Womens Political Rights After Ww1 Essay

Women were always an integral part of any and are permanent parts of all movements and settlements. In early America, a woman�s life tended to center around farm and family. For the most part labor was observed, whereby, men did the outside work such as planting and harvesting the crops while the women worked inside the house, transforming the raw products into usable commodities. All of a woman�s work comes under the general heading of housewife and it varied from region to region. Despite variations, the activities were much the same throughout the different regions. First came supervision of the house. Women swept, scrubbed, polished, made their own brooms, soap and polish. They carried water, made starch, ironed, carried firewood, built fires, and made candles. They sewed and made everything and they were usually in charge of the family bookkeeping. They also worked outside the house.

Women kept their own gardens and every fall canned and preserved vast amounts of homegrown fruits and vegetables. They ran home bakeries and dairies, did the milking, made butter, and kept the hen yard. Women performed usually jobs held by men. They were blacksmiths, silversmiths, and sail makers, tailors, painters, and wheelwrights and shopkeepers of every sort. Many women practiced medicine. They became nurses, unlicensed physicians and midwives. The kind of doctoring they did at home caring for the well being of their families extended outside the home.

Many women worked side by side with their spouses without being given any power or able to share in the political power with men. Most women simply accepted the division of political labor and their role as women, being described as their husbands �better half.� Familymembership had always been women�s most important affiliation. In the past it had been an affiliation women shared with men. The significance of the family as a primary economic unit was maintained throughout the 1800�s for the majority of Americans who continued to live on farms. Among the new emerging middle class, however, such was not the case. For the new middle class home and family was seen as separate from the world of work and money. The middle class women continued to perform their traditional work but it was no longer considered real work, because unlike men, they earned no money. Cut off from the money economy, women might labor all day, producing all sorts of goods and service vital to the well being of the family andyet in the eyes of the world they did not work. When World War II broke out and the United States entered things changed for women as they did during World War I.

World War I Experience

During World War I the rapidly expanding war industries dipped heavily into the labor force of women. In 1918 nearly three million new women workers were employed in food, textile and war industries. Many taboos and restrictions thrown up to keep women out of large-scale productions industry were broken down. Women worked as streetcar conductors, radio operators, and in steel mills and logging camps during the war. Women roles began to change rapidly because of the war. Not only did women maintain their households, but also they played the roles of helping to support the war. One of the women�s major contributions to the war effort was to take over the running of the farms and grow much needed food. Women worked long hours providing the support that was needed. They learned many new skills and as a result their roles continued to change. During World War I the labor forced of women expanded to almost three million. They were employed in food, textile and war industries. About twenty thousand women worked for the military. Women and girls washed the clothing of the officers and soldiers. They sewed and knitted coats, underwear, and socks. This was important because the army did not have resources for new uniforms. The women and girls cooked for the soldiers, nursed the wounded and sick and helped them survive their injuries and their sickness. Exploring American History: p. 533.

As men went off to war women took on more responsibilities. Factories that had produced merchandise such as coats, suits, and other garments began to make uniforms for the soldiers. Carmakers made tanks and military trucks. Women took over the production lines in factories. They also replaced men as police officers, mechanics, train conductors and even barbers. It is believed that women became soldiers in the American Armies. They dressed in men�s clothing and pretended to be men.

The war tore families apart, forcing women to take on new roles. During the war they needed to replace men who had left for the battlefield. They worked long hours in factories making guns and ammunition, some worked in government jobs as clerks and managers. Women learned many new skills. They were becoming independent without their knowledge or their spouse�s knowledge. The wars made many positive and negative changes in all facets of society. For almost three years America tried to remain neutral, but were unable to do so.

World War I began in 1914 and America entered the war in 1917 and that caused a labor shortage among men and women who had to and did take over. First, the government had the task of raising troops and gathering supplies. Then they had to produce the food, uniforms, and weapons to equip the forces and to re-supply the allies in Europe. Next the government had to retool the industry to produce war material and find people to man the machines. Factories that had made coats began to make uniforms. Carmakers made military trucks and tanks. As men left their jobs for the military service, women replaced them. They took over the productions lines in factories. Women served in the First World War in a number of ways. The armed forces accepted women into non-combat roles, supporting troops as nurses, cooks and administrative assistants. Organizations, such as YMCA, Red Cross, and the Salvation Army sent women to Europe to help the service men. Professional women such as doctors were few and had a tough time being taken seriously. Doctor Mary Crawford a female physician forged her own pass to service in World War I. Women who served in the military during World War I did not find it easy. All citizens were urged to conserve because so much was needed to support the war effort. These changing roles were all very new to the women.

Women At War With America: pp. 20-21.

America�s women were at work everywhere during World War I. They labored on the home front and overseas. They took jobs on the nation�s farms in factories, and in shipyards, and served in its military forces. Approximately a million women filled the vacancies left by the men who were now in uniform. Many were young girl�s who had previously worked in local shops and department stores or who had never worked before. Many were wives who had once worked, but had left their jobs to raise families.

Women on the farms were nicknamed �farmerettes� by the press. In the factories and shipyards, they served mainly as clerks, secretaries, typists, and bookkeepers. World War I also marked an important �first� for American women. For the first time in the nation�s history, women were permitted to join the armed forces. Some 13,000, known as �Yeomanettes,� enlisted in the navy to do clerical work stateside. Nearly 300 entered the Marine Corps as clerks and won the name �Marinettes.� More than 230 women traveled to France as part of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. There, they served as telephone operators for the American Expeditionary force.

World War I: p. 32 and 48.

But they were not the only ones to travel overseas. Some 11,000 women, although not actual members of the armed forces, served abroad as nurses; others became ambulance drivers. Women were also among the 6,000 Red Cross workers who sailed to France.

About 3,500 women served in the cafeterias and recreation facilities that the Young Men�s Christian Association (YMCA) operated in England, France, and Russia. Members of the Young Women�s Christian Association (YWCA) also provided service for woman overseas and at home. More than fifty women of the Society of Friends tended wounded soldiers on the western front and helped to feed and clothe civilians who lost their homes in the fighting.

