From 1939 – 1945, World War II changed many peoples’ lives. Several of the major countries worldwide, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, China, and the United States were involved in this conflict. Not only did men help to fight this war, but women also played a big role. They fought, worked as nurses, and performed many other jobs to help during wartime. Women were extremely influential, executing many tasks that helped the U.S. win the war. Women in World War II changed the entire outcome of the war.
World War II was a time of great distress for many people. The war began in Europe on September 1, 1939, when Adolf Hitler broke through Polish defenses. Hitler wanted Germany to expand, and believed that war was the only way to gain the space needed to do so. On December 7, 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, a naval base in Hawaii. This was the first time America was bombed on United States soil, and caused the United States to declare war on Japan in retaliation. The island was ruined, hundreds of ships were sunk, and many people died. The war grew larger and larger between the Allies – France, Great Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, and China – and the Axis Powers – Germany, Italy, and Japan. World War II, a long battle between the two groups, caused many deaths. Around 40,000,000 – 50,000,000 died while fighting to protect their countries. It didn’t matter the differences in the appearance of the people. People of nearly every race, color, and gender were killed. Huge amounts of destruction occurred within an extremely short time period.
It was a long road for women to get involved in the military. Many people did not believe that women having their own branch in the military would help the war. One of these people was General George Marshall, whose view on the idea presented to Congress was extremely valuable. Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers, who both wished to have a women’s branch in the military, helped to convince General George Marshall to include this branch. Marshall, with help from these women, realized that his forces only had a few thousand military nurses, and just more than one million enlisted men. The need for soldiers outweighed his and the military’s concern about women serving, and he became less opposed to the idea of giving the women their own branch in the military. Rogers was one step ahead. In late May 1941, Rogers presented a bill to Congress. She originally wanted to give the women full military status, the same pay, disability protection, and rights as the men, but she was not able to secure that. In the early summer of 1941, Congress referred the bill to a committee who did not act on it. Rogers, Marshall, and Roosevelt paused for a while, trying to come up with another plan for the bill. When Pearl Harbor took place on December 7, 1941, the effort to have the women’s branch in the military was sped up. Rogers reintroduced a similar bill to Congress on December 24, 1941, and on May 14, 1942, this bill was approved by the Senate, and signed by President Roosevelt the next day. The bill created a women’s branch in the military called the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, or WAAC. Women had entered the United States Army as soldiers for the first time in American history.
Oveta Culp Hobby became the first leader of the WAAC, and she helped to get the recruiting going quickly. The United States created a propaganda campaign to get women to join the army, which was known as Rosie the Riveter. Rosie was a made up woman, who would appear in different forms, as an extremely masculine figure in movies, newspapers, posters, photographs, articles, and more. Rosie stressed the need of women in the workforce, and encouraged people who stayed at home to help the military by working in factories. Women, in order to help without actually going to battle, would also be able to become part of the United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. If women chose to be part of this organization, they could be photographers, parachute riggers, cooks, control tower operators, or auto mechanics. They could drive trucks, repair airplanes and test fly them, work as laboratory technicians, serve as radio operators, or train gunners by acting as flying targets. Women did this all so that men would be free to go to fight in the war. Whether helping the military be through growing gardens (victory gardens) so canned food could be given to the soldiers, or joining the military on their own, women jumped at the opportunity. Women came in large numbers to join the workforce. If they were not working from home, or in the military, women were hired in factories in order to free men up to fight in the war.
Many people were not happy that women were getting their own branch in the military, and that women were enlisting so fast. Religious leaders criticized the new WAACs. The time magazine reported in June of 1942: “The rush of enlistments in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs) has perturbed the Roman Catholic pulpit and press.” One bishop told his congregation “he hoped no Catholic women would join the WAACs, as it was opposed by teachings and principles of the Roman Catholic Church.” A Catholic periodical in Brooklyn said that the WAACs were “no more than an opening wedge, intended to break down the traditional American and Christian opposition to removing women from the home and to degrade her by bringing back the pagan female goddess of deserved, lustful sterility.” Many different rumors were made. One was that “women were prostitutes in uniform, and were there to service the men.” People were infuriated that “feminine” figures were getting to do “masculine” jobs.
However, once it became known that women were able to successfully create their own branch in the military, four other military branches were created. Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), was created in July 1942; Semper Paratus, Always Ready (SPAR), was created in November 1942; the Female Marines were created in February 1943; and the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) were created in August 1943, when the Women’s Auxiliary Ferry Squadron (WAFS) and the Women’s Flying Training Detachment merged. This time, however, the WAVES, SPAR, and Marines were members of the military, not auxiliaries to it. The WAAC and WASP were still civilians serving with the army, along with the Army and Navy nurses. The Army and Navy nurses were the only branches in the military before the WAAC. The Army Nurse Corps was created in 1901, and the Navy Nurse Corps was created in 1908.
Each of the women’s branches in the military were different. The Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps, or WAAC, was later upgraded and renamed the Women’s Army Corps, or WAC, the word auxiliary taken out of the name. The WAC did gain full military status when the branch was upgraded to WAC from WAAC. Alyce Dixon, at age 37, became a member of the WAC, who helped to deliver mail to sweethearts in the military. This was a hard task because most of the time she went to deliver mail, the soldier was already dead. This put her life in danger, as she was in the front lines without any weapons. The mail that Alyce was not able to deliver would be sent back to the family member who had sent the letter – deceased. Being part of the WAC was a hard job, both physically, mentally, and emotionally.
The Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP, did not have full military status until 1977, 4 years after this branch was created. The WASP were largely unrecognized for the work they did during World War II. The WASP would ferry planes from factories to bases, transporting cargo during World War II, or be part of simulation strafing, when low flying aircrafts attack low targets on the ground, or participate in dog fights. WASP would fly approximately 60,000,000 miles in flight distances, which helped to free male U.S. pilots for active duty in World War II. More than 1,000 WASP served in World War II, and 38 of them lost their lives. Betty Tackaberry Blake was a WASP during World War II, who did not lose her life serving. The WASP that lost their lives during the war did not receive any military benefits or honors, until 70 years after the WASP were broken up as an organization. On March 10, 2010, they received the Prestigious Congressional Gold Medal, which is one of the highest civilian honors. Over 200 former pilots attended the event at which the medal was awarded. This event was extremely important because women, after 70 years, were finally recognized for the work that they did to help the country.
The Women Accepted for Volunteer Service, WAVES, were an extremely important branch of women in the military. They had equal status to naval reservists, and helped to fight during the war. Gunnery was a job which many women in the WAVES would take on. Susan Ahn Cuddy, who joined the WAVES at age 27, was one of these women. Susan was the first woman gunner officer. Women like Susan helped to change the world, inspiring other young women to be brave and help change the world in whatever way they could.
The Army Nurse Corps (ANC) and Navy Nurse Corps (NNC) were unbelievably important during the war. These were the only two womens’ branches in the military before the WAAC was created. The nurses helped wounded soldiers, a very dangerous job. Sometimes, nurses would have to do their job on an open battlefield, while the battle was going on. A lot of the time, nurses themselves would wind up dead. The wounds that nurses treated often got infected, unless the infection could somehow be prevented. However, the nurses had very little space to work. The living conditions as a nurse were cold, uncomfortable, and tremendously cramped. Dorothy and Ellan Levitsky were both nurses in the ANC. The sisters refused to let one serve in the army without the other. Jane Kendeigh was a nurse in the NNC. The nurses in World War II were not given enough recognition for what they helped with during the war. Without these women, a colossal amount of soldiers would have died from their battle wounds.
One of the most underlooked jobs of World War II was codebreaking. Codebreaking was remarkably important in WWII. Most of the codebreakers were women, because most men were more interested in fighting than codebreaking. There were over 10,000 American codebreakers in WWII. In Liza Mindy’s book, “Code Girls,” she wrote about the experience of the code breaking women. Liza interviewed 20 WWII codebreakers in person, and found boxes of records to get the most accurate information for her book as possible. Liza writes, “With codes, you have to be prepared to work for months – for years – and fail.” Many times, their efforts went unrewarded. Genevieve Grotjan was a brilliant woman and codebreaker. Genevieve graduated summa cum laude from the University of Buffalo in 1939. Her search for a job as a math teacher was unsuccessful, as no universities were willing to hire women. So, instead, Grotjan began working for the government to help calculate pensions. William Friedman, seeing the work that Grotjan was doing as brilliant, hired Genevieve to help him work on the purple machine, which was a cryptography machine. Genevieve had the flash of insight that lead to the breakthrough of this machine. Genevieve, like other women codebreakers, did not get enough credit for what she did. Codebreakers worked for an exceptionally large amount of time, trying time and time again to break different codes, and most of the time, they did not succeed. Virginia D. Aderholt was different. Virginia was the first American that knew WWII had ended, having deciphered an intercepted code from the Japanese transmission to the neutral Swiss which agreed to an unconditional surrender. Once Virginia broke the code, it was rushed to President Harry S. Truman, and on August 14, 1945, the announcement was made. World War II was finally over. Virginia, however, was given very little credit for deciphering the code in the first place.
The amount of strength that these women had to get through their jobs was extraordinary. However, even with the amount of courage, and guts it took for women to step up to the job, the treatment of women in the military was terrible. Women, though they should have, did not receive equal pay to the the men in the military. They got half the amount men did, even if they were doing the same jobs. Homosexual women were at a large disadvantage, because if it was discovered that they were homosexual, they would be kicked out of the military. Not only this, but they would be sent to secret camps, where they would be experimented on with “medicines” to try to change their sexuality to make them “normal.” These medicines, a lot of the time, would permanently mess up the women’s brains. Once people realized that they could not be “fixed,” they would occasionally test on the women with poison gases. Many people were not keen on the idea of women joining the military, yet, when they did, they changed the entire outcome of the war.
Women played major roles in World War II, working as codebreakers, volunteers, pilots, nurses, or members of the different women’s branches in the military. Women had a much more significant impact on the war than most people recognize. Women were able to do many things to improve the outcome of the war. They took on jobs in order to free the schedules of men so they would be able to fight in the war themselves, while they were having an extreme impact by decoding, helping the injured, fighting from planes, ships, or the ground. Each woman played an important and different part in the war. Without Virginia, or any of the other American women decoders, the United States might not have discovered that World War II was over until later, due to the face that not as many men worked in the codebreaking department. It is important to realize that men did not do all of the work during World War II. Realizing this allows people to see the women’s perseverance through discrimination and everything that was done to them. It shows equality, and it gets people to learn that women are just as capable as men are. Women in World War II did not get enough recognition for the work they did for our country. These women influenced other young women to become leaders, and to keep fighting for equality and freedom every step of the way. These women, were trailblazers.
Did you like this example?
Women in World War 2. (2022, Sep 28).Retrieved August 27, 2023 , from