Traditionally, women globally were considered home keepers whose principal roles were to remain within the homestead with core responsibilities of raising the children and taking care of the homestead activities. The truth, however, is that women worked outside the homesteads only that their efforts were never acknowledged (Glenn et al. 6). Particularly, females were categorized as minority or of the lower class as compared to their counterparts; hence, they were never treated the same way as men in the society. However, as much as women were believed to be less instrumental in the communities, they played certain substantial roles in the World War II, which changed the perception and attitudes that men had on them.
The number of women working in the industry and other areas outside the homesteads rose exponentially, and women decided to remain in those positions even after the war. Also, women played key roles in the military troops and the actual combats. The gender roles changed during this time and women ended up making a massive impact in the Second World War. American women served key roles in the WWII both in uniform and at home. They not only gave their husbands, brothers, sons, fathers but also their lives, energy, and time (Glenn et al. 8). In the early set up of American society, womens lives centralized around the family and farm. The biggest role that women ever played before WWII was to head the family. Although there were variations from place to place, the activities they carried out were similar in one way or another. According to Glenn et al., they scrubbed, swept, ironed, brought water, firewood, made soap, brooms, and candles and built fires (8). They kept gardens in shape, preserved and canned large amounts of vegetables and fruits. They managed home dairies, bakeries, milked, and to some extent acted as blacksmiths in their homestead. Specifically, most women worked together with their husbands without being allocated any power in the political decisions.
Women accepted the division of labor when it came to politics and their female role, to be better halves of their husbands. The emerging middle-class women carried on with their traditional role and still earned no money for the work they did at the time. Even though they were cut off from the economy, women would work all day and make essential products and services to the society. The breaking of World War II and the entry of the United States into the war changed everything for the women. Reluctant to engage in the war after its eruption in 1939, the U.S made their complete commitment after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The commitment involved using all the assets that the country had, women included. The entry into this war by the U.S changed marriage into being the norm since the teenagers married before going overseas for the fights. As they handled wars abroad, women at home volunteered for the organizations related to the wars, defended the plants, managed finances, learned mechanics, and wrote to their husbands overseas (Goldstein & Joshua 5).
Secondly, women led the war industries in the U.S. In light on the preparation for the war; the United States changed its industries from the civilian to the war production assets. Historically, men formed the bulk of the labor but since many men were being lost in the war overseas, there had to be a different solution. Notably, women were the only alternative. Therefore, they were brought to work in the industries, and it is among the first times in history America saw the highest production rates. Throughout the nation, Americans reduced their spending on foods. Some of the civilians decided to set up gardens in parks and backyards to act as alternative sources of food. The huge companies made contracts with the government to produce military products. Due to this, there was a great need for the increase in the workforce in the entire country. This need for additional workforce compelled women to fill the gaps left by men who were in combat overseas. Particularly, women worked in tank plants, shipyards, and airplane plants (Goldstein & Joshua 7).Notably, these kinds of jobs were handled by men before and the women only came into assistance during the war. In this regard, although women did not act directly in the war, they replaced the work of their men who were fighting and provided industrial labor that the country wanted during the wartime.
Moreover, women who were initially employed in the fields predominated by females such domestic jobs, secretaries, and the lowest positions in the industry tried out the newly created opportunities to boost the income of the country. Notably, they became streetcar and taxi drivers, worked in steel and lumber mills, built dirigibles, unloaded freights, and operated heavy construction equipment. In this regard, the expansion to other sectors of work ensured that there was no gap left behind even if men were absent. According to Rosen and Ruth, slightly over six million women entered the job market during the war. This population formed a third of the total workforce that the United States had at the time and this number increased with the wars escalation (Rosen & Ruth 15). Millions of women worked for forty-eight hours every week in the war industries and across all sectors in the States to keep the economic growth positive to provide financial support that was needed during that time.
Moreover, over 350,000 women in America served in their uniforms both abroad and at home (Rosen & Ruth 15). Most of them volunteered to the Women Army Corps, the Navy Womens Reserve (WAVES), Coast Guard Womens Reserve, and Marine Corps Womens Reserves, the Navy Nurses Corps, Army Nurses Corps, and Women Airforce Service Pilots. The general at the time, Eisenhower, realized how important women were in the war, therefore, decided to involve them in the military combat. Notably, the major area that women handled in the army was their operation of war planes. Mainly, the supply of the male pilots became shorter with the progression of the war; hence, recruitment of female pilots was necessary to assist in the air command. Nancy Love proposed that women should be recruited across the nation to assist as employees in the aviation command. In 1942, twenty-five women were hired as pilots and members of WAAF, with Nancy Love as the commander. Each of them was allocated a thousand traveling hours and thy all proved capable of the duties they were tasked. They showed that they could handle the light single-engine airplanes to the compound four-engine bombers on ferry flights. With time, the number of female pilots grew to over three hundred and they worked with the Ferrying Division.