World War I: p. 63-64

Two groups of American women also served on the western front before the United States entered the war. One group was made up of the wives and daughters of American diplomats who were stationed in Europe at the time the fighting erupted in 1914. They tended to the needs of families left homeless by the fighting. The other was a unit of ambulance drivers formed by women living in France.

Like the men the 25,000 American women who served overseas risked death, disease, and injury. An estimated 348 lost their lives. Some were killed in air raids and artillery bombardments. Others died or were left debilitated by the diseases and disorders bred by the filthy and worse-than-primitive conditions along the western front.

The exact number of women who were injured is unknown. There are individual stories, however, that leave no doubt as to the seriousness of some of the injuries. When a hand grenade accidentally exploded near a writer and Red Cross worker they sustained wounds that kept them hospitalized for two years. A women doctor caught in a gas attack suffered burned lungs. A study conducted in the 1920�s revealed that, among the women injured in the war, at least 200 were permanently disabled.

A group of women known as the Hello Girls were the telephone switchboard and operators of United States Army Signal Corps and they supported communications among, General Perishing troops and with other allied forces in France. A small group of women, bilingual took on the duty of running the telephone switchboard for the American Expeditionary force coping with operators of the French telephone system, who rarely spoke English. Women actors, singers, musicians, and entertainers traveled to the front line to provide some moments of pleasure to soldiers during their allotted rest periods.

World War II

After World War I some women returned to the place society had destined for them while others refused. They had learned new skills and was prepared to use them. The United States entered the World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and women power again was in demand. Their roles continued to change tremendously. By the spring of 1942 there was a growing manpower shortage in the military. In American Wars prior to World War II, there had been a debate about and opposition to using women in the armed forces. As men went off to battle, women were needed for non-combat jobs such as switchboard operators, telegraphers, mechanics, and drivers. During World War II, more than one hundred thousand women served in the women�s Army Corps later became known as the Women�s Army Corps. Women also joined the United States Navy. During the fall of 1942, the Women�s Auxiliary Air Squadron became known as the Women�s Air Force, began training women pilots who flew planes to various military bases in the United States. They tested aircraft and performed other non-combat flight duties. Many women believed that they might never be allowed to serve in the military again if they did not prove to be capable in a chosen role.

Women at War with America: pp.20-21.

During World War II, so many men were sent off to war, and so much new production was needed to support that war effort that there was a gross shortage of manpower to staff factories and manufacturing plants. As a result, propaganda was distributed thorough print, film and radio to encourage women to take over their jobs for the duration of the war. There was a catch. When the war was over, the women were supposed to give the jobs right back but some women resisted because there was a need to continue working.

Rosie the Riveter was the name given to the women depicted on many of the propaganda posters. In the most famous one, she is wearing a red and white bandana to cover her hair, and she has rolled back the sleeve of her blue coverall to expose a flexed bicep. The expression on her face was confident and determined. The caption above her head reads, �We Can Do It!�

Women who had been employed in fields predominated by women-pink collar secretarial positions, domestic jobs and lower paying industrial positions were eager to try their hands at the new opportunities. Soon they were successfully doing things only men had done before. Women became taxi and streetcar drivers, operated heavy construction machinery, worked in lumber and steel mills, unloaded freight, built dirigibles, made munitions and much more. Men�s jobs always paid more, and this was women�s only chance to step up and earn more. �Do the job he left behind� said a lot. Women could do it as long as men didn�t want it or wasn�t around to do it.

Before the war, men, who were then considered the breadwinners and heads of� the household, held most of the jobs in the factories. When some sixteen million males enlisted or were drafted into the military, employer�s recruited women to fill the roles on the assembly lines of what were referred to, as essential industry opportunities. The field of science, once dominated by males was opened up for women.

Many women began working outside the home for the first time. Media propaganda urged American women to get a job that would help in winning the war. Over six million entered the work force during the war making them one third of the labor force and this number increased as the war escalated. Millions worked six days a week, forty-eight hours a week. Over four hundred thousand women left their domestic jobs and went to work in war industries. Eighteen million women were in the work force during World War II. Women learned the new industries quickly from a marginal to a basic labor supply for munitions making them classified.

Women At War With America: pp.241-243.

One of the women named Rosie the Riveter was strong, serious, and competent. She symbolizes the vital importance of women workers to the defense position. As the supply of experienced male pilots began to dwindle, Nancy Love a woman pilot proposed the recruitment of the most qualified women pilots in the nation to assist the air transport command as civilian�s employees. Love�s proposal was adopted in the summer of 1942 and 25 female pilots were recruited to become members of the WAAF�s, with Nancy Love as commander. Each of the women had more than 1,000 hours of flying time and they quickly proved capable of the kind of duties for which they had been envisioned. Originally assigned to fly single-engine airplanes, the women demonstrated that they could handle fast pursuit ships as well as the four engine bombers on the transcontinental ferry flights. Eventually as many as 303 women pilots were on duty with the Ferrying Division, but the numbers dropped to an average of 140.

Women At War With America: pp. 73-79.

While Nancy Love�s pilots were highly experienced women, Jackie Cochran had another idea in mine. Jackie used her influence with Eleanor Roosevelt to convince the War Department to create the Women�s Flying Training Department, a program to train young women as pilots with her as director of the program. Consequently, the military found itself with two programs using female pilots, one a valuable asset that took advantage of the skills of experienced women who could make a significant contribution from the outset and the other a politically motivated program requiring extensive training. General Arnold called a meeting of officials from ATC and Cochran and told them there was not room for two programs; they would have to get together. Cochran�s political connections held sway, and her plan was adopted. Cochran also used her political influence to gain control of the program. In August 1943 the programs were merged to become the Women Air force Service Pilots, with Cochran as Director, of women pilots.

