Mobilization of Women

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Mobilization of Women

At the start of World War II (193945) most Americans still held an old-fashioned notion of women's place in society; that is, they believed that a woman's proper role was in the home, working as a housewife, caring for her husband and children and handling the household chores. Husbands were expected to make the money on which a family lived; they controlled the household finances and held ultimate authority in the home. In U.S. society at large, men also controlled politics and the economy. World War II disrupted these patterns, thrusting men and women into new roles and activities related to the war. Between 1942 and 1945 about fifty million women over the age of fourteen lived in the United States. Roughly 90 percent of them were white, 9 percent were black, 0.3 percent were Native American, and 0.1 percent were Japanese American.

During the war women found new job opportunities in factories and shipyards. They also had increased opportunities to work as support personnel in governmental positions, such as in the many temporary federal agencies set up for wartime. Those who stayed at home to raise their families faced new challenges: The job was lonely and more difficult for anyone whose husband was serving overseas. Shopping for necessities was also more demanding because of the complicated wartime rationing system and shortages of various goods.

Work experience

U.S. employment records have been kept since the end of the 1930s, when the Social Security system was first established and activated. (Social Security is a federal program that provides economic assistance for citizens including the aged, retired, unemployed, and disabled.) Statistics show that by the late 1930s most women entered the workforce upon completion of their schooling and worked until they got married, while men entered the workforce and stayed. Men worked toward promotions and pay raises, but women generally did not. At the start of World War II women who already had work experience and those enrolled in high school and college would become the first women recruits for the wartime industry labor force.

Twelve million men left the U.S. labor force to join the military between 1940 and 1944. At the same time, industry was mobilizing to produce massive amounts of war materials. Approximately eighteen million additional workers would need to be hired to meet production goals. In 1940 there were still eight million Americans who were unemployed, a holdover from the Great Depression, the severe economic crisis of the 1930s. The unemployed were the first people hired for war industry jobs. Experienced working women, women with a high school or college education, and older men were the next to be hired. In 1940 out of the approximately fifty million women in the United States, about twelve million were in the labor force. By 1945, over nineteen million women were employed. Women gained the most positions in clerical and retail sales, factories, and agriculture jobs (see Chapter 4: Agricultural Mobilization). Women also held many more federal government jobs. Fewer women held teaching positions and other professional jobs, and fewer women chose to work in domestic services. Women made an exodus from teaching when they saw that higher-paying war industry jobs were available. Some joined the military. Likewise, many women in domestic services, mostly black Americans employed as maids and cooks, moved into better jobs in war-related industries.

Propaganda campaign

Women who were already in the workforce in 1941, mostly single women, were the first to take wartime manufacturing positions. Dime store and department store clerks and restaurant employees left their lowpaying jobs for work in aircraft and shipbuilding factories. Other women left school to take advantage of the wartime employment boom. Once these two groups had been hired, there were still many job openings, so government workforce experts went to

great lengths to urge married women to enter the workforce. Through the War Advertising Council and the media (magazines and newspapers), the federal government and the war industry mounted a giant propaganda campaign. The campaign attempted to end the cycle that American women had traditionally followedattending school, working a year or two until marriage, and then having children.

"Rosie the Riveter" was the "poster girl" for the campaign. The idea for Rosie came from a wartime song called "Rosie the Riveter." Rosie's image appeared on posters and in magazines. Dressed in coveralls and displaying the muscle in her arm, Rosie was indeed a riveting character. People were not accustomed to seeing women dressed in pants, but factories seeking women workers advertised how glamorous their women employees looked in their spotless and nicely pressed slacks and shirts.

Between 1942 and 1945 between six million and seven million American women reentered the workforce or entered it for the first time. Many took jobs as typists, retail clerks, waitresses, and domestic workers, replacing those who had gone into war industries. Some were able to find factory positions. Fifteen percent of married women in the United States were employed in 1940; by war's end 25 percent were employed. Despite all the propaganda, most married women chose not to enter the workforce.

