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… during the war years for many men hoped that
marriage would defer conscription to the war. This
alone suggests that women’s roles as wives and
mothers were still dominant during the war because
the nation witnessed a 25 percent rise in the
population aged five and under. The popularity of
marriage and the traditional gender roles that
marriage carried, was exploited during the war.
For example, the Office of War Information,
established in the summer of 1942, worked closely
with the media. President Roosevelt soon denied
the OWI was being used for propaganda , yet only
months after the OWI was formed, wartime
propaganda began to likened women’s war work to
domestic chores. These trends serve to reinforce
the view that the government’s immediate role for
women was to serve their country by, in the words
of one media campaign “doing a man’s job so that
he may fight to help finish this war sooner.” One
of the most significant departures from
traditional gender roles was the enlistment of
women in the armed services.

From 1941 onwards,
military minds in Washington stonewalled anyone
who had the temerity to suggest that women should
be in the military. Politicians in typical
gerrymandering fashion, made flimsy promises of
considering an auxiliary of sorts while secretly
trying to figure out how to stop American women’s
potential influence in the military .
Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers introduced a
bill on May 28th , 1941 to establish a Women’s
Army Auxiliary Corps, and the bill eventually
succeeded because there was no hint of full status
for women. The actions taken by the government
reflected their reluctance to create long-term
trends for female participation in the military
after the war. When WAAC was formed in 1942, women
faced difficulties with their male superiors, for
as General George Marshall later reflected, women
in the military encountered: ” a great reluctance
of army officers generally, particularly those in
high control, to the interjection of a female
organization.” The recruitment of women in the
military was based more on the general wartime
strategy of ” maximum utilization of manpower,
technology and industrial capacity” , rather than
any genuine attempts to advance women’s rights in
American society. Neither did military reform
undermine the ongoing racism that black women
faced, for black nurses served in segregated
military camps during the war. Conflict surfaced
as to the exact role that women were to undertake
in the military.

Women’s corps undermined
conventional wisdom about a woman’s “natural”
role. Thus, propaganda played a large role in
limiting the significance of women in the military
for war films emphasised that the army needed
women’s “delicate hands” and required women in
hospital work because ” there is a need in a man
for comfort and attention that only a woman can
fill.” After World War II returning servicewomen
did not recieve a hero’s welcome in the way that
men did, and unlike men, women were denied
veterans preference after the war. This evidence
would seem to give credence to the contention that
the government was responsive to women’s demands
during the war because every citizen was perceived
as valuable in the war effort, but that once the
war ended and men returned, traditional gender
views were re-established. One group of American
women used the change in attitudes towards women
for their own social and personal gain, namely
lesbian women. At a time when women were portrayed
by media and government advertisements as vital to
the functioning of America, ” love between women
were understood and undisturbed and even
protected.” Military service became an social
network for lesbians – rarely were lesbians
discharged on the grounds of engaging in same-sex
relationships. To support this argument , one
lesbian woman states that the appeal of life in
WAAC was due to the indifference that military
officers expressed towards lesbianism, for: ”
There were no problems and we wanted to keep it
that way.

We all knew that if we were discreet we
wouldn’t get caught.” Indeed , lesbians were
valued by the military for their perceived
“strength” in service. After the war, there
occurred a less formal transition for lesbians in
the military, i.e. from the ranks, but this was
coupled with the persecution of lesbian women. The
public perception of the lesbian as sick and a
threat to “innocent” women in the years after the
war, confirmed the need for secrecy. Ironically
however, the military contributed to the
establishment of a larger lesbian subculture when
it became less lenient in its policy towards
homosexuals once the war was over. Thousands of
lesbians were loaded on “queer ships” and sent
with “undesirable” discharges to the nearest US

Therefore, unlike most American women,
lesbians consolidated the social advances they
gained during the war by creating lesbian
subcultures in areas like New York, or by staying
“in the closet” and remaining in military service.
Black women often experienced continuity with the
past during the war because racism was just as
prevalent during the years 1941-1945 as it had
been in earlier decades. Jobs in wartime offices,
stores and factories proved elusive to black
women, even after the creation of the Fair
Employment Practices Commission (1941). This new
federal agency , was designed to reverse the years
of racial discrimination that black Americans had
endured since emancipation in 1865 – the
implications for black women were therefore
promising. The results of the Commission were fair
at best, for although the government hired black
female clerical workers, these women were confined
to segregated offices and were promoted six times
fewer than whites with similar efficiency ratings.
Even when black women proved discrimination the
FECP could only recommend withdrawal of war
contracts for the offending employer, an unlikely
measure because maximum, uninterrupted war
productivity was top priority. These findings are
not surprising considering that The War Department
did not extend its relaxed attitude towards female
employment to black women either. The Department
openly stated that they needed “competent, white
female help” at all levels whereas emphasising the
fact that “we do not employ colored” at the same