Women could relieve male pilots for combat duty in 1942-43, when the war was still going against the Allies and the War Department believe there would be heavy casualties among the male pilots who went to war. As many of the women trainers demonstrated superior abilities, General Arnold directed that training in heavier and more difficult airplanes could be initiated to the maximum extent possible. In 1942 General Arnold wrote that the Air force�s objective was to replace as many male pilots in non-combat flying duty as was feasible. Cochran�s training programming did not lack applicants. Advertisements over-glamorized the program, leading to a flood of applicants of more than 25,000 women applied for training. Only 1830 were admitted of which 1,074 completed the training and were assigned to operational duty. The training program began initially at Hughes Airport in Houston, Texas, but moved to Sweetwater, Texas due to lack of facilities. In the first months of the program, when training standards were relaxed, the washout rate among women was 26% but increased to 47% in 1944, when the lessened needed for pilots allowed more stringent requirements. Still the comparison to men was favorable as the washout rate for men went from less than 25% to more than 55% over the same period.

Women At War With America: p. 242.

The glamorization, of the WASPS was to a large extent responsible for their ultimate demise. The women were in civilian status and were thus denied the military benefits of the male pilots who had accepted commissions as service pilots. A bill was submitted in Congress in 1943 to militarize the WASP. Cochran and General Arnold proposed the creation of a separate organization of female pilots headed by a woman with the rank of colonel, but the War Department opposed such a move. The USAAF felt that the women should be commissioned with the Air WAC�s who were already members of the military, many of whom were serving overseas in combat theaters. While Congress was still considering the bill, the Civil Aeronautics Agency�s War Training Service program came to an end in January, 1944 while college training programs and civilian-contract flying schools were scheduled to close, thus freeing large numbers of previously draft-exempt male flight instructors for military duty.

World War II: pp. 27-30, 144 and 180.

The grounding of so many well-qualified male pilots and their possible assignment to ground combat duties led to a feeling of indignation against the women pilots who were seeking military status. Simultaneously as the war began to turn in the allies favor, large numbers of returning combat pilots were available for ferrying, training, and other duties then filled by WASP pilots. In June, 1944 a Congressional Committee On Civil Service matters reported that the WASP program was unnecessary and unjustifiably expensive. The committee recommended that the recruitment and training of inexperienced women pilots be halted. The final, class of female pilots was allowed to graduate from Sweetwater on December 20, 1944, but with their graduation the entire program was halted.

In addition to their role with the flying division, women were also used in Training Command and the domestic numbered Air Forces. In the summer of 1943 some women were assigned to target-towing duty training antiaircraft gunners. The women were judged better in the mission than returning combat pilots. In the Troop Carrier Command some women �were assigned to fly tractors for glider practice. This was one area in which women proved in-equal to the task due to the physical strength required to fly the Lockheed C-60�s that were serving as tractors. Some women were trained as instructors while they were not assigned to basic-flight instruction and they served quite well, in the instrument phase of training. In, the inaction of the program. WASP pilots had suffered 37 deaths while seven women received major injuries and 29 other minor injuries while on the job.

While the WASPSwere in civilian status, large numbers of women served with the Untied States Army Air Forces in World War II with full military status. The one group of women who shared the same dangers as did male air crew members were the female flight nurses who flew with troop carrier squadrons in all of the combat theaters. By 1944, more than 6,500nurses were on duty with the USAAF, of which 500 were in Louisville, Kentucky for an extremely strenuous eight-week course. During the course the women learned how to load and un-load patients onto a transport as well as military training including survival skills, the use of parachutes, and simulated combat since the women would be required to fly into combat areas.

Upon completion of their training, the women were assigned to air evacuation units overseas, where they flew as crew members aboard troop carrier C-47s operating into airfields on battlefields and everywhere from New Guinea to Sicily, and later on the European continent. The use of flight nurses exposed women to combat dangers that had probably never had experienced women as a group. Their skill and diligence saved thelives of hundreds of wounded soldier�s who would have died on the battlefield in previous wars.

During World War II there were many hardships throughout the countries. The tolls of the war were hitting hard and many more soldiers were needed in battle. As the men went off to fight in the war, problems arose due to lack of people in the work force at home. Times were very hard and money was tight. The women were not able to perform the typical household duties, there was to much outside the home to do in order to survive.

The factory jobs held very little pay. The factories ranged from all sorts of parts for war vehicles and weapons, to radio parts and candles for light. Even things as simple as candles were of dire importance during these trying times.

The women work very long hours but were proud to be able to help out with the war in as many ways as possible. This was an opportunity for women to grow and learn the job skills that they were never allowed to do. The war created employment for women liberating them, while changing their traditional roles.

Problems surface with the introduction of women workers, who�s growing influence threatened the men workers still in the United States. They responded with harassment and discrimination, which remained a problem even after the war was over. Even though women outnumbered the men in the labor force three to one they still had problems with the new idea of women as wage laborers. The war had allowed women to get �out of hand� or �out of the house�. The liberated woman might be undermining the traditional marriage and family life. Some women started working as young as fourteen or fifteen but were pleased with the new opportunities to use their hands and skills. Rosie the Riveter was the poster of encouragement for women to join the workforce during the women�s industry movement. The poster showed women�s hidden strengths, promoting power and pride.

Women at War With America: p. 108.

The women that volunteered in factory jobs worked in welding, machining, building aircraft�s, repairing tank�s, and armament factories, jobs once held by men who were called away to fight in the war. Over six million women took over in these fields for the men. In 1944, the average woman�s salary was $31.21 a week for her labors, even though the men that still remained made $54.65 a week. The women wore overalls, uniforms, slacks, and bandanas or snoods to cover their hair. These clothes were considered very unfeminine, but the women got used to them and continued to wear them in public.

Women at War With America: p.247.

The greatest effect war has on the people involved is change. In wartime, change occurs, not only in global or national collective consciousness but, in many of the individuals involved. World War II brought about many different thoughts and ideas within the United States. Not everyone who participated in the war stood on the front line with the risk of being shot, but nonetheless, they were all willing to take their own risks to support each other in battle.

