The role of women has changed drastically in the years since World War II. I was reminded of this Wednesday, when I couldn't get to sleep. I was still wide awake at 2 a.m., so I watched Mona Lisa Smile. This movie took me back to the 1940s and '50s and reminded me how a woman's role was viewed in America.

Women were housewives. We were taught the social graces, how to set a beautiful table, how to talk, walk, and sit like a lady, and how to be a social butterfly. We were a carbon copy of the numerous advertisements we saw in the paper and on television. Watching this movie was like replaying my life.

Life then, at least for the women, was one of marriage and family. Everything I learned as I was growing up led to finding the right man to settle down with for the rest of my life. Very little thought was given to a career, because I was expected to raise a family. The first year I was married my parents would ask me the same question each time I saw them, "When are we going to have a grandchild?"

My, how things have changed for women since then. Now, women work alongside men, and are about as independent as they want to be. There is precious little a woman can't do, if she sets her mind to it. It's a different mindset these days. Women pursue careers in business, law, medicine, construction, and whatever else they decide they want to do.

The change began during World War II when women took over jobs that only men had filled up to then. Working on the assembly line to build airplanes, tanks, and everything else needed for the war effort. The song Rosy the Riveter became the symbol for patriotic American women and millions of women got jobs once reserved for male workers. Women were dressed in slacks, with a scarf around their head, assembling whatever was needed for our servicemen. In doing so, they found an independence which was difficult to give up when the war was over and the men came home to claim their jobs once again.

Many women left their jobs to return home and give their full attention to raising families, but not all of them. It didn't take women long to decide they liked working and earning that paycheck. By 1960 almost a third of American wives worked at least part-time. The money they earned helped to pay for houses, cars, and a college education for the children.

The war changed some men, and their wives had definitely changed, so it caused a few problems at home. Some didn't like their wives wearing slacks and working like a man. They wanted their wives back in the kitchen caring for the house and family once again. But, there was no going back.

Today, over 50 percent of all small businesses are owned by women. That's a far cry from the little woman who stayed home to raise the family. Although, raising a family is a big job in itself, most women enjoy the lifestyle that a second paycheck brings.

I can still remember my mother saying, "A woman's place is in the home, raising the children and caring for her husband."

Does that sound familiar to some of you who may be my age? We have come a long way and we don't want to go back.

Is it better now or back then? What do you think?

Betty Kuhn, of Boardman, can be contacted at or the East Oregonian, P.O. Box 1089, Pendleton, OR 97801.

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