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The role of women during the second world war

Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice. Over three hundred fifty thousand women volunteered for military service, while twenty times as many stepped into civilian jobs, including positions previously closed to them. More than seven million women who had not been wage earners before the war joined eleven million women already in the American work force.

Social mores were tested by the demands of war, allowing women to benefit from the shifts and make alterations of their own. Yet dominant gender norms provided ways to maintain social order amidst fast-paced change, and when some women challenged these norms, they faced harsh criticism.

Race, class, sexuality, age, religion, education, and region of birth, among other factors, combined to limit opportunities for some women while expanding them for others. However temporary and unprecedented the wartime crisis, American women would find that their individual and collective experiences from 1941 to 1945 prevented them from stepping back into a prewar social and economic structure. By stretching and reshaping gender norms and roles, World War II and the women who lived it laid solid foundations for the various civil rights movements that would sweep the United States and grip the American imagination in the second half of the 20th century.

In each of these arenas, women exercised initiative, autonomy, circumspection, caution, or discretion according to their individual needs and the dictates of patriotic duty. Wage Work and Opportunity Economic opportunities abounded for women willing and able to seize them.

Wage work in war industries offered hourly pay rates much higher than those to which most women had been accustomed, with the best wages paid in munitions plants and the aircraft industry.

Women, Gender, and World War II

The WMC also identified one hundred U. The main targets were local married women who already lived in the designated metropolitan areas, including middle-aged and older individuals who had never worked outside their homes or whose experience was limited to domestic work. Madison Avenue advertising agencies designed and produced a variety of propaganda campaigns for the U.

Employment Service offices coordinated efforts to place women in jobs best suited to their skills and family needs. Mothers with children under fourteen were encouraged not to seek employment outside their homes unless other family members or trusted neighbors could offer reliable childcare.

Several corporations with U. Constance Bowman, a schoolteacher who spent the summer of 1943 working in a San Diego B-24 bomber factory, earned 68 cents an hour. Department of Labor sent field representatives to factories throughout the country to scrutinize working conditions.

The WB urged factories to adopt rules about head coverings as well as safety shoes and slacks. Such comfort packages would not merely attract employees but also keep them content and more likely to stay after they had been hired. Very few grocery and department store owners chose to accommodate women who needed to do their shopping in the late evening or night hours.

They endured racial slurs and physical attacks in factories, and disproportionately filled the lowest-paid and least appealing jobs, including janitorial work.

  1. Some wondered whether incorporating the WAC into the regular army meant that its members would—like their male counterparts—be issued condoms.
  2. Other women of color in uniform were assaulted at southern railway stations, denied access to facilities and dining cars on trains, and treated with disdain in towns near their bases and well beyond.
  3. Government propaganda associated the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis and gonorrhea, with women rather than men by casting disease carriers as female.
  4. It was not enough, however, and in late 1941 women were called up conscripted to either work in industry or join the auxiliary forces..

The Fair Employment Practices Committee FEPC —created by Executive Order 8802 in 1941 to address racial discrimination in industry—lacked the funds to handle the wave of complaints engendered by rapid wartime mobilization. When FEPC cases faced delays, black women searching for work or seeking promotions in their current jobs suffered the most. But women of color, like all American women, found their greatest challenge to be reconciling home life and work life during the war years.

Beyond riveting and welding, other tasks required even more hands and minds nationwide.

  • Auxiliary services Millions of women became involved in the war effort as air-raid wardens, fire officers and evacuation officers;
  • Joseph for the Office of War Information, 1943;
  • Louis, and numerous other places where the prospects of war work, steady wages, or other opportunities beckoned.

The United States needed farm laborers, telephone operators, laundry workers, food servers, and bus drivers.

And while women had filled clerical positions for nearly half a century in the United States, the war accelerated the trend. Women took certain places as men vacated them, with the U. The expanding bureaucratic structure of war was matched by private sector growth, where American businesses were forced to open their doors and offices to female employees. With the military draft taking its share of male, middle-class clerks and salesmen, openings for women abounded in the consumer economy.

Radio stations, insurance firms, and advertising agencies hired more women than ever before. Images circulated of the rich snob who sat at a booth for a few hours a week but remained oblivious to real sacrifice. The AWVS affected every aspect of wartime culture, sending its members to assist military personnel, distribute ration books, sell war bonds, and collect salvage, as well as to recruit blood donors, nurses, farm workers, and child care workers, and to knit, sew, and recondition clothes for military families and relief agencies.

Across the country the AWVS made strides in several socially sensitive areas including interracial cooperation. Interracial volunteer activities among women spurred optimism for a more inclusive postwar America while stimulating the growth of similar organizations where women could meet and serve a larger cause.

Through gender-defined actions and activities, USO volunteers were expected to assume particular mental and emotional postures when dealing with soldiers and sailors.

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How she presented herself would determine the reactions of soldiers and sailors, she was instructed. Since many USO sites provided games, women played table tennis, checkers, and cards, and often allowed their male opponents to win.

In packed trains and buses, often with young children in tow, they made their way cross-country to visit or live near their husbands. But female volunteers in military organizations founded during World War II faced tougher scrutiny than nurses; their womanhood and femininity were questioned by many detractors, even though the idea of national service for women was not new. As early as 1940, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt had recommended a required service responsibility although not specifically a military duty for all young American women.

In addition, because of the expansive mobilization of the military for the war, thousands of new clerical positions emerged in all branches of the armed services and this too inspired calls for female military personnel. Free A Marine to Fight.