One of the most incredible changes within the United States that occurred during wartime was change in identity. World War II enabled people to learn about each other and themselves. People of different cultures, backgrounds, ages, and especially genders, who experienced massive changes in their lives; changes that would continue in their hearts long after the end of the war. This was the birth of many new identities that America had not yet seen.

War, for many women, was about gaining strength and mobility. As more and more men left to fight in battle, women started taking over traditionally male responsibilities. As far back as history can tell, women have been limited in mobility and set in particular spaces by society, but war changed all the rules. War very much became a doorway through which women ventured out of the home where they had been confined. During World War II, women in high numbers were asked to work outside as well as inside of the home. For many women, World War II became a symbol of freedom. It was a time where women were no longer forced into the roles society had created for them.

Women were quoted to have better motor skills than men, which was said to be from the common practice of needle work so they were useful with wire fuses on bombs and to fill metal casings with gunpowder. Many accidents came out of the factories. Over 210,000 women were permanently disabled and at least 37,000 lost their lives.

The women factory workers fought their own battles during the war. They struggled with new horizons, social discrimination, gender harassment, and physical pain from long hours and poor working conditions. The women were very important during the war in keeping the home countries in line and allowing the men to leave by taking over their jobs. The cord was cut after WWII for many women, they obtained many new skills and they were born into a new world. Even though many women went back to being homemakers after the war was over, times would never be the same again.

Initially, doubts and hesitations arose about whether or not women could work within a combat situation. It was during the battles of World War II that women faced the greatest challenge of trying to gain recognition and serve their country in more ways than they had in previous years. Little did they know, their efforts would prove to be victorious, and they would leave an everlasting mark on American society. Women had demonstrated amazing work and courage during World War I and World War II.

After the two wars women became free to create their own lives and senses of self. With this increase in freedom also came an increase in equality. World War II gave women the chance to prove they are just as capable as men. As World War II continued, greater numbers of women began to take control. For the first time, women in the United States were learning to work as factory workers, nurses, and journalists. Many women even joined the army through an organization called the Women�s Army Corps. World War II also brought about an increase in women as subjects of propaganda. Women worked as drivers, farmers, mail delivery personnel, garbage collectors, builders, and mechanics.

Life for women was changing. Women had their own money and could do with it what they pleased. They became more independent. �War taught them how to stand on their on two feet. Though relatively short-lived, World War II provided a way for women to do what they wanted. Far fewer obstacles stood in the way of women proving that they were extremely capable. Women are capable of everything its too bad it took a war to make everyone see it.



[Excerpts below are from Chapters 2, 5, and 6 of War and Gender]

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By popular demand! For all of you who have a school report due tomorrow on women's roles in World War I, I am posting excerpts from my book below. Please cite the book -- "Goldstein, Joshua S. War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa. Cambridge University Press, 2001" -- and use quotation marks when quoting :-)

If your report is not due tomorrow, consider consulting these books:

Braybon, Gail and Penny Summerfield. 1987. Out of the Cage: Women�s Experiences in Two World Wars. London: Pandora.

Berkman, Joyce. 1990. �Feminism, War, and Peace Politics: The Case of World War I.� In Elshtain and Tobias eds., Women, Militarism, and War: Essays in History, Politics, and Social Theory. Savage, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, pp. 141�60.

Gavin, Lettie. 1997. American Women in World War I: They Also Served. University Press of Colorado.

Hewitt, Linda. 1974. Women Marines in World War I. Washington, DC: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, US Marine Corps.

Higonnet, Margaret Randolph, Jane Jenson, Sonya Michel, and Margaret Collins Weitz, eds. 1987. Behind the Lines: Gender and the Two World Wars. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Hirschfeld, Magnus. 1934. The Sexual History of the World War. New York: Panurge Press.

Holmes, Katie. 1995. �Day Mothers and Night Sisters: World War I Nurses and Sexuality.� In Damousi and Lake eds.: 43�59.

Reilly, Catherine W. 1987. Scars Upon My Heart: Women's Poetry and Verse of the First World War. Virago.

Schneider, Dorothy and Carl J. Schneider. 1991. Into the Breach: American Women Overseas in World War I. New York: Viking.


For additional books about BRITISH women in World War I, click here.



Web sites about Women in World War I:
Site by Spartacus Educational (UK)
Site by Captain Barbara A. Wilson, USAF (Ret)
WIMSA page on U.S. Nurses in WWI


British poster, World War I.
Excerpts from Chapters 2, 5, and 6 of Joshua S. Goldstein's War and Gender:
[References for cited works are listed here]

Women's Support Roles in the World Wars Right up to the outbreak of World War I, feminists on both sides pledged themselves to peace, in transnational women’s solidarity. Within months of the war’s outbreak, however, “all the major feminist groups of the belligerents had given a new pledge – to support their respective governments.” Suddenly, campaigners for women’s suffrage became avid patriots and organizers of women in support of the war effort. Many of these feminists hoped that patriotic support of the war would enhance the prospects for women’s suffrage after the war, and this came true in a number of countries. (On women factory workers, see pp. 384–96.)171

The more than 25,000 US women who served in Europe in World War I did so on an entrepreneurial basis, especially before 1917. They helped nurse the wounded, provide food and other supplies to the military, serve as telephone operators (the “Hello Girls”), entertain troops, and work as journalists. Many of these “self-selected adventurous women … found their own work, improvised their own tools … argued, persuaded, and scrounged for supplies. They created new organizations where none had existed.” Despite hardships, the women had “fun” and “were glad they went.” Women sent out to “canteen” for the US Army – providing entertainment, sewing on buttons, handing out cigarettes and sweets – were “virtuous women” sent to “keep the boys straight.” Army efforts to keep women to the rear proved difficult. “Women kept ignoring orders to leave the troops they were looking after, and bobbing up again after they had been sent to the rear.” Some of the US women became “horrifyingly bloodthirsty” in response to atrocity stories and exposure to the effects of combat. Looking back, the American women exhibited “contradictory feelings” of sadness about the war, horror at what they had seen, and pride in their own work. Mary Borden, a Baltimore millionaire who set up a hospital unit at the front from 1914 to 1918, wrote: “Just as you send your clothes to the laundry and mend them when they come back, so we send our men to the trenches and mend them when they come back again. You send your socks … again and again just as many times as they will stand it. And then you throw them away. And we send our men to the war again and again … just until they are dead.”172