Very few young married women with children under six years of age

entered the workforce. Young mothers were strongly encouraged to stay home and raise their children. Although the Federal Works Agency spent $50 million on daycare centers for working mothers, most were no more than half filled. Most Americans, women and men alike, looked on daycare centers with disdain, considering them harmful to child development. Working mothers preferred to leave their children with nonworking relatives.

Factory work

Before the United States officially entered World War II in late 1941, American industry was already busy producing war materials for the Allied forces. However, few employers considered hiring women for factory jobs. Historically it was a common belief that women had no ability to do mechanical or technical jobs. Women and men were expected to fill stereo-typical roles, so two labor markets existedone for men and one for women. Women were given jobs as secretaries, office clerks, retail clerks, teachers, librarians, and nurses. Black women were relegated to domestic services. Factory jobs were for men only. However, when the United States entered the war and American men joined the military to serve overseas, a monumental attitude change was required. As millions of male workers left the workplace, the resulting labor shortage forced employers to begin hiring women for work traditionally handled by men.

The attitude of many employers changed quickly. Managers, often called foremen, began hiring women for factory jobs and were soon amazed: It was clear to them that women excelled in tasks requiring high degrees of dexterity and speed; women had patience for long-drawn-out jobs far surpassing that of male workers, such as installing complex electrical wiring systems in aircraft; and they were outstanding in production of instruments that required great accuracy in the measurements of components. Some munitions factories began hiring only women because of their fine motor skills (muscle control in arms and hands). Such skills were vital for wiring fuses for bombs or filling gun casings with gunpowder.

Foremen and eventually male coworkers began to accept inexperienced women workers who had been hired by necessity for factory jobs. Because women excelled at a variety of manufacturing tasks, they could quickly fill many unskilled positions with a minimum of training. For example, they easily mastered the repetitive motions of assembly line tasks. Most women war industry workers were employed in unskilled and semiskilled positions, leaving skilled positions to men.

Women were also good at inspecting jobs, for example, inspecting certain pieces before they moved on in the assembly line. Older women workers were especially good inspectors. Women did not often act as supervisors, except in textiles and clothing factories. Men consistently refused to work under a female supervisor. Women, too, showed a preference for male supervisors.

The riveters

National attention for women in the workforce focused on women employed in aircraft assembly, shipbuilding, munitions manufacturing, and directly related war industry jobs. The media glamorized women in this segment of the workforce. By early 1944 more than two and a half million women were employed in the war industries.

Walking through any U.S. manufacturing plant in November 1941, a person would have rarely, if ever, seen a woman in the factory rooms. Two years later nearly 35 percent of factory workers were women. War production efforts ended the idea that women could not do mechanical work. At Douglas Aircraft, 45 percent of workers were women, and it was the same at the Boeing and Glenn L. Martin aircraft plants. Some women moved up to

positions requiring higher skills. For example, the Glenn L. Martin plant had a female test crew that was responsible for the final ground testing of bomber planes; they adjusted every functioning part of the planes as needed. Theirs was the last test done before the plane was delivered to the military.

In 1939 thirty-six women worked in U.S. shipyards. By 1943 hundreds of thousands of women worked in shipyards across the country, doing work traditionally reserved for men. At the massive Kaiser shipyards women operated the huge cranes that moved entire sections of ships into place for final assembly. Thousands worked as riveters (workers who join pieces of metal together by inserting and compressing metal pins, forming heads on both ends) and welders (workers who assembled sections of large ships by heating them and joining them together) in the war plants.

At munitions factories women operated machines involved in producing gun mechanisms. They wired fuses for bombs and filled bullets with powder. Some greased gun barrels, and others painted the barrels at the final production stage before the guns were shipped overseas.

In steel mills, where the structures and equipment dwarfed all humans, women were rebuilding furnaces, operating manipulating levers to move mill machinery, and performing chemical analysis and metal testing. In machine shops women were better able than men to assemble tiny parts for precision aircraft instruments. Women made up 50 percent of the production workers at the Sperry Gyroscope Company's plant on Long Island, New York. They made compasses, bombs and gun sights, and automatic pilots (electronic equipment that keeps aircraft flying at specific settings). At Eastman Kodak Company women rolled out film of all types.

