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In this paper, I will analyze U.S. women’s efforts in combat during WWII and their immediate impact. Through the examination of articles, academic research, films, and memoirs, I will unveil a variety of non-traditional roles of women in the war industry during WWII, which aided efforts towards gender equality. The unrecognized work of women in military industries during WWII challenged women’s traditional roles and paved the way for women in male dominated career fields. Historians like Dianne Fisher argue that women played significant roles in WWII in the war industry.
She emphasizes the roles women had as military employees, but does not recognize the hidden roles U.S. women played on secret projects.
While scholars such as Kelly Keith, reveal the sentiments towards U.S. women in the secret services. Scholars have struggled with providing a complete analysis of U.S. women’s roles in different sectors within the war industry during WWII. Women made a significant step towards gender equality out of necessity during WWII.
Due to the high demand for men in the armed services, women were vital in filling male dominated roles such as weapons manufacturing, military forces, and secret projects. Through their success they were able to assist in the war effort and expand the rationale for having women in male dominated workforces. In order to examine U.S. women’s efforts towards combat in WWII , I will analyze laws, executive orders, advertisements, reports, and interviews from 1941-1948.
Since the focus of my thesis is women’s efforts in the U.
S. during WWII and their immediate impact on the U.S., I will only examine the history of American women during WWII until the end of the 1940’s decade. To demonstrate women’s impact on WWII, I will limit my research to women in the war industry. This includes women in the military force, manufacturing, and secret projects realm. Women served in non-combat roles that were often filled by men since there was a high demand for military personnel in the army, navy, airforce, coast guard, and marines. Their action in these fields during war times eventually led to the official acceptance of women in the military in non-combat roles. Some of the first efforts of including women in the military can be seen throughout executive orders and laws encouraging the inclusion of women. On May15th, 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC, later WAC for Women’s Army Corps).
This program allowed women to join the army in non combat roles with a limit of 100 units and 25,000 total participants. A few months later women’s opportunities in the military in non combat roles expanded through the amendment of the Naval Act Reserve of 1938. The amendment established July 30th, 1942 established a women’s reserve. The main purpose of this amendment was to be able to replace men’s naval roles at the shore with women so men could be released for duty at sea. The U.S. saw a total of 350,000 women join military forces during WWII. In Fieseler, Hampf, and Schwarzkopf’s analysis of “Gendering Combat: Military Women’s Status in Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union during the Second World War, “ they claim that the U.S. dispute over women in the army began before the war.
After 1940 Selective Service Law was established, there was pressure to include women in the army. However, the U.S. avoided this through encouraging women to fill the domestic roles that men usually held in the military so men could go overseas. Women involved in programs such as WAAC did not receive equivalent military rank or benefits until there was a law establishing a Women’s Army Corps in the Army on July 1st, 1943. The Navy soon followed and developed the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), along with the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve (MCWR), and the Coast Guard (SPAR). The Dianne Fisher notes in “Trail Blazers: US World War II Military Women,” that the campaign for women’s enlistment faced some backlash within the military. Several men in the military began rumors that women who enlisted were either sexually promiscuous or lesbians in an effort to deter women from serving.
However, several military chiefs opposed this kind of behavior and administered statements clarifying that they do not tolerate those rumors. According to James Robert in “They Also Served” women who served in WAC were able to serve in missions overseas, primarily in England and the Southwest Pacific region (SWPA). However, women were not assigned the same task as men overseas. They often held roles such as photographic interpreter, censors and cryptographers. Women in SWPA were also limited to the amount of time they could spend outside of the camp. Although women faced adversity in all branches of the military, women in the Women Airforce Service Pilots Program (WASP) were able to experience some of the same things male pilots experienced.
This program lasted for two years from 1942 to 1944 and consisted of over one thousand women. Throughout those two years those women received the same pilot training as men in Sweetwater, Texas, learned how to reassemble plane engines, Morse code, mathematics, and how to navigate a all kinds of aircraft. However, when the program ended in 1944 the women who participated in it got no recognition or thanks for their service. Although many women did not receive recognition after their service, they were allowed into the military permanently after WWII. In 1948 the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act was signed by Harry Truman which allowed women to have a permanent job in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and the Airforce during peace times. However, the amount of women allowed into the regular military forces were limited and at the discretion of each branch. Many women also assisted military efforts on the homefront by filling manufacturing jobs, which allowed the U.S. to succeed. Since many men were drafted, women took their place at the homefront with a main focus in the war manufacturing industry. The encouragement of all peoples in the war industry can be seen throughout a variety of domestic documents. For instance, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared an end to discrimination in the war industry in Executive Order 8820.
