By the winter of 1944, the War Manpower Committee requested that the Office of War Information (OWI) cease its campaign to recruit women. It was apparent by then the war would be ending. There were slowdowns in all areas of the war industries, including South Portland. Layoffs were becoming more frequent. The first of these would be women and minorities. Ostensibly to make way for the returning men, but more practically, because the work pace had slowed and an end was in sight.
ronically, many of the women in South Portland shipyards were now union members. Initially reluctant to accept female members, these same unions were now fighting for them.
On another front, the government propaganda machine was now trying to redirect women away from working outside the home, even going so far as to have the War Writers Board create stories about how women were happily giving up their jobs and returning to their previous lives as housekeepers and mothers.
Many female shipyard workers desired to return to their homes, to continue with their lives as they were previous to the war effort. The return to these traditional roles stood in stark contrast to the newly found freedoms, accomplishments, and enjoyment of workplace activities.
I don't know how to say this. We thought differently then. We had been doing our part in the war and the servicemen were beginning to come home and we felt we should move away and let them take the jobs that they had had...so it wasn't strange but, boy, it was...I don't know how to explain it...it was a very helpless feeling...What am I going to do now? Marion Hill Senechal – Burner, From “On the Job”
By 1946, the Shipyards in South Portland were closed, for both men and women.
At the end of the war, approximately three million women left the workforce nationwide. Even then, there were still more women in the workforce at the end of the war than before. Although many of the non-traditional jobs were no longer available to women, the period between 1941 and 1945 left a lasting mark on the future of women in the workplace. For example, Harvard Medical School opened its doors to women in 1945, and the rate of women working outside the home began increasing from 1948 through today.
No matter what lay ahead, the experience of working in the shipyards was a formative one for these women, fostering new confidence in their abilities in the professional world and laying the groundwork for future generations of women in the workforce.