Women also found jobs in logging and railroading, two industries that had previously hired men onlyand only the toughest of men. Women worked for logging companies in the Northwest, the Southeast, and New England, replacing men who had joined the military. They cut branches off felled trees, directed logs through millponds, sorted logs, and drove the logging trucks. On the railroads, women worked side by side with men to maintain the railcars, the rail yards, and tracks.

What's a Riveter?

"Rosie the Riveter" was a government-sponsored artist's creation, a stylized drawing of a female war industry worker. Her image appeared on posters and in magazines across the nation; the government hoped the image would encourage women to join the workforce. Rosie the Riveter wore coveralls, rolled up at the sleeve to show her muscles, and her hair was tied in a scarf to protect it from factory machines. But what exactly did a riveter do?

Riveters assembled thousands of warplanes by joining together all the metal pieces of the aircraft. Riveting was actually a two-person job known as "riveting and bucking." Two women worked together: One woman shot rivets (metal pins with a head on one end used to fasten pieces of metal together) through the metal pieces with a riveting gun while the other flattened or "bucked" the protruding rivet on the other side to hold the pieces together. Thousands of riveting and bucking teams worked in war factories around the country.

Although women working in aircraft factories, shipyards, and munitions

received the most attention from the media, women scientists also made significant contributions to the war effort. Before the war most scientific jobs were reserved for men. When the United States entered the war, women who had obtained undergraduate and advanced degrees in physics and engineering in the 1930s often found work for the first time. In defense plants they experimented with new scale models of ships and planes. Women chemists worked at Monsanto Chemical, Hercules Powder Company (manufacturers of explosive powder), and the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research in Pittsburgh. Many industries set up programs with universities to train women to replace men who were in the military. Westinghouse Electric trained dozens of women in electrical engineering at Carnegie Institute of Technology. RCA and Purdue University cooperated to train women as radio engineering aides.

Difficulties for women in industry

Obtaining a job was only the first hurdle women faced. Once they had employment, their challenges

multiplied. In newly opened war factories women generally started at the same pay rate as men. (Unions worked to maintain relatively equal pay for women and men in equivalent jobs, mainly because the unions feared that if women were paid less when hired, then the men's pay would also eventually be lowered.) However, women were usually hired for the lowestpaying jobs, and it was quite difficult for them to get promoted. Employers generally would not promote women workers until all male workers had been promoted as far as they could be; if any skilled jobs remained open at that point, an employer would consider promoting women to fill the positions.

Women also had difficulty with skilled male employees who refused to adequately train them. In the early 1940s, many men working in the war industries tended to resent female workers. They feared that women would work for lower wages, thus undermining men's wages. They also assumed that women would not take their jobs seriously and that they would not produce as much as men. Men resented any special privileges given to women, such as longer lunch or rest breaks. Women had to endure harassment, including sexual harassment, and insults from some men.

In addition to the immediate difficulties they faced on the job, women workers had to endure criticism from traditional-minded people, both men and women, who worried that war work would destroy women's femininity. Housewives chastised factory women for neglecting their own homes, wearing slacks (which were considered manly), and flirting with their men. Nevertheless, women workers generally won over their male coworkers in the same way they had won over managementwith their hard work. Women worked and thrived, gained confidence in their skills, and saved their well-earned wages.

Outside the workplace, another difficulty existed for working women, particularly those who were married and those who had children. Most found it difficult and exhausting to manage their workload at home. Before, during, and after World War II, American women generally did all shopping, cleaning, and cooking for their families. Most war factories operated on a six-day, forty-eight-hour week, with round-the-clock shifts. Women often reported managing on six hours of sleep or less to get home duties done after work. Few wanted overtime work. Married women who had children often preferred evening or night shifts if their husbands worked the day shift; this way, one parent was always at home to care for the children. Working the evening shift also made it possible for women to shop at stores that were only open during the daytime. Working wives and working mothers had to juggle these tasks without any accommodation from their employers. There were no maternity or family benefits; in fact, if a working woman became pregnant, she was usually terminated.