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Even so, the message reinforced gender differences—women might wear uniforms, march in formation, and be promoted, but only men could face enemy forces at battle sites. Thus, men continued to dominate the most masculine of human activities—warfare—which was further masculinized by U. These female aviators also tested new aircraft, hauled cargo, and assisted male pilots in training exercises. Male GIs carried out a smear campaign against the organization. They spread rumors that WAC volunteers served as prostitutes for male soldiers, reinforcing a notion that army life encouraged promiscuity.

Some wondered whether incorporating the WAC into the regular army meant that its members would—like their male counterparts—be issued condoms. Would army life encourage sexual activity among female volunteers? These rules of propriety indicated the preeminent role that clothing played in assigning gender and sexual identities during the war.

Even the appearance of impropriety could be grounds for dismissal and a dishonorable discharge.

  1. Early in 1941, Ernest Bevin, the Government Minister for Labour, declared that, 'one million wives' were 'wanted for war work'.
  2. Women took certain places as men vacated them, with the U.
  3. With the military draft taking its share of male, middle-class clerks and salesmen, openings for women abounded in the consumer economy. The WMC also identified one hundred U.
  4. Oral history projects would flourish in the 1990s, as fiftieth anniversary commemorations of U.

The tactics worked; many volunteers admitted joining one organization or another because they liked the uniforms. Their respective training models also bespoke their differences. Bilingual Latinas, for example, were recruited specifically for cryptology and interpretation; a special unit comprised of two hundred Puerto Rican WAC volunteers served at the New York Port of Embarkation and other locations dedicated to the shipment of U. WAC officer Betty Bandel discovered low morale among troops whose expectations about their roles were not met.

The army had given them domestic tasks, similar to those they had held in civilian life, or it had failed to utilize the professional expertise they brought with them into service.

As one of the first the role of women during the second world war African American army officers, Charity Adams experienced vicious discrimination at Ft. Des Moines on several occasions. But she spent many hours at Ft. Other women of color in uniform were assaulted at southern railway stations, denied access to facilities and dining cars on trains, and treated with disdain in towns near their bases and well beyond. The pervasiveness of anti-Japanese sentiment adversely affected U.

Casual sexual relations among the unmarried startled many Americans, who blamed young women—especially those who worked outside their homes—for shifting standards. Government propaganda associated the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis and gonorrhea, with women rather than men by casting disease carriers as female. Yet the vast wartime mobilization effort combined with the cultural politics of the early 1940s provided American women a wide berth to express and enjoy sexual intimacy in the name of patriotism.

Many who migrated to war boom cities and military installments left behind constraints on sexual behavior that had guided them in their home communities. Ordinary American women copied these poses in photographs that they sent stateside to military camps and overseas to battlefronts. Early on it was unclear how marriage and parenthood might affect military deferments, leading couples to tie the knot with expectations of securing extra time. In addition, with the wartime draft extending to males between the ages of 18 and 45, the pool of eligible men for marriage had presumably shrunk.

By 1944, rising U. Census Bureau survey revealed that more than 2. The following year, the U. Many of these long distance relationships unraveled over the war years, with the high wartime marriage rates resulting in the highest divorce rates in U. These working mothers received limited assistance from federally sponsored childcare facilities that had been authorized under the 1940 Lanham Act, an extension of the Depression-era public works projects.

The Richmond shipyards in the San Francisco Bay area oversaw approximately fourteen hundred children daily. Joseph for the Office of War Information, 1943.

Working mothers were forced to make difficult choices during the war years. Some chose second shifts or night shifts, so they could be with their children during the day and work while they were sleeping. Others who worked day shifts were criticized for leaving their children.

The cities, towns, and camps attracting them were located on both coasts and everywhere in between—Washington, DC, Seattle, Portland, Mobile, Detroit, St. Louis, and numerous other places where the prospects of war work, steady wages, or other opportunities beckoned. Some traveled occasionally to see their sweethearts, sons, and husbands, while others took to the road daily or weekly to punch time clocks in defense factories.

Industrial growth and military mobilization allowed women to crisscross the nation in trains and buses, but their new mobility caused many Americans a sense of uneasiness and discontent. Women who traveled or lived alone were viewed with suspicion, while those who crowded into teeming defense areas, with or without their families, were often treated with scorn by local residents.

They prefer to live in shacks and go barefoot. To use such positions to launch personal independence of any kind—especially financial—could be viewed as selfish or even reckless.

Women at War: The Role of Women During WW2

Eleanor Sewall, a Lockheed Aircraft employee whose husband was captured on Bataan, was heralded by the company for her decision to contribute 50 percent of her salary in payroll deductions toward war bonds.

Sacrifice in the cause of patriotic duty would temper desires for—and achievement of—personal autonomy. The sixty-six nurses who were captured by the Japanese on Corregidor spent three years in Santo Tomas prison camp in Manila. Besides sharing scarce food and limited supplies with three thousand other American and British prisoners, they shared three showers and five toilets with the five hundred other women there. Prewar gender expectations had been tested and found wanting. The large number of those who developed skills and carried out new work, who put on military uniforms, married quickly, engaged in sexual activity freely, or moved several hundred miles away from home—or all of these—did so inside the grander framework of national and global crisis.

Out of crisis, the most meaningful transformations emanated from the confidence they developed and the independence they felt and exercised. Many feared these would fade or be retracted after the war, and their fears were justified. The simultaneous influence of social sciences on history contributed to the heightened interest in women as subjects—they could be counted, plotted on graphs, and studied in the aggregate, especially as war workers.

German and American Propaganda, 1939—1945 1978 focused on the The role of women during the second world war. Detroit, Baltimore, and Seattle.