For women, wartime was considered ?the best years of their lives? by some people and historians. Not only did women come to the country?s aid in time of need, they also started the concept of women having a job.
The idea of women at work during World War II was not utterly new. In the previous years of World War I, women were nursing sisters, volunteers, and there were even some women in the Navy. Before ?the war to end all wars?, work was considered a man?s job. Normally, a woman?s place was in the house tending to her children, and doing housework such as cleaning and cooking. If a lady had a job, the job would usually be as a teacher, librarian, sales clerk, or secretary but it would never require hard labor. (Encarta 98; World Book Encyclopedia; World at War, p.31)
As World War II came around however, the situation changed. Men were starting to be drafted as part of the air force, military, and other war related jobs. Men left their working positions to answer their call of duty, therefore leaving many empty jobs. Since there was such a shortage of workers, some immigrants took vacant jobs, but many more workers were still needed. The lack of employees led to advertisements encouraging women get a job.
One of the most famous ads showed an imaginary character named Rosie the Riveter. Rosie the Riveter was well kept and had rosy cheeks; a true lady. This advertisement not only made working look attractive, but patriotic as well. When women realized that they could work and still be feminine, they started looking for jobs. Some people had a problem with women working. Industry was hesitant to hire women because they thought the only reason women wanted a job was to earn a little spending money. Industry was also afraid that female employees would marry and leave their job. (Encarta 98 Article: Rosie the Riveter )
Women helped out during the war by holding an assortment of jobs. Some helped the war directly by forming associations such as WACs (Women Army Corps), WRENS (Women?s Royal Naval Service), and the CWAC (Canadian Women?s Auxiliary Corps). Other women made an effort during the war indirectly by becoming journalists, mail carriers, gas station attendants, elevator operators, and farmers. Women also helped take people?s minds off the war by entertaining them. Some jobs to entertain were film stars, dancers, and singers. (America Prepares for War, p.23; Women and War, p. 6; http://www.valourandhorror.com/DB/ISSUE/women/index.htm)
One job that women could be better at than men was being a spy. The government hired some women to go to other countries and bring back information that would be of use to the United States. It was easier for women to attain such information than men, because men were more suspected than women were. Studies show that a woman?s information would be more accurate than men?s would. (http://www2.kenyon.edu/people/wartelse/essay.html)
Ever since the Wright Brothers made their attempt at flying, women had been interested in aviation. Others who were interested in flying such as Amelia Earhart and Mrs. Roosevelt influenced women. Two famous pilots during the time of World War II were Jacqueline Cochran and Nancy Harkness Love. These two pilots paved the path to female flyers by forming WASPs. Becoming a pilot was quite costly, so a person only could become a pilot if they inherited a great deal of money, or had a wealthy husband. (Those Incredible Women of World War II, p.19-21)
Because of the high prices of becoming a pilot, the Civilian Pilot Training Program was brought about, but three years after the program started women were no longer allowed to enroll. The government also stopped training women how to fly, but allowed women to train men. (Those Incredible Women of World War II, p.19)
World War II presented a great opportunity for females who wanted to become journalists. At this time, there were about 130 women journalists. During the war, there were mainly two things that were written about. These two topics were: the latest developments in the war, and how the war was changing the world. Many people, such as men who were journalists, did not accept female journalists. Women did not have access to social clubs and back rooms where men conducted business. A group a Washington newswomen formed the Women?s National Press Club because of this discrimination. (http://lcweb.loc.gov/exhibits/wcf/wcf0001.html)
Nurses were extremely appreciated in hospitals and on the battlefield. Women had no trouble becoming nurses because being a nurse was generally considered a woman?s job. Also, women nurses proved their courage and love of their job in World War I. There were extreme nurse shortages during World War II because of the downsides of being a nurse. Many people preferred a safe job on the homefront to a dangerous job on a battlefield. Wages for nurses were lower than the wages of industrial jobs, and courses which cost money had to be taken to become a nurse. The courses to become a nurse were difficult to pass, and dangerous to participate in. A class would consist of traveling through an obstacle course that was full of barbwire, while some rounds of ammunition and sticks of dynamite were fired at them. Those who became nurses were well trained and loved their job. (Those Incredible Women of World War II, p.50-51)
A job on the homefront was less dangerous and yet very helpful. Women could become a volunteer, or get paid for their job. In World War II, nylon stockings had become rare because most of them were collected or donated to the army. Nylon stockings were sewed together to form a parachute for soldiers or pilots. Women also sold war bonds to raise money. Food was also another important need. Some women farmed or cooked food for soldiers and civilians. The Red Cross was an extremely important association. Volunteers manned blood banks which produced about five thousand pints of blood. They rolled two million bandages and packed sixteen million kits which contained candy, gum, and tobacco. (Women and War, p.14, 24; Those Incredible Women of World War II, p. 77, 78)
Young girls helped out also. The Junior Cross packed kits, aided nurses, and raised money for children overseas. In The Victory Corps, girls operated nurseries to give mothers time to work. Crops were harvested when farm workers weren?t available in the Victory Farm Volunteers. (Those Incredible Women of World War II, p.79)
To women, traveling across the sea and becoming close to the war was important. Women first had the interest of fighting in battles since the Revolutionary War. Margaret Corbin was a nurse, and she found her husband dead on the battlefield. She picked up his gun, and took his place. Some women were so eager to fight in the war, they disguised themselves as men to become part of the action. There were some organizations such as WACs (Women?s Army Corps) and the Women?s United States Navy. In 1942, a new law was passed that allowed the army to recruit volunteers for Women?s Army Auxiliary Corps. Women did not have the same rank, pay, or benefits that a man got. Men and women volunteers dated, which did not cause a problem.
However, if a married woman became pregnant, she would be dismissed. If a single woman became pregnant, she got a dishonorable discharge. In associations like the ones mentioned, women worked to prove that they could do anything a man could do. No women ever official or legally fought in the war, yet dead bodies of women were found where battles had taken place. (http://www.valourandhorror.com/DB/ISSUE/women/index.htm; Those Incredible Women of World War II, p.35, 37, 41; World War II Homefronts, p.52)
When World War II ended, the United States tried to go back to a state of normalcy. Unions hoped that women would quit their jobs so that competition would not be started among the two sexes. Some women were laid off or forced to leave their jobs. By the end of the war, there were fewer female workers than before the war had started, but now, women started to question social and economic rules and demand equal career options. (http://lcweb.loc.gov/exhibits/wcf/wcf0001.html; Women?s America, p.355)
During World War II, women certainly proved their strength and courage. Women suffered by going to work. Many became lonely because they moved away from their families and became homesick. They went through many hardships, and should be recognized for it. Not only men who fought for their country should be honored on Veterans Day, we should pay tribute to the women who did too. Women?s role was more than important, and should never be forgotten. (Women and War, p.22; Those Incredible Women of World War II, p.83)
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