Women and Labor Unions

Many of the war industries had contracts with labor unions, which meant that all the workers in those industries had to be union members. So, like their male coworkers, most women employed by factories during the war years were required to join a union and pay union dues. In 1940 labor unions were generally not in favor of admitting women as members. However, as the war progressed, they grudgingly admitted women, realizing that women were needed to fill the gaps left by men who were joining the military. Yet the unions spent little time explaining membership benefits to their new female members and even less time addressing issues such as childcare, maternity leave, and time off to deal with family illness.

Between 1940 and 1944 union membership increased overall from 7.5 million to 12.5 million; female members made up 3.5 million of this total. Male union members often opposed, even feared, female membership for a number of reasons. Women had little history with the labor movement, a group that had fought hard for its gains during the 1930s. Women generally had been willing to accept lower wages. Therefore, as women moved into job roles that had traditionally been held by men, men feared that women would pull down wages and be hired in place of men. Old stereotypes and attitudes persisted among some male union members. They believed that women could not produce as much as men, that married women belonged in the home, and that women should stay out of the toolroom. Male union members also questioned women's commitment to the labor cause, because women often had homes and children to tend to while not at work, and did not have time to attend union meetings and activities.

Generally unions fell into three categories with regard to female membership: (1) Some unions continued to bar women throughout the war; (2) some fought female membership but gave in as the war progressed; and (3) some were friendly to women as members. Unions in the first category included those in the construction, railroad, and mining industries. The second categoryunions that began to allow female membership as the war continuedincluded unions for workers in aircraft production, shipbuilding, automobile manufacturing, furniture and lumber, machinery, utilities, and government postal service. In the friendly-to-women category were unions in food manufacturing, oil and chemical industries, electronics, retail and wholesale trade, clothing, and the hotel and restaurant business. When the war ended and layoffs were necessary, unions that had originally opposed female membership supported laying off women first. Most women in aircraft, shipbuilding, and munitions manufacturing were quickly laid off.

Black women in factories

By 1941, 40 to 50 percent of black American women were in the workforce as maids and cooks, both poorly paid jobs. At first, most employers in the war industries tried to avoid hiring black women. However, blacks began to hold protest demonstrations in front of defense plants that employed whites only. To avert a huge protest march on Washington, D.C., President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 in June 1941. The order banned discrimination in the war industries. If companies failed to hire blacks, or if managers tolerated white workers who refused to work with blacks, they would lose their profitable defense orders.

Thousands of black women migrated to the Great Lakes region and to both coasts in search of war industry work. Many moved from jobs that paid $2.50 a week to employment paying $40 a week.

Many black women hired in the war industries were given the worst, most dangerous jobs. Author Elaine Tyler May, in the article "Pushing the Limits, 19401961" published in No Small Courage: A History of Women in the United States, edited by Nancy F. Cott, describes what many black women experienced: "In airplane assembly plants, black women worked in the 'dope rooms' filled with poisonous fumes of glue, while white women were in the well-ventilated sewing rooms. In every industry, the lowestpaying, most difficult, most dangerous, hottest, and most uncomfortable jobs

went to black womenand they often worked the night shifts." In "Women at Work," an August 1944 article for National Geographic Magazine, LaVerne Bradley reports that at Bellevue Naval Magazine (in this case, "magazine" means a place where supplies are stored; often a warehouse for explosives) black women were working "in steel-barricaded rooms measuring and loading pom-pom mix, lead azide, TNT, tetryl, and fulminate of mercury [various explosive substances] 'any snip of it could blow them to flinders [pieces]." Bradley's article notes that the women liked the job because they received an extra six cents an hour as hazard pay.