The Executive order on June 25, 1941 reaffirmed full participation in the defense program of all persons regardless of race, creed, color, or natural origin. This executive order demanded the end of discrimination in governmental agencies and governmental contracted agencies. Along with the development of the Committee on Fair Employment Practice in the Office of Production Management. Women held a variety of task in the war industry which were vital to the U.S. war efforts. Some of the jobs women held involved handling heavy machinery, assembling weapons in governmental arsenals, assembling aircraft parts, and testing the products. However, women were not replacing men’s jobs, they were merely substituting them while they were at war.
Although women held similar manufacturing jobs that men usually held, they did not receive the same kind of pay for their work. In January 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the National War Labor Board (NWLB), and women soon requested the board for equal wages. On April 29th, 1943 a federal excerpt was released upon their request that recommended wage rate adjustments for women. This excerpt requested equal pay for equal work in General Motors Corporation, United Automobile, Aircraft and Agricultural Implement Workers of America–C.I.O., and United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, C.I.O. Dina Shatnawi and Price Fishback’s . “The Impact of World War II on the Demand for Female Workers in Manufacturing,” study found that regardless of how you measure demand, the demand for female production workers in Pennsylvania increased during WWII and post-war.
The overall shift in demand increased by 50 log points from 1941-1944. This did fall after war, but still remained 16-23 log points higher than the demand for female production workers in the 1920’s. Earnings overall for men and women increased after 1941. The demand and supply for both salaried female workers and female production workers increased during the war, and subsequently fell after the war. These shifts in demand were seen across all manufacturing sectors, but the rise in demand for female salaried workers was equivalent to the demand in the 1920’s. Thus, indicating that the war did not have as significant of an impact on the demand for female salary workers as it did for female production workers. However, the rise in demand for female salary workers during WWII was significant in relation to the demand for male salary workers. The plan to overwhelm enemies through mass production in the U.S. was achieved by women. Women from all kinds of backgrounds came together to make up to 88,000 tanks, 7,333 ships, 20 million guns, and 43 billion bullets.
Many of the manufacturing jobs they held were dangerous since they had to deal with products such as gunpowder which could potentially kill them.Throughout the first 16 months of war 12,00 men in service died, but 64,000 manufacturing workers died from on the job accidents. The A&E film segment on women in manufacturing jobs during WWII credits women for their efforts in assisting the U.S. in logistically winning the war through mass production. Another role women played throughout WWII was in the secret projects realm. Women worked on secret projects in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the Manhattan Project, the Philadelphia Computing Services, and many others. Since these projects were secret, many of their efforts went unrecognized.
The OSS was developed as an effort to execute acts such as espionage, sabotage, and other unamerican practices. It was managed by General William Donovan and consisted of a total of 1300 employees at its peak. The majority of the women 4500 who served in the OSS had office jobs like secretaries and code breakers. However, 38 women served under Special Operations, the Operational Group, and the Maritime Unit. The U.S. employed privileged women who had previous experience with the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), and spoke a foreign language. Women in the OSS were not trained at the OSS training camps like men, and were instead trained at the headquarters. However, women such as Virginia Hall, who had previously served the SOE had received similar training to U.S. men through the SOE. Virginia Hall was spy abroad for the U.S. Special Operations Unit during March-September of 1944.
Hall worked in German occupied France and trained the French resistance. Her work not only consisted of her spying, but involved sabotaging missions of enemy troops, installations, and communications. Hall was the only American woman and the first civilian to receive the Distinguished Service Cross during. Although President Truman wanted to publicly celebrate Hall, the OSS held a private ceremony to recognize her since she wanted to continue her work in secret services. Along with women who worked undercover, women also worked as the masterminds behind special federal projects. Some of the most influential projects were the Manhattan Project and the Philadelphia Computing Services (PCS). Lilli Hornig was an immigrant from Czechoslovakia who eventually became a chemist.
She was married a scientist, Don Hornig, who was invited to participate in a secret project known as the Manhattan Program. Lilli was highly involved in the project and signed the Los Alamos petition to destruct the bomb rather than drop it on Japan. While women who worked under the PCS were college students at the University of Pennsylvania who were enlisted by the army for assistance with mathematics. Math allowed for the improvement of weapon accuracy. With the lack of men on the homefront, the army sought the mathematical minds of young women. They even recruited female seniors from local high schools to get involved.
They were first known as human computers, and eventually aided in the programing of computers towards the end of their project. Their mathematical skills made it possible for the weapons that were being assembled by women in manufacturing and potentially being used by women in the military to be accurate. The fight for gender equality has gone through many battles including WWII. Due to the high demand for men in the armed services, women were vital in filling male dominated roles such as weapons manufacturing, military forces, and secret projects. Their success can be seen through executive orders, new legislation, and commemorative memoirs. Not only were women’s roles during WWII significant towards the U.S. success abroad, but they also developed a more equal society domestically.
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