only the tremendous increase in the number of married women workers during this period suggests that women’s wartime experiences might have laid the groundwork for future changes in women’s participation in the labour force.

Convocation Year