One black woman, Margaret Starks, saw a different type of opportunity in the war industry. As thousands of black Americans migrated to Richmond, California, to work in the Kaiser shipyards, she recognized a potential market for entertainment and established the most popular nightclub in North Richmond, Tappers Inn, for the growing black community. Starks also served as secretary for the Richmond branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Federal civil service employment

The number of women in federal civil servicethat is, women employed by the U.S. governmenttripled between June 1940 and June 1942. In June 1940 there were 186,210 women in federal civil service. That number increased to 558,279 by June 1942, and about 8,000 women were added every week after that. About 60 percent of the federal government's female employees worked in the War and Navy Departments. However, most of them worked outside the Washington, D.C., area. They performed jobs at munitions manufacturing plants, proving grounds (a place for scientific testing), navy yards, flying fields, air stations, naval torpedo stations, and military bases. Women with credentials in science often joined engineering groups and did research on chemical warfare.

Women in federal civil service held an amazing array of jobsmanufacturing gas masks, assembling delicate parts of time fuses in artillery shells, cleaning and grinding lenses for gun sights and bombsights, sewing fleece-lined suits for pilots, inspecting military clothing, and testing and repairing parachutes. Women could take courses sponsored by the U.S. Office of Education to train for these jobs. Government arsenals, navy yards, and air stations held training courses, and vocational schools and colleges throughout the country also offered training.

The Selective Service employed 16,000 women to enroll men and women who were enlisting or being drafted into the military. The Treasury Department employed 23,000 women to speed the sale of war bonds. About 24,000 women worked for the Office of Emergency Management, which guided the conversion of industry from consumer goods to war materials. The Department of Agriculture had more than 25,000 women employees; many were professionals working in food laboratories as nutritionists and chemists.

For college-trained women, who numbered about 3.5 million in 1941, thousands of federal government jobs were available in professional and scientific fields. Women served as doctors, nurses, lawyers, dietitians, economists, biologists, chemists, engineers, personnel officers, and public relations officers. Working in laboratories, they tested military clothing for resistance to mildew, conducted experiments to learn how to preserve food and increase nutritive values, and developed preventive vaccines.

The amount of paperwork created by the total war effort was over-whelming. As a result there was a tremendous increase in the need for stenographers and typists in the federal government. The government also needed telephone operators, file clerks, fingerprinters, and people to administer exams for civil service job applicants. To fill these positions, the Civil Service Commission recruited women from across the country, and thousands were brought to the nation's capital to work. The media dubbed them "Government girls." Magazines ran features on their daily lives in Washington, D.C., describing their experience in exciting, glamorous terms. However, because so many women had been recruited from afar, housing in the Washington, D.C., area was in critically short supply. Some women had to return home for lack of living quarters.

"Be with Him at Every Mail Call"

"Be with him at every mail call" was a motto used by the U.S. government to encourage frequent letter writing to military men overseas. The U.S. military considered letters a powerful morale booster. Letter writers were told to be positive and "cheery," to provide details of home life but never to include information that might be useful to the enemy if the letters were captured. Magazines featured articles on the "do's and don'ts" of letter writing. Wives, mothers, sweethearts, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, nieces, and neighbors all wrote. For many it was a daily ritual. It usually took a letter six weeks by boat to reach the intended soldier.

Letters took up so much cargo space that the government developed V-mail. V-mail letters were written on special 8 ½-by-11-inch forms that could be purchased at local stores or the post office. Once the letter was written, the form was then returned to the post office and sent to the military where it was photographed. The film was flown to a mail center near the recipient's position. There the film was developed, and the V-mail was delivered in the form of a 4-by-5 ½-inch photograph.

Approximately seventeen hundred V-mail letters could fit in a cigarette packet. V-mails reached soldiers by air in twelve days or less. Over a billion V-mails were sent during the war. The V-mail process was the beginning of microfilming.


"I was just a housewife during the war." This was the modest comment some women made after the war ended. Although "homemaker" was the preferred term by the end of the twentieth century, the word "house-wife" was commonly used during the World War II and postwar years. Unlike

factory women, housewives were mostly ignored by the media. Running the average American household was not a glamorous job, but the women who did it were the backbone of the country during the war.

