Mobilization of Women in WWII


In the beginning of the twentieth century, women were traditionally known to run the household and to bear children, but with the introduction of World War I and especially World War II, the role that working class women played in society changed drastically. Before both World Wars, women conventionally stayed at home to cook, clean, sew, and take care of the children. Many women would also work on the farm doing light manual labor including feeding the chickens and churning butter. None of these jobs however would prepare women for what was to come with the outbreak of World War I. As the men left their jobs to fight in the war, the working class women left their traditional jobs at home and started to help out on the war front. Typical jobs for women in World War I included secretaries, typists, and nurses among other jobs. Although these jobs were more structured and professional than the jobs at home, it was not as physically demanding as the jobs World War II would bring about for women. During World War II women worked in the military and in production lines, which were both considered new jobs to working class women. Through the time frame just leading up to World War I and into World War II, there are continuities and changes over time for women working.

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Women saluting in Army

Even though the Germans maintained traditional gender roles during WWII, the Allied countries needed more men on the front line to fight, leading Allied women to offer themselves up to help out with jobs that were considered male jobs. The Nazis in Germany believed that involving women in the war would upset the social structure; therefore women had very little involvement in the war. Historians believe that if the women were mobilized in Germany, than many men would have been freed from military service, therefore changing the outcome of the war. [1] Allied militaries across the globe were initially skeptical of women because of physical constraints, but were soon proven wrong. In the Untied States, 400,000 women were enlisted in the U.S. Army, Navy, and Coast Guard, although the Army tried to enlist 1.5 million. [2] In the Soviet Union, 800,000 women were enlisted to serve in the Soviet Armed Forces as pilots, machine gunners, snipers, and tank crew members. [3] By August 1940, 700,000 women had joined the British Army, and more women joined after the disaster caused by Hitler’s U-Boats, in fear that the Germans would starve the British by controlling water access.[4] The mobilization of women WWII a change to the working class women’s traditional jobs, but evidentially led to a against the Germans.

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Women blowing trumpet in the Army
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WACs recruiting poster for women in the U.S.

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Waves recruiting poster for women
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Hawaii's WACs reviewing infantry troops



Despite the many changes that came about for women during World War II, some roles could not be replaced. Women were still expected to produce children and to raise the children at home. Chores around the house and on the farm did not disappear, so working on the warfront was not instead of their old jobs, but was in addition to. Jobs during the war were more temporary than permanent so many women returned back to their ordinary lives after the war, but gained the confidence and opportunity needed to find jobs such as being typists or secretaries. These jobs were similar to pre-World War II, but more women wanted to have these jobs instead of going back to work in the house, farm, or community because they were higher paying and gave women more respect among other reasons.

Before both World Wars, working women were expected to produce children and raise them at home, as well as do traditional womanly chores around the house and on the farm if their husband owned one. When World War I began, women started to work more professional jobs such as typists and nurses in order to help out during the war. With the beginning of World War II, more men were needed to fight on the front line, so women filled in their previous positions and enlisted in the military and as workers in production lines. These jobs required a significant amount of physical strength that men were previously skeptical about. However, these women soon proved themselves to be hard and dedicated workers, which helped them win the war. The mobilization of women for the Allied countries was not only successful, but brought the change needed for women to start careers.

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[1] A German Women OF World War 2, German Women, last modified 1 April 2012, http://vanrcook.tripod.com/worldwar2women.htm.
[2] Partners in Winning the War: American Women in World War II, National Women's History Museum, last modified in 2007, http://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/partners/6.htm. (and all pictures)
[3] Soviet women in World War II, Wikipedia, last modified 2 March 2011, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_women_in_World_War_II.
[4] Women in World War Two, History Learning Site, last modified 2000-2012, http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/women_WW2.htm
[5] Women in Industry World War II, Documents from the National Archives,
http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/CAS/HISTORY/AmericaLevel2/Women/women.htm#Ten