History of Women’s Changing Roles During Wartime

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This museum exhibit focuses on the topic of women during war time.  This includes how the roles of what women were typically able to do changed throughout these eras and will also include what women thought about what was going on. This project will cover from around the time of the First World War to modern warfare. The exhibit will be set up chronologically for the wars themselves; however, similar sources will be grouped together for each war. The eras that will be covered are World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Iraq War. The roles and jobs of women during war time have changed drastically since World War I. The women at this time have gone from taking over the male jobs that were left behind in factories and becoming workers outside of the household, to working as nurses, with some even gaining full military status in World War II.  This all eventually leads to women in the last fifteen years being legally allowed to take up active duty combat roles. The jobs that women had made an enormous difference to society and gave the US military the ability to be so successful throughout history.

One of the largest contributions that women could make during World War I and II was being hired in factories by the government to make supplies for the military.  The government during these times ran a successful campaign of propaganda in order to show women that it was okay to work in factories and help build planes to send across the sea. This worked in the government’s favor, because it made more men available to fight and they could pay women a lot less than they would pay men for the same work. The most famous example of this being “Rosie the Riveter,” who empowered women to work. During World War II women’s jobs were also expanding into working for the military in their own branch known as the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps.  Some of these women were overseas helping the war effort in a non-combat form, which also gave members full military status. Women who before the war had already gained their pilot’s license could join the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs.  They would test planes and transport cargo, which in turn made it possible for more men to join the front lines and not have to stay back to work non-combatant roles.

In the Vietnam war many women both helped the cause and became army nurses. These nurses were some of the first women to get close to actual combat and were not kept away from the danger completely.  Women during this war showed bravery and patriotism for their work to protect and help the injured, even if it meant their own lives were being put in danger in the process. However, other women were also taking a different side in the war and joining the antiwar movements to fight against the draft. They argued against the moral reasons of fighting and dying in a war that was not our own problem, since we could have stayed out of it. Women were joining the opposition when they were continuing to see men that they cared about going off to fight and even die in a brutal and bloody war. They had peaceful marches to try to keep their husbands and sons out of the fighting.

In more recent times women’s roles in the military have theoretically become almost equal to men’s roles.  Now they are even able to join the front line, that way they will not be kept away from the main fighting. This is because the nature of war has now become so different, since the front and the back lines are starting to blur together, with women seeing fighting and danger even before this rule was passed. There are still very few women who hold these positions, as they still must be able to pass the same fitness tests that the men must in order to prove that they can hold their own with their male counterparts. Women are starting to slowly be allowed to join sectors of the military that were never available to them before.  This has made a difference to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, because many women in these countries would not speak to male soldiers due to religious limitations and husbands who keep them away from foreign men. This means that before women could be on the front lines, the US was not even able to effectively communicate with a large part of the population; however, a female soldier has a better chance of not offending their beliefs and cultures.

This topic is significant to US History since 1877, because if women did not play the vital roles that they did throughout history, then the US’s resources would have been spread too thin, and the government would not have been able to send as many men to go fight because they would need them to continue to still work in the factories. Without these women the US might not have all the same outcomes that it did across history in order to become the powerhouse that it is today.