At the peak of the war in 1943 and 1944, approximately 32.5 million married women worked at home, caring for their households. About 88 percent of these women had husbands at home during the war. Only 8 percent had husbands in the military, and 4 percent were separated or had been abandoned. The nuclear family of husband, wife, and children was the norm. The housewife went grocery shopping, prepared food, cleaned the house, provided childcare, washed and ironed clothes, and gave medical advice and minor first aid to family members. If she could find time, the housewife sometimes tended a victory garden (small private gardens planted in backyards or public places, such as parks, to supplement the production of food by commercial farms) in the backyard and canned its produce. She also volunteered to aid the war effort if she could.

Household challenges on the home front

During the war years housewives had to overcome significant challenges. Most of them had to deal with shortages of food and other essential items. In other cases, a husband or a whole family would have to relocate because of a job opportunity or military service; this would disrupt the entire household. Most family incomes went up during the war years, but fewer foods and goods were available to buy. Rationing (a system to make foods and other items of short supply available in limited amounts to ensure citizens receive a fair share) and poor-quality merchandise (often lower-quality materials were substituted for the main materials, which were needed by war industries) were a fact of life. So, just as they had done during the Great Depression of the 1930s, housewives found themselves "making do"doing all they could with what they had at hand.

Shortly after the United States entered World War II, the federal government began issuing notices that production of various consumer goods would be limited and that some goods would not be made at all. Electric refrigerators, small appliances, vacuums, irons, radios, and even such items as can openers and kitchen knives became difficult to obtain. The raw materials normally used to make them were diverted to industries making war equipment. Newly married women had a difficult time putting together basic supplies for their households. Because new merchandise was unavailable, the repair of old items was essential. However, repairmen were hard to find, because many had gone off to war.

Keeping a family in clean clothes was very time-consuming. At least half of housewives washed all clothes by hand or used a hand-cranked machine. (To add to the challenge of laundry day, soap was scarce throughout the war.) Clothes were air dried on a clothesline and then ironed. Women who had automatic washing machines had their own troubles. If a machine broke down, repair or replacement was not an easy option because of scarce repair workers and limited production of machines and parts. Faced with a malfunctioning machine, housewives sometimes turned to professional laundries. However, many laundry workers had left for better-paying jobs, so service was slow and unreliable.

Shopping for clothes was unsatisfying as prices soared and quality plummeted. All wool items disappeared from department stores because wool went into military use for uniforms, blankets, and other items. Most women resorted to sewing much of their family's clothing, but material was hard to find. Even babies' rubber pants disappeared; all rubber was being used to make tires for military equipment. Likewise, the nation's supply of leather was used for military garb rather than civilians' shoes.

Wartime food shortages

What brought the war home to families more than anything else was food shortages and food rationing. Americans "tightened their belts" so soldiers could eat. People who complained were likely to hear a common refrain: "Don't you know there's a war on?" A nationwide food rationing system began in 1942 (see Chapter 3: Managing the Nation's Finances). Housewives became familiar with coupon ration books and tried to master the complicated rationing system. Each book contained blue stamps for processed foods,

such as canned goods, and red stamps for meat, fats, and cheese. Each stamp was worth a set number of points and had an expiration date. Housewives kept close track of how many stamps or points they had and when the stamps or points expired. To purchase rationed food items, they had to present both cash and the proper stamps. Adding to the complexity, point values regularly changed as new items became scarce. Local newspapers published the everchanging point values, which helped housewives plan (or replan) their shopping and meals. Beef was constantly in short supply. Choice cuts were rarely available. Basic items such as sugar, coffee, canned goods, and dried beans and peas were all rationed.

