Women And War Essay, Research Paper
Trying to hold the homefront together while there was a war waging abroad was not an
easy task for women during World War I and II. Women were not only asked to complete the
daily chores that were normally expected of them, but they were asked to go to work. Suddenly
their very private lives were turned into a very public and patriotic cause.
Traditionally the woman’s place was thought to be in the home. She was responsible for
cooking, cleaning, taking care of the children, and looking her best. So when war broke out it
was clear that America would not be able to win either of the World War’s without the help of
their women, the “traditional” housewife and mother turned into wartime worker. This is the
same for Germany. The men realized it would not be possible for them to continue their wartime
efforts without the help and support of the Nazi women.
World War I was a turning point in American history for women. Women had to put
aside their feminist movement and class issues because their national identity was seen as more
important then their own more private issues. They were going to participate and do their best
whether or not they received recognition, and even though they put their movements aside they
still stayed organized in their women’s groups and networks.
The Nazi women are very much like the American women in some respects. At the
beginning, before the war and before Hitler took power, they felt as if Liberalism was not doing
anything for them and it wasn’t working to anyone’s advantage. “Like their male counterparts,
Nazi women expressed contempt for democracy, liberalism, individualism, and decadence.”
(Koonz 97) The women were working long, hard hours in factories with very low wages, and
they felt economically exploited. When Nazism was introduced they supported it because they
felt it was a better alternative and the women felt a sense of unity not only with themselves, but
also with the men. In some respect one could call it a sense of nationalism, much like what the
American women had during both the World War’s. The Nazi women, unlike the American
women, went through three phases as Hitler was coming to power. The first, “women struggled
shoulder to shoulder with their male comrades.” And After Hitler gained control he “ordered
employed women to relinquish their jobs and dedicate there full energies to rearing large
families.” The third phase was when they were preparing for a war and Hitler sent the women
back out to work. But throughout each of these stages the women were considered unimportant
by the Nazi men, yet crucial if they should succeed. (Koonz 97)
American women were crucial to the success for the World War’s, and they were never
considered unimportant. In fact, they were considered so important that after the first World War
they were granted suffrage as a reward for all their hard work and support during the war. After
World War I when they received their equal rights women began cutting their hair short. The
new fashion trend was both a trend and a political statement. It was a blurring of the gender lines
showing that both men and women could be considered the same and equal. Some critics found
“two aspects of the new styles particularly offensive: first, their ability to blur the boundaries of
sexual difference, causing women not only to look like men, but also to act like men, and,
second, their apparent lack of modesty.” (Roberts 74)
During the war women had adopted a minimalist style that included efficient dressing and
this style carried over after the war. These new styles were considered to be “the spirit of the
era,” and “a sign of the times.” (Roberts 72) Some “post war observers interpreted it as a visible
language for the wars social upheaval.” (Roberts 73). Actually, the post war fashion was
symbolic of the new physical mobility and freedom, not only in their dress, but also in the world
about them. The war opened up a lot of new opportunities for the American women and the
direct result of the war for women was liberation and the fashion was “a visual language of
liberation.” (Roberts 73)
When World War II broke out the government once again teamed up with industry, the
media, and women’s organizations in an effort to urge them to once again join the labor force
because once again it was a patriotic duty to do so. This feeling of nationalism once again
swooped America much the same as it swooped through Germany. Both men and women were
affected by this sense of nationalism. The men went off to fight for their country in both
Germany and America. The women not only tended to their wife and motherly roles, but they
also became the breadwinners of the family because their sons and husbands went off to war.
In Germany, the women would help the war not only by going to work, but also by
spreading Hitler’s propaganda. While the men joined the army, the women joined their
organizations that dealt with home economy and child care. The women in Germany
participated in the war in many ways they were “recruited into the military as scouts, saboteurs,
medics, communications aides, and messengers.” (Koonz 108) Women who opposed the Nazi’s
in Germany also participated in roles the Nazi soldier’s would not have guessed they would. The
women used their womanly charms to conceal illegal pamphlets hidden either on their bodies or
in something they were carrying and also to harbor Jews and others who were hunted by the
In America the women were also participating in the war efforts not only by going out to
work and performing some of the jobs men used to do, but also as nurses alongside the men in
battle. They also participated as administrators, clerical worker’s, driver’s, and Nurse’s Aids.
Both the Nazi and American women were very important to their countries during the
war, but the American women were treated with a greater respect for their efforts. They were not
seen only as motherly helpers as the Nazi women were sometimes viewed by the Soldier’s.
Instead they were seen as concerned helpful people, although, not equal to the men. After each
war it seems the American women gained a little more in a sense of equality then the Nazi
The development of wartime economy had given women more freedom than they ever
had before. Though they did face some discrimination in the workplace, and would face much
more in the future, it could be considered minimal compared to what it had been pre-World War
II. For the first time, women were able to experience some sort of social and economic mobility.
Suddenly women were faced with choices, one’s that had not previously been there before the
World War’s, and by exercising these choices they were able to explore their own independence
One thing is for certain, the effects of the World War’s would be felt for years to come. Women
in every country and on either side of the war, had experienced new opportunities, a sense of
independence, and were experiencing their own individuality. The war allowed women to make
decisions, and it gave them a chance to fight for their right’s. And there is no doubt that the
consequences of the World War’s (discrimination, job cuts, wage inequalities) led to the
development of many of the civil rights movement’s of the 1950’s.
Koonz, Claudia, “Mothers in the Fatherland.” Course Packet Pages 95-109.
Roberts, Mary Louise, “Women are Cutting their Hair as a Sign of Sterility,” from Civilization without Sexes.
Course Packet Pages 71-86.
Robinson-Dunn “The French Resistance and World War II” S.U.N.Y. at Stony Brook University. April 13, 2000.
Robinson-Dunn “Women and Fascism” S.U.N.Y. at Stony Brook University. April 11, 2000.
Robinson-Dunn “Women and World War I” S.U.N.Y. at Stony Brook University. April 4, 2000.