American Elsie Janis performed for British and French troops starting in 1914, and “anticipated Bob Hope in her devotion to entertaining the soldiery.” Women entertainers were treated chivalrously by troops, not as sex objects. Doughboys behaved badly towards French women, but put American ones “on a pedestal that grew and grew,” as Janis put it. One woman who stayed with 200 doughboys in a canteen near the front said she would feel comfortable leaving a 16-year-old daughter there alone, because “if any man touched her with his finger, these boys would tear him into a thousand pieces.” Women entertained troops not only with song and dance but with lectures, dramatic readings, and poetry. “Troops clamored for Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s readings of her own sentimental poems” urging sexual purity: “I may lie in the mud of the trenches, / I may reek with blood and mire, / But I will control, by the God in my soul, / The might of my man’s desire.” A soldier described seeing Sarah Willmer perform (after a 10-mile ride through a storm had, she thought, ruined her dress): “I shall never forget as long as I live the blessed white dress she had on the night she recited to us. We had not seen a white dress … in years. There we were with our gas masks at alert, all ready to go into the line, and there she was talking to us just like a girl from home. It sure was a great sight, you bet.”173

Harriot Stanton Blatch in 1918 (with an endorsement by Teddy Roosevelt) urged American women and the government alike to “mobilize woman-power” for World War I. One reason for US women to support the war effort, she argued, was the character of Prussian culture which glorified brute force, supported men’s domination of women, and treated children harshly. To men dubious of women’s entry into the labor force, Blatch argued that “[e]very muscle, every brain, must be mobilized if the national aim is to be achieved.” Blatch praised women’s contributions in Britain, where participating in the war effort had made women “capable … bright-eyed, happy.” She described England as “a world of women – women in uniforms; … nurses … messengers, porters, elevator hands, tram conductors, bank clerks, bookkeepers, shop attendants … Even a woman doing … womanly work … dusted a room for the good of her country … They were happy in their work, happy in the thought of rendering service, so happy that the poignancy of individual loss was carried more easily.” This happiness seems dubious as a general proposition (see pp. 384–85), but for some individuals it must have been true. One woman wrote that she was “nearly mad with joy” at being sent to Serbia to do war work. Women at the front used very different language than those at home – receiving, in the words of one, “something hidden and secret and supremely urgent … .[Y]ou are in another world, and … given new senses and a new soul.”174

The World Wars shook up gender relations, but only temporarily. Individual British women in the World Wars found new freedoms and opportunities in wartime – “like being let out of a cage,” in one woman’s words. However, gender changes were short-lived. “[A]ttitudes towards [women’s] roles at home and at work remained remarkably consistent over nearly fifty years. Both wars put conventional views about gender roles under strain,” but no permanent change occurred in hostility to women in male-dominated jobs, the devaluation of female labor, and the female-only responsibility for home life.175

The “reconstruction of gender” in Britain after World War I constrained women’s roles and reinvigorated the ideology of motherhood. The feminist movement never regained after the war the status as a mass movement it had held before the war. Where prewar feminists had fought against separate male and female spheres and different constructions of masculinity and femininity, feminists in the interwar period gradually “accepted theories of sexual difference that helped to advance notions of separate spheres.” After the “horrific events” of World War I, British society “sought above all to reestablish a sense of peace and security” and this precluded the egalitarian feminism of the prewar years, mandating instead a feminism of separate spheres to avoid “provok[ing] the men to anger.”176

Several major differences distinguish the two World Wars’ effects on women. The first war had more concentrated action, on the Western front and in static trench warfare, leaving civilians relatively safe, whereas the second war was more “total” (drawing in civilians) and more mobile. In Britain, World War I soldiers were “invisible” whereas in World War II the US and British forces were a highly visible presence, the blitz targeted London, and fighter pilots could battle the enemy by day and drink at pubs near air bases by night. The first war was more of a surprise to Britons. Although both wars led to shortages of essential goods, the second war made it much harder for homemakers to compensate. Most importantly, in terms of gender roles, women in the military in the first war were “largely confined to very mundane work like cleaning, cooking, clerical work, waitressing, and some driving … But in 1939–45 in addition … women handled anti-aircraft guns, ran the communications network, mended aeroplanes and even flew them from base to base.” Nonetheless, gender relations quickly reverted to tradition after World War II as after World War I.177



Russia During World War I, some Russian women took part in combat even during the Czarist period. These women, motivated by a combination of patriotism and a desire to escape a drab existence, mostly joined up dressed as men. A few, however, served openly as women. “The [Czarist] government had no consistent policy on female combatants.” Russia’s first woman aviator was turned down as a military pilot, and settled for driving and nursing. Another pilot was assigned to active duty, however.32

The most famous women soldiers were the “Battalion of Death.” Its leader, Maria Botchkareva, a 25-year-old peasant girl (with a history of abuse by men), began as an individual soldier in the Russian army. She managed (with the support of an amused local commander) to get permission from the Czar to enlist as a regular soldier. After fighting off the frequent sexual advances and ridicule of her male comrades, she eventually won their respect – especially after serving with them in battle. Botchkareva’s autobiography describes several horrendous battle scenes in which most of her fellow soldiers were killed running towards German machine-gun positions, and one in which she bayoneted a German soldier to death. After two different failed attacks, she spent many hours crawling under German fire to drag her wounded comrades back to safety, evidently saving hundreds of lives in the course of her service at the front. She was seriously wounded several times but always returned to her unit at the front after recuperating. Clearly a strong bond of comradery existed between her and the male soldiers of her unit.33