Having limited ration points, a woman with growing teenagers or a husband doing heavy war industry work had a hard time keeping them fed. Ration points for war factory workers increased in mid-1943, but by October of that year, 50 percent of housewives still had difficulty getting enough food for their families. To fill their stomachs, many adults ate baby food, a nonrationed item. About 70 percent of housewives canned vegetables (grown in their victory gardens), fruits, meat products, jams, and jellies. To do the canning, housewives sometimes had to walk all over town looking for sugar, a rationed item. Using the car for such shopping expeditions was a rare event, because gas was tightly rationed. In big cities, housewives rode public transportation, which was always over-crowded. Often lugging children along, they became accustomed to standing in long lines for both food and transportation.

Despite the wartime food shortages, housewives were able to provide better nutrition for their families than they had during the Great Depression. This was partly because their husbands were earning higher wages, giving them more to spend on food, and partly because the rationing system required careful meal planning. Overall, the war years demanded more effort on the household front, but housewives stayed flexible and were willing to adjust. They dutifully followed the government's frequently heard advice, "Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, Or Do Without."

War brides and wives left alone

Hollywood movies during the war years may have exaggerated the wartime separation of lovers, but, in reality, only 8 percent of American wives, about two and a half million women, had husbands in the military. However, the percentage was higher in certain age groups. For example, 40 percent of wives under age twenty had husbands in the military.

"Allotment Annies"

Instead of working for a living, a few women took advantage of a different wartime opportunity. They defrauded the government by collecting multiple allotment checks (a monthly stipend that the government sent to servicemen's families while the men were overseas). To do this they had to marry multiple servicemen. Allotment Annies hung around military bases. When the opportunity presented itself, an Annie romanced and married an unsuspecting serviceman. She then tearfully saw her soldier off as he headed overseas. As she began to collect his $50 monthly allotment check, she was already waiting to trap the next soldier. Some Annies collected six or seven checks per month, although authorities did eventually catch up with them.

Not all military husbands had to face combat. Twenty-nine percent never left the United States, and only one-fourth of the married soldiers who went overseas actually went into combat. Nevertheless, wives experienced great loneliness when their husbands were away in the military, and their husbands also suffered from the separation. If a husband left when his wife was pregnant, he often did not see his child until the child was one or two years old. Daily letter writing sustained both husbands and wives. Overseas servicemen's wives received monthly $50 allotment checks to pay for basic necessities. To supplement this income, women married to servicemen were much more likely to enter the labor force than married women with working husbands at home.

Military husbands and their wives usually tried to stay together as long as the husband remained in the United States. Wives, along with their children, traveled from base to base as servicemen were constantly transferred. They rode crowded trains and often found little in the way of housing at their destinations. They rented rooms or lived in trailers near the bases. Once their men were sent overseas, the wives generally returned to their parents' homes to live until their husbands returned. Having a loved one overseas, possibly in combat, caused great anxiety. Of the 15 million American servicemen who served in the military during World War II, 300,000 were killed, and another 700,000 were injured so severely that they were disabled or impaired to varying degrees.

For More Information


Campbell, D'Ann Mae. Wives, Workers, and Womanhoods: America during World War II. Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International, 1979.

Cott, Nancy F., ed. No Small Courage: A History of Women in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Gluck, Sherna Berger. Rosie the Riveter Revisited: Women, the War, and Social Change. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987.

Hartmann, Susan M. The Home Front and Beyond: American Women in the 1940s. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982.

Lingeman, Richard R. Don't You Know There's a War On? The American Home Front, 19411945. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1970.

Litoff, Judy B., and David C. Smith, eds. Since You Went Away: World War II Letters from American Women on the Home Front. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

McMillan, Lucille F. The Second Year: Study of Women's Participation in War Activities of the Federal Government. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1943.

Zeinert, Karen. Those Incredible Women of World War II. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1994.


Bradley, LaVerne. "Women at Work." National Geographic Magazine (August 1944) pp. 193220.

Web Sites

Rosie the Riveter and Other Women World War II Heroes. (accessed on July 8, 2004).

Rosie the Riveter Trust. (accessed on July 8, 2004).

What Did You Do in the War, Grandma? (accessed on July 8, 2004).

Women and the Home Front during World War II. (accessed on July 8, 2004).