Notably, women operated flight divisions where they relieved male pilots in combat duty between 1924 and 1943 to help reduce the extent of casualties among the male pilots (Chafe & William 24). This was the view given by the War Department since women showed superior abilities in handling the plane activities. The then general, Arnold, directed that women be exposed to heavier training on more complex planes to the maximum. General Arnold later stated that the primary objective of the air force was to replace as many male pilots who were flying in non-combat as possible. Over a thousand women successfully cleared their training and directly assigned operational duties.
Further, women were used in the Training Command under the national Air Forces. In 1943 during summer, some distinguished women were subjected to training as antiaircraft gunners (Chafe & William 24). They were highly judged to have been better in the war mission than the returning war pilots. For glider practices, some women were tasked with the flying of tractors in the Troop Carrier Command. The Lockheed C-60 tractor that they flew required a lot of energy, but the women proved competent. Some of them were trained to be instructors while they were not in active basic flight instructions. They served well across their training session time, more so, the active phase of the drill. By the time the training was in action, thirty-seven WASP pilots had died, seven women had suffered major injuries while twenty-nine others had minor injuries.
Additionally, women served with the United States Army by having full military status in the WWII. The one distinct group of women who shared the same risk of losing their lives just like the men in combats was the female flight nurses. They flew with the troop squadrons carriers to all combat theaters. By the year 1944, over 6500 nurses on duty with USAAF were women (Twenge & Jean 133). Additionally, five hundred of the female nurses were exposed to strenuous training in Louisville for eight good weeks. The women trained on how to unload and load patients onto the war planes and any transport. The other skills they acquired include; parachute use, simulated combats and survival skills.
The other role that the women served was their assignment to serve in air evacuation operational units overseas where they served as individual crew members in the C-47 air combats (Twenge & Jean 133). The airfields they operated overstretched from New Guinea to the Sicily followed by the European continent. The skills of these female nurses saved thousands of lives of extremely wounded soldiers who would otherwise die of infections. Additionally, the flight nurses were exposed to the dangers that the troop combat experienced.
There were many special women whose contribution had significant effects in the war. The first female is Lieutenant Elsie Ott and was the first woman to receive the United States Air Medal (Fisher et al. 13). As an already trained nurse, she decided to join the Army Air Corps and was sent to India in 1941. Elzie was assigned to help in the first flight of evacuation, a notice she was only given twenty-four hours before the mission. The evacuation plane was not equipped with any medical kits beyond the first aid ones, and only one medic was present to assist her in dealing with intense medical cases that were submitted. The soldiers suffered mental illness, physical injuries and other diseases which were life threatening. Elsie later wrote an extensive report concerning the various changes that needed to be made in the evacuation protocol. This report gave her another chance to lead evacuation flight squad and was later promoted to captain in 1946 (Fisher et al. 13).
The second remarkable woman is Lt. Reba Whittle. She was the only female soldier of the U.S, who was imprisoned in the European war theater. She was a flight nurse flying with the evacuation squadron. In 1944 on their way to pick casualties in France, her plane was shot by the German soldiers, and the few survivors including Reba were imprisoned. She was tasked to attend to the wounded prisoners in German prisons. The Swiss legislator in charge of wounded soldiers transfer noticed her and arranged for her release. After her release, Reba was awarded a Purple Heart, and the U.S. Air medal then promoted to be Lieutenant. She continued working in the Army hospital situated in California until her retirement in 1946 (Goldin & Claudia 745).
Conclusively, womens roles in the World War II were majorly seen in their involvement in the industrial work, serving in flight division, serving as nurses in the evacuation operations and as great air force pilots. Two of the women who played prominent roles in the WWII are Lt. Reba Whittle and Lt. Elsie Ott.
Chafe, William Henry. The Unfinished Journey: America since World War II. Oxford University Press, 2003.
Fisher, Kelly, Kate Hutchings, and Luisa Helena Pinto. "Pioneers Across War Zones: The Lived Acculturation Experiences Of US Female Military Expatriates." International Journal Of Intercultural Rel...
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