After the February 1917 revolution, Alexander Kerensky as Minister of War in the provisional government allowed Botchkareva to organize a “Battalion of Death” composed of several hundred women. The history of this battalion is a bit murky because both anti- and pro-Bolshevik writers used it to make political points. (By contrast, the earlier phase of Botchkareva’s military career is more credible.) Botchkareva’s own 1919 account was “set down” by a leading anti-Bolshevik exile in the United States, who says he listened to her stories in Russian over several weeks and wrote them out simultaneously in English. The narrative is just a bit too politically correct (for an anti-Bolshevik); the stories of her heroic deeds are a bit too consistently dramatic. The language and analysis at times do not sound like the words of an illiterate peasant and soldier, and the book explicitly appeals for foreign help for Russian anti-Bolsheviks. (Louise Bryant’s pro-Bolshevik account is equally unconvincing.)34

Botchkareva was aligned with Kornilov’s faction, which wanted to restore discipline in the army and resume the war against Germany, contrary to the Bolshevik program of ending the war and carrying out immediate land reform and seizure of factories at home. During mid-1917, army units elected “committees” to discuss and decide on the unit’s actions. Botchkareva insisted on traditional military rule from above in her battalion, and got away with it (though with only 300 of the original 2,000 women) because the unit was unique in the whole army. This endeared Botchkareva to many army officers and anti-Bolsheviks. It also put her battalion at the center of the June 1917 offensive – she says that it was the only unit capable of taking offensive action.

The battalion was formed in extraordinary circumstances, in response to a breakdown of morale and discipline in the Russian army after three horrible years of war and the fall of the Czarist government. By her own account, Botchkareva conceived of the battalion as a way to shame the men into fighting (since nothing else was getting them to fight). She argued that “numbers were immaterial, that what was important was to shame the men and that a few women at one place could serve as an example to the entire front….[T]he purpose of the plan would be to shame the men in the trenches by having the women go over the top first.” The battalion was thus exceptional and was essentially a propaganda tool. As such it was heavily publicized: “Before I had time to realize it I was already in a photographer’s studio…. The following day this picture topped big posters pasted all over the city.” Bryant wrote in 1918: “No other feature of the great war ever caught the public fancy like the Death Battalion, composed of Russian women. I heard so much about them before I left America….”35

The battalion began with about 2,000 women volunteers and was given equipment, a headquarters, and several dozen male officers as instructors. Botchkareva did not emphasize fighting strength but discipline (the purpose of the women soldiers was sacrificial). Physical standards for enlistment were lower than for men. She told the women, “We are physically weak, but if we be strong morally and spiritually we will accomplish more than a large force.” She was preoccupied with upholding the moral standards and upright behavior of her “girls.” Mostly, she emphasized that the soldiers in her battalion would have to follow traditional military discipline, not elect committees to rule as the rest of the army was doing. “I did not organize this Battalion to be like the rest of the army. We were to serve as an example, and not merely to add a few babas [women] to the ineffective millions of soldiers now swarming over Russia.” When most of the women rebelled against her harsh rule, Botchkareva stubbornly rejected pleas from Kerensky and others – including direct orders from military superiors – to allow formation of a committee. Instead she reorganized the remaining 300 women who stayed loyal to her, and brought them to the front, fighting off repeated attacks by Bolsheviks along the way. The battalion had new uniforms, a full array of war equipment, and 18 men to serve them (two instructors, eight cooks, six drivers, and two shoemakers).36

The battalion was to open the offensive which Kerensky ordered in June 1917. (Since the February revolution, there had been little fighting and growing fraternization on the Russian–German front.) The Bolsheviks opposed the offensive, and the tired, demoralized soldiers were not motivated to participate in it. By sending 300 women over the top first, Botchkareva envisioned triggering an advance along the entire front – 14 million Russian soldiers – propelled by the men’s shame at seeing “their sisters going into battle,” thus overcoming the men’s cowardice. When the appointed time for the attack came, however, the men on either side of the women’s battalion refused to move. The next day, about 100 male officers and 300 male soldiers who favored the offensive joined the ranks of the women’s battalion, and it was this mixed force of 700 that went over the top that night, hoping to goad the men on either side into advancing too. Locally, the tactic worked, and the entire corps advanced and captured three German lines (the men stopping at the second, however, to make immediate use of alcohol found there). As the Russian line spread thin, however, another corps which was supposed to move forward to relieve them refused to advance. A costly retreat to the original lines ensued. The shame tactic had failed, except for a local effect, which anyway may have been caused as much by seeing comrades under fire as by feeling shame about women going first. Ultimately, Botchkareva concludes about the Russian army, “the men knew no shame.”37

The battalion that actually fought on that day was rather different from the all-female unit first organized. The battalion arrived at the front with 300 women and two male instructors. Before battle, it received 19 more male officers and instructors, and a male “battle adjutant” was selected. During final preparations, a “detachment of eight machine guns and a [male] crew to man them” were added. Lined up in the trenches for the first night’s offensive that did not materialize, six male officers were inserted at equal intervals, with Botchkareva herself at one end and her male adjutant in the center. In the force that actually went over the top the next night with 400 male soldiers and officers added, the “line was so arranged that men and women alternated, a girl being flanked by two men.” Botchkareva notes that in advancing under withering fire, “my brave girls [were] encouraged by the presence of men on their sides.” Although the women fighters clearly were brave, and one-third of them were killed or wounded, their effect (and indeed their purpose) lay not in their military value – 300 soldiers could hardly make a difference among millions – but in their propaganda value. However, this latter effect did not materialize as hoped.38

Other women’s battalions were formed in several other cities – apparently less than 1,000 women in all – but they suffered from a variety of problems, ranging from poor discipline to a lack of shoes and uniforms. These other units never saw combat. There was not another offensive before the Bolsheviks took power in October and sent most of the women soldiers home, telling them “to put on female attire.”39

