Though she often resists exact definition, the victory girl was generally a teenaged girl or young woman who exhibited her patriotism by offering companionship, and often sex, to servicemen during World War II. With fewer opportunities than their male counterparts to partake in the excitement of wartime mobilization, many young women traveled to various encampment or port areas, seeking intimate encounters with men in uniform. The behavior of victory girls was hardly new; so-called patriotic prostitutes and charity girls attracted the concerned attention of Progressive reformers and military officials during World War I. With increased mobilization of the home front during World War II, however, came heightened scrutiny of those girls and women whose apparently misguided patriotism led them onto hazardous moral and social terrain.
Although studies suggest that many victory girls were actually young married women, literature in the 1940s portrayed victory girls–also known as "khaki-wackies," "good-time charlottes," "free girls," and "grass grabbers"–as single girls and as part of the larger problem of female "sex delinquency." Agencies such as the U.S. Children's Bureau stressed the need to protect local girls from the corrupting influence of servicemen through the provision of social services. Other federal agencies, such as the Social Protection Division (SPD) of the Federal Security Agency, recognized this need but emphasized the importance of stopping victory girls from spreading venereal disease to U.S. troops. Social policy was torn between the ideal of prevention and rehabilitation on the one hand and punitive measures on the other.
At its 1942 conference, the American Social Hygiene Association reported that victory girls were "sexual delinquents of a non-commercial character… [seeking] adventure and sociability" and suffering from a misplaced sense of patriotism. Most professionals agreed with this evaluation, stressing the emotional nature of victory girls' behavior. As Karen Anderson explains in Wartime Women, the belief that victory girls desired male companionship above other considerations was supported by their high unemployment rates, unwillingness to take well-paid jobs in the war industry, and concentration in the service industry. While wartime authorities viewed men's sexual behaviors as fulfilling inevitable needs, they dismissed or ignored the possibility that physical as well as emotional drives played a part in women's sexual activity. Historians have pointed out that victory girls may have harbored other motivations for their unconventional behavior. Like other groups of Americans at the time–such as African Americans, gays, and lesbians– victory girls may have been "testing the perimeters of social freedom," as Anderson puts it, by rejecting family- and community-based notions of sexual morality in favor of wartime adventure and independent decision making.
For many girls and young women, the consequences of sexual encounters included venereal disease, illegitimate birth, and entrapment in the penal system. Studies by the military and other federal agencies showed that most cases of venereal disease in the Army–perhaps as much as ninety percent, one article in the Nation claimed–were traceable to "amateur girls" such as victory girls. Demonstrating a pervasive sexual double standard, the military turned its attention to warning servicemen about the danger of the girl next door and to repressing women's sexual availability. Encouraged by the SPD, cities across the country subjected women and girls arrested on morals charges to mandatory venereal disease testing and detained them for several days or longer while awaiting the results. When the use of detention proved an ineffective deterrent to female sexual behavior, social protection advocates endorsed additional counseling and rehabilitation for unreformed victory girls. Unless they were forced to accept such services by law, however, girls and women tended to reject efforts to influence their behavior, prompting even stronger efforts by policewomen and social workers to thwart unsanctioned sexual practices.
See also: Delinquency; Sexuality; War in the Twentieth Century.
Anderson, Karen. 1981. Wartime Women: Sex Roles, Family Relations, and the Status of Women during World War II. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Brandt, Allan M. 1987. No Magic Bullet: A Social History of Venereal Disease in the United States since 1880. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hegarty, Marilyn Elizabeth. 1998. "Patriots, Prostitutes, Patriotutes: The Mobilization and Control of Female Sexuality in the United States during World War II." Ph.D. diss., Ohio State University.
Amanda H. Littauer