The Fair Employment Commission also failed
in tackling companies’ discrimination. For
instance , in Detroit , Sears Roebuck lowered
barriers enough to hire black women in the stock
departments, but would not hire blacks in sales,
where they would be seen in public. Therefore,
owing to the reality of job discrimination, black
women often took the lowest-paid and most
hazardous jobs during the war , or were
re-employed in the domestic service jobs that they
had lost during the Depression. However, the
hostility that black women encountered at work led
to the politicisation of many black women during
the war. in 1943 Mary McLeod Bethune of the
National Youth Administration won a promise from
defence plants to hire black women united in other
campaigns such as the NWTUL’s campaign to end
lynching and racial harassment in the workplace ,
and in 1942 nationwide protests amongst black
women’s groups forced many employers to reconsider
their employment practices. It is relevant to add
that for many black women, the conversion from
domestic service to factory work marked a welcome
shift in job prospects, for black women were
entering a white dominated employment field.
Ultimately however, such challenges to racial
injustice did little to alter racial attitudes
during the war.

Cities across the US continued to
devalue black women’s work in a way as to suggest
that black women’s concerns were of little
importance to policy makers. For example , a black
woman at the Edgewood Arsenal earned $18 per week
whereas her white counterparts earned on average
twice this amount despite working fewer hours. It
was only after the war that black women’s
prospects improved because the momentum for social
change was gaining strength. In the late forties,
black women had finally begun to gain access to
better jobs, since in the late forties the number
of black women in low-paying jobs had fell by 15
percent by 1950. The end of the war further
refutes the view that women made substantive gains
from the Second World War. When war production
ended , many women quit their jobs.

Women’s net
gains during the war were negligible for although
the shift to clerical jobs continued after the
war, very few women occupied skilled craft jobs.
The Women’s Bureau concluded that: ” Only a few
women have been allowed to continue in the newer
fields of employment, and thus continue to use
skills learned during the war.” It is true that
women’s employment underwent visible change during
the war and the absence of men allowed women to
expand their influence in a variety of educational
and civic ways. However, underscoring this
potential long-term change were government backed
media campaigns which sought to restrict women’s
public activities and possible long-term goals.
Mobilisation propaganda as well as the attractions
of jobs induced young women to give priority to
immediate employment, so that despite the greater
educational opportunities created by the absence
of men, women’s college enrollments actually
declined during the war. Social welfare and
child-care experts called upon women to pay closer
attention to their maternal responsibility, and
this demonstrated the government’s eventual desire
to see women return to the domestic sphere once
the war was over. Post-war purges of women from
“men’s jobs” was strengthened by male workers and
unionists, who colluded in the expulsion of women
from the auto and electrical industries.
Therefore, similar to American politicians,
unionists’ loyalties ultimately resided with men.
By April 1947 the prewar employment pattern had
been re-established and most employed women were
clerical workers, operatives, domestics, and
service workers . A sad truth powerfully emerged
after the war: there had been no revolution in
attitudes, women faced the reality that the series
of measures introduced during the war were done so
grudgingly in the face of national emergency.
Bibliography: BIBLIOGRAPHY: Rosalind Rosenberg ,
Divided Lives : American Women In The Twentieth
Century , Hill & Wang , New York , 1992. Susan M.
Hartmann , The Home Front And Beyond – American
Women In The 1940s , Twayne Publishers , Boston ,

Alice Kessler-Harris , Out To Work: A
History of Wage Earning Women in the United States
, New York , Oxford University Press , 1982. D’Ann
Campbell , Women at War with America: Patriotic
Lives in a Patriotic Era , Cambridge , Harvard
University Press , 1984 . Karen Anderson , Wartime
Women : Sex Roles , Family Relations , And the
Status of Women During World War II , Greenwood
Press , Connecticut , 1981. Leila J. Rupp ,
Mobilizing Women for War : German and American
Propaganda , Princeton , Princeton University
Press , 1978. Lillian Faderman , Odd Girls and
Twilight Lovers – A History of Lesbian Life in
Twentieth Century America , New York , Penguin ,

Sherna Berger Gluck , Rosie the Rivieter
Revisited: Women , The War , and Social Change ,
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, Ruth Milkman , Gender at Work: The
Dynamics of Job Segregation by Sex during World
War II , Urbana , University of Illinois Press ,
1987. Maureen Honey , Creating Rosie the Riveter :
Class, Gender, and Propaganda during World War II
, Amherst , The University of Massachusetts Press
, 1984. Mary Beth Norton Ed. , Major Problems in
American Women’s History , Lexington MA, D.C.
Heath & Company , 1989..

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