The Battalion of Death, then, never tested an all-female unit’s effectiveness in combat. Nonetheless, on one day in 1917, 300 women did go over the top side by side with 400 male comrades, advanced, and overran German trenches. The women apparently were able to keep functioning in the heat of battle, and were able to adhere to military discipline. These women were, of course, an elite sample of the most war-capable women in all of Russia. Nonetheless, they did it – advanced under fire, retreated under fire, and helped provide that crucial element of leadership by which other nearby units were spurred into action, overcoming the inertia of fatigue and committee rule. The Battalion of Death did this not as scattered individual women but as a coherent military unit of 300 women – instructed by Botchkareva that “they were no longer women, but soldiers.”40




United States In World War I, 13,000 women enlisted in the US Navy, mostly doing clerical work–“the first [women in US history]….to be admitted to full military rank and status.” The Army hired women nurses and telephone operators to work overseas, but as civilian employees (although in uniform). Plans for women’s auxiliary corps – to perform mostly clerical, supply, and communications work – were shot down by the War Department. So were plans for commissioning women doctors in the Medical Corps. The end of the war brought an end to proposals to enlist women in the Army.75




During World War I, a number of women participated individually in several armies. One of the most famous, Englishwoman Flora Sandes, fought with the Serbian army on the same terms as the men, and took an Austrian speaking tour in 1920.138




Women shaming men into war Women are often active participants in shaming men to try to goad them into fighting wars. Recall the Russian women in World War I who went “over the top” to try to shame exhausted Russian soldiers into fighting again (see pp. 73–75). In Britain and America during that war, women organized a large-scale campaign to hand out white feathers to able-bodied men found on the streets, to shame the men for failing to serve in combat. Not all women supported it: “Dealer in white feathers / … Can’t you see it isn’t decent, / To flout and goad men into doing, / What isn’t asked of you?” However, the Women of England’s Active Service League pledged never to be seen in public with an able-bodied man not serving in the military, and British recruiting posters told young men their women would reject them if they were “not in khaki” and meanwhile told the young women that men who refused to fight and die for them were not worthy of their affections. (The white feather campaign was briefly resurrected in World War II, and the British government had to issue badges for men exempt on medical grounds.) Some scholars object to blaming women for goading men into World War I. They argue that the poster claiming “Women of Britain Say, ‘Go!’” (see Figure 5.3) was propaganda devised by men to affect other men. “[M]any women tried to get their sons out of the army. Others were agitating to prevent conscription.”58

Figure 5.3 “Women of Britain say, ‘Go!,’” poster, World War I. [Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, London.]




Factory Workers

The armies of twentieth-century total war depended on women in new ways, not only within the army (see pp. 64–76, 88–92) but in the civilian workforce (and in addition to the ongoing responsibilities of women for domestic, reproductive, and sexual work). In 1914, feminist Carrie Chapman Catt warned that “[w]ar falls on the women most heavily, and more so now than ever before.” Both Britain and the United States mobilized substantial numbers of women into war-related industries, and into the workplace generally to make male workers available for military use. These arrangements, although effective in boosting the war effort, almost everywhere were cast as temporary. They used, rather than challenged, existing gender stereotypes.138

In World War I Britain, about 1 million mostly lower-class women worked in munitions jobs. They were called “munitionettes” or “Tommy’s sister.” Unlike nurses, the munitions workers could not profess pacifism since their work directly contributed to the fighting. In fact, in 1918, Scottish women working at a shell factory raised money and bought a warplane for the air force. However, the munitionettes’ main motivation was financial, contrary to the popular belief that it was patriotic. The women found the wages “at first livable and later lucrative.” Compared with domestic work, war work “offered escape from jobs of badly paid drudgery.” However, although they earned more than they would have doing women’s work, the women received nowhere near the fortunes they had been led to expect when deciding to take war work.139

Eric Leed argues that World War I created for women “an enormously expanded range of escape routes from the constraints of the private family” because the war caused “the collapse of those established, traditional distinctions” that had restricted women. A Punch cartoon of the time shows a soldier’s wife who receives an allowance: “This war is’ eaven – twenty-five shillings a week and no ’usband bothering about!” Costello credits World War I with winning women both the vote and a “new liberation” in fashion and behavior (smoking, bobbed hair, short skirts, and hedonism). But for British women war workers in World War I, “no doubt conditions varied a lot.” Conditions worsened over time, making 1917–18 “the hardest year of the war for civilians,” especially in the pan-European 1918 influenza epidemic. Some women complained of barracks-like hostels with poor food and little heat, whereas others found accommodations clean, if crowded, and occasionally even comfortable. Most often, though, the woman war worker had “little in her life now except work and sleep.” Work shifts of 10–12 hours were “not uncommon.” Conditions in factories were, for women, an “alien environment” of deafening noise and depressing grime, encased by blacked-out windows.140

Other scholars doubt that World War I was an exhilarating, erotic release for women who took on traditionally male roles. Some women who drove “trucks, cranes, cars, and motorbikes in Britain during the war did find it thrilling,” but many others were “killed, injured, and poisoned” in munitions factories. German women in World War I “shoulder[ed] double burdens,” working at heavy machinery but still responsible for their domestic duties.141




Germany In World War I, when the expected quick victory turned to protracted war, German women entered industrial jobs (about 700,000 in munitions industries by the end of the war), and served as civilian employees in military jobs in rear areas (medical, clerical, and manual labor; women trained for jobs in the signal corps late in the war but never deployed). German women won the vote after World War I, and some kept their jobs in industry.28




Women’s peace movements In the twentieth century, the exemplary women’s peace organization is the Women’s Peace Party (WPP), founded during World War I and later renamed the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). The WPP grew out of the international women’s suffrage movement. It was catalyzed by a US tour in Fall 1914 of a Hungarian woman and a British woman (from enemy sides in the new war). The WPP women “turned a good deal of their energies, in the midst of the suffrage campaign – which they did not abandon – to address the causes and cures of war.”181

