Coal-dusted portraits of WWII women railroad workers

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Portraits of America's WWII female railroad workers
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Portraits of America's WWII female railroad workers

Mrs. Irene Bracker, mother of two, a wiper at the roundhouse.

(Photo by Jack Delano via Library of Congress)

Cloe Weaver, mother of four, a roundhouse helper training to operate the turntable.

(Photo by Jack Delano via Library of Congress)

Wipers clean an H-class locomotive.

(Photo by Jack Delano via Library of Congress)

Mrs. Elibia Siematter, a sweeper at the roundhouse.

(Photo by Jack Delano via Library of Congress)

Mrs. Marcella Hart, mother of three, a wiper at the roundhouse.

(Photo by Jack Delano via Library of Congress)

Mrs. Marcella Hart and Mrs. Viola Sievers clean an H-class locomotive.

(Photo by Jack Delano via Library of Congress)

Mrs. Thelma Cuvage sifts and cleans sand for use in locomotives.

(Photo by Jack Delano via Library of Congress)

Mrs. Elibia Siematter on her lunch break.

(Photo by Jack Delano via Library of Congress)

Roundhouse workers on their lunch break.

(Photo by Jack Delano via Library of Congress)

Wipers clean an H-class locomotive.

(Photo by Jack Delano via Library of Congress)

Mrs. Viola Sievers sprays an H-class locomotive with steam.

(Photo by Jack Delano via Library of Congress)

(Photo by Jack Delano via Library of Congress)

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Even before the attack on Pearl Harbor and the the official entry of the United States into World War II, a massive mobilization effort had begun, carried by the nation's railroads.

With German submarines disrupting oceanic shipping, more freight was transported by railroad. When rationing on gasoline and rubber was introduced, civilians flocked to train transportation, doubling railroad passenger traffic between 1940 and 1944.

With enlisted men heading overseas, railroad companies turned to women to keep their overtaxed locomotives maintained and running smoothly. By 1945, some 116,000 women were working on railroads.

In April 1943, Office of War Information photographer Jack Delano photographed the women of the Chicago & North Western Railroad roundhouse in Clinton, Iowa, as they kept the hulking engines cleaned, lubricated and ready to support the war effort.

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