DBQ: How Did World War II Impact the Social Advancements of Women and African Americans?

Historical Question: How Did World War II Impact the Social Advancements of Women and African Americans?

Introduction: This DBQ has students analyzing primary source documents to explain the social impacts of World War II on women and African Americans. This DBQ will require students to analyze and evaluate information from the documents to synthesize evidence of continuity and change in relation to the advancements of women and African Americans during World War II.  The Profile of the SC Graduate is supported in this work through the critical thinking the students undertake when analyzing the documents, collaborating with peers, and communicating their analysis via the composition of a historical summative presentation.


Standards | Vocabulary | Context | QuestionsDoc #1 , #2, #3, #4, #5, #6

Time Required: It is estimated that this DBQ will take 7 days of 60-minute class periods.

Click here to download the full DBQ with attached handouts. How Did World War II Impact the Social Advancements of Women and African Americans?, Standard 4 and Sources with Questions

South Carolina Standards (2020)
Targeted Standard: Standard 4: Demonstrate an understanding of the conflicts, innovations, and social changes in the United States, including South Carolina, from 1950–1980.

5.4.P Summarize the economic, political, and social changes in the U. S. after World War II.

5.4.E Analyze multiple perspectives on the economic, political, and social effects of the Cold War, Space Race, and Civil Rights Movement using primary and secondary sources.


  • Propaganda
  • Wartime industries
  • Ration
  • War bonds
  • Auxiliary


Historical Context and Background Information:

World War II had a profound social impact on the United States that would have long term political effects. The nation came together as each American was encouraged to “Do Your Part” in the war effort. Each and every American was called upon to conserve scarce materials by contributing to scrap metal drives and planting “Victory Gardens.” However voluntary conservation was not enough and Americans were required to use ration booklets. The economy was finally pulled out of the Depression by the war efforts. Everyone went to work to help win the war.

Women, as homemakers, were responsible for rationing and victory gardens. More women also began to work outside the home. They took the place of husbands, sons, and brothers in factories and built airplanes, trucks, and ships. Although women faced discrimination, ‘Rosie the Riveter’ became an icon of the period. Women were expected to return home when the war ended and the soldiers returned to their jobs. Despite hardships, such as discrimination and lack of child care, many women missed the workplace. This wartime experience helped lay the foundation for the women’s movement of the 1960s.

African Americans demanded the right to wartime jobs and President Roosevelt ordered that they be given opportunity. Many more African Americans moved to cities in the north and on the Pacific coast to work in wartime industries. African Americans made some strides in the military during the war, such as the Tuskegee Airmen; however, they still served in segregated units, as was the experience in previous wars, and were often assigned duties of lesser importance because of racial prejudice that often led those in power to doubt in their capabilities.

The role played by African American soldiers in the war and the treatment by whites on the home front during and after the war ended prompted President Truman to order that the army be desegregated after World War II. The experiences of African Americans proving themselves by serving their country at home and abroad, called the double victory campaign, helped lay the foundation for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Guiding Questions and Sources

Document 1: World War II Propaganda Posters Compilation

Guiding Questions:

  1. Why were women allowed to join the military?
  2. How many groups were established in the military for women? List them.
  3. Based on the context, what can you infer the term “auxiliary” means?
  4. Which military branch do you think had the least number of African Americans? What evidence supports your opinion?
  5. Describe the pros and cons of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act.
Propaganda Poster Citations: Do the job he left behind. [Poster]. 1943. Retrieved from https://digitalcollections.hoover.org/objects/40764/do-the-job-he-left-behind-apply-us-employment-service;jsessionid=6423E24FF49F80662D923045F0BDB2B4.
Propaganda Poster Citations: Learn a skill you’ll value all your life. [Poster]. Circa 1942-1945. Retrieved from https://catalog.archives.gov/id/514845.
Propaganda Poster Citations: “Women in war industry. [Poster].” Circa 1941-1945. Retrieved from http://dp.la/item/99fbf337af37f98cfb8ffcb0aab7833d


Document 2: Newspaper article on Martha “Tish” Barnum





Citation: Bright, M. (1942, November 20). “Running 10-Ton Arsenal Crane A Delight for ‘Tish’ Barnum, 19” The Boston Herald. Retrieved from https://www.archives.gov/files/boston/exhibits/homefront/4.01-10-scrapbook.pdf#page=8






Document 3: Newspaper article recognizing the achievement of Grayce Grace whom may be the first woman chauffeur.







Citation: Boston Traveler. (1942, September 2). “West Newton Grandmother New Chauffer at Arsenal”. Retrieved from https://www.archives.gov/files/boston/exhibits/homefront/4.01-10-scrapbook.pdf#page=1.





Document 4: Political cartoon depicting the challenges African Americans faced in wartime industries




Citation: Poster-208-COM-13; “He’s Willing, He’s Capable, and We Need Him – Use Him!!”; 1943; Artworks and Mockups for Cartoons Promoting the War Effort and Original Sketches by Charles Alston, ca. 1942 – ca. 1945; Records of the Office of War Information, Record Group 208; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/we-need-him, July 17, 2018]




Document 5: Letter from President Roosevelt to Joseph Curran, the President of the National Wartime Union,  noting that racial discrimination was no longer acceptable in the military.




Citation: Roosevelt, F.D. (n.d.) [Letter written January 14, 1942 to Joseph Curran]. Retrieved from https://www.gilderlehrman.org/sites/default/files/content-images/06686p1.web_.png.






Document 6: Transcript of Dorothy Dugan’s appeal hearing for being denied the ability to change jobs for higher pay




Citation: Dungan v Prosper Shepenell and Sons Company (1944). Retrieved from https://www.archives.gov/files/boston/exhibits/homefront/4.13-case-728.pdf






Digital Collections Information                    

This DBQ is based on images and/or documents from several institutions including the University of South Carolina Libraries, The National Archives, and The Library of Congress. See individual images for institution information.

To see other collections that may be helpful to your search, visit the Digital Collections homepage or visit SCDL’s collection.

DBQ Prepared by Andreana Allen, 2018

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