The WPP held an International Conference of Women at the Hague (Netherlands) nine months into World War I in 1915 (three months after the WPP’s founding). The conference called for mediation to end the war. Jane Addams chaired the conference, and the WPP. In spite of travel problems and government obstacles, 1,136 voting delegates from 150 organizations in 12 countries attended. The conference brought together women from enemy and neutral countries, a feat that one delegate contrasted with the failure of others: “Science, medicine, reform, labor, religion – not one of these causes has been able as yet to gather its followers from across dividing frontiers.” The participants were “a quite extraordinary group of gifted, courageous, and altruistic pioneers.” Critics, however, found “conspicuously absent … representatives of English, French, German, and Russian feminism.” Theodore Roosevelt called the meeting “silly and base.” Winston Churchill closed the North Sea to shipping, preventing most British delegates from attending. The British Admiralty also detained the US delegation’s ship – which the British press called a “shipload of hysterical women” and “feminine busybodies” – until the last minute.182

When the United States entered World War I, some feminists remained antiwar activists, but faced difficult challenges as most of their colleagues supported the war effort. The YWCA’s work supporting soldiers in World War I “strained against – and temporarily overwhelmed – its historic pacifism.” Addams’s efforts to galvanize US opposition to World War I backfired as she “alienated American public opinion by daring to question the ‘heroism’ of war.” She was “instantly accused of besmirching the heroism of men dying for ‘home, country, and peace itself.’” She argued, based on visits to military hospitals in Europe, that soldiers were not natural killers and were victims of the sheer horror of mechanized war. Her critics took this to mean she thought men incapable of heroic self-sacrifice. After 1917, Addams “was increasingly isolated” in opposing the war. She admitted moving “from the mire of self-pity to the barren hills of self-righteousness and … hat[ing] herself equally in both places.” After the war, she was branded a traitor, Communist, and anarchist. However, she won the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize.183

Addams believed that mothers would be the first to protest the slaughter of their children in war, and that “women of civilization” could help end this senseless killing. However, she did not hold a polarized gender conception of war and peace. In 1915, she dismissed the “belief that a woman is against war simply because she is a woman … In every country there are women who believe that war is inevitable and righteous; the majority of women as well as men in the nations at war doubtless hold that conviction.”184

The first woman to serve in the US Congress, Jeannette Rankin, was a pacifist who voted against US participation in both World Wars.



28 Tuten 1982, 48–49.

32 De Pauw 1998, 214–16, 207–30; Hirschfeld 1934, 110–23; Stites 1978, policy 280.

33 Botchkareva 1919, 71–136; Stites 1978, 280.

34 Botchkareva 1919, 154–71; Stites 1978, 280; White 1994, 4–5, 13; Bryant 1918, 212, 216–18.

35 Shame: Botchkareva 1919, 157, 207, 211, studio 161; Bryant 1918, 10.

36 Botchkareva 1919, began 163–64, swarming 173, 172–83, 202–5, uniforms 189, 192, 197.

37 Botchkareva 1919, sisters 207, knew 262.

38 Botchkareva 1919, adjutant 205, 208–12.

39 Bryant 1918, 212–13.

40 Botchkareva 1919, soldiers 165.

75 Treadwell 1954, 6–10, status 10; De Pauw 1998, 225–29; Hewitt 1974.

138 Hirschfeld 1934, 111–15; Wheelwright 1989, 29–36, Sandes 14–16, 147; De Pauw 1998, 212, 207–30; Bourke 1999, 294–97, 299–333.



58 Stites 1978, feathers 281; Tylee 1990, poem 258, agitating 257; Noakes 1998, resurrected 92, 183; Kent 1993, posters 27.



139 Woollacott 1994, 2, 7, belief 8, lucrative 1, drudgery 4, 10–11; Woollacott 1996; Braybon and Summerfield 1987, fortunes 57–58.

140 Leed 1979, expanded 45; Blatch 1918, bothering 56; Costello 1985, bobbed 3–4, little 156, shifts 159, grime 168; Braybon and Summerfield 1987, varied–comfortable 101–2; Woollacott 1994, 4, 8, 50–58.

141 Woollacott 1994, poisoned 209–11; Blatch 1918, burdens 81.



171 Stites 1978, major 281; Woollacott 1994, 189, factory 198; Kent 1993, true 74–96, 113.

172 Schneider and Schneider 1991, served 287–89, hello 177–87, fun 20–21, canteen 118, bobbing 135, bloodthirsty 272, feelings 280–81; Tylee 1990, 19–23; Borden: Tylee 1990, 101.

173 Schneider and Schneider 1991, devotion 156, pedestal 267, finger 158, poems 161, dress 163.

174 Blatch 1918, 11–14, 35–59, happy 54, loss 55, 60–85; Kent 1993, mad 51, soul 52.

175 Braybon and Summerfield 1987, cage ii, strain 2, 6; Tylee 1990, 7; Enloe 1989, 22.

176 Kent 1993, 4–6.

177 Braybon and Summerfield 1987, 2–7, mundane 5; WWII: Bruce 1985; Pierson 1986; Damousi and Lake eds. 1995; Edmond and Milward eds. 1986; Ayers 1988; Fishman 1991; Ås 1982; Shukert and Scibetta 1988; Winfield 1984.



181 Degen 1939; Foster 1989; Bussey and Tims 1965, grew 17; Alonso 1996; Adams 1991, 210–13, cures 211; Pois 1995; Washburn 1993, 139–42; Wiltsher 1985.

182 International Women’s Committee of Permanent Peace 1915; Costin 1982; Addams 1922; Bussey and Tims 1965, frontiers 17; Oldfield 1995, gifted 159; Stites 1978, absent 281; Oldfield 1995, busybodies 159.

183 Boulding 1992/II, 225–47; Berkman 1990; Kuhlman 1997; Jeffreys-Jones 1995, 1, 11–64; Schneider and Schneider 1991, strained 139, 139–48; Oldfield 1995, besmirching 161, isolated–places 162, 162–65; Pois 1995.

184 Oldfield 1995, 165, 167.




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