By Nicole Schabot
Introduction: Background on women’s roles before women’s rights movements
Women, the people of constant battle, fighting to prove their equality to men. Since the beginning of time women have been seen as less, as weaker, incapable of what a man can do. Men were hunters, while women gathered, men the providers, the protectors. The roles of women have always been very clear; house work and raising children but never to be involved in war. It was very common for women to practice medicine but up until relatively recently they could not have a medical license. For centuries, women walked side by side with their spouses, helped them with their professions and decisions, but received little to most likely no credit. Before the women’s rights movements started, women did the same amount of work as men but were not considered to be working because they were not paid for their labor. Until World War One women had very little to no involvement in war, however this war served as the jumpstart women needed to finally get involved, changing war forever.
Women in the civil war
As a result of being seen as weak or incapable of what a man does, until World War One women did not take part in the war fighting wise. Women having an effect on war actually originated in the South during the Civil War. A woman of an elite ranking would have had more influence than a woman of a poorer class. An example of this is where women of elite class were able to voice their opinion for the first time and with so many men going to war they began to fill positions usually only held by men. At this time in America, a woman being able to do these things was an enormous step in the right direction. Not only that but many women talked their husbands into going to war, soldiers were needed to fight s and if the women had not forced their husbands to go by threatening their manhood and honor there never would not have been enough soldiers. In a way, at this time, women could be described as the hidden masterminds because they were not yet openly in the war but they were controlling certain parts of it. That is, until they began to act as the nurses for the war. For the first time in American history women were on or at least close to the battle field. They weren’t fighting yet but they were there, they were seen and they were making a difference in the war.
Women in WW1
When America joined World War One little did they know this would close the gap between men and women even more. Once as large as the Grand Canyon it was now shrinking to the mere size of a lake. When America joined World War One they also increased the number of naval ships from 300 to 1,000. This drastic increase in ships required the navy to find more people to man them, with men already on ships and in the military and air force, the army became desperate for more man power. In an attempt for more recruits, the army made a new Navel act, little did they realize but they had just opened up the navy for female recruits. This was a result of a loop hole in the Naval Act where it stated “All persons who may be capable of performing special useful service for coastal defense”. It does not specify gender and states, “all persons” meaning that all the women had to do was be capable of performing a useful and special service for the navy. That could be any number of things but what exactly those things were would be determined later. This one line is what made the difference for women. Women had been given their shot and they took it.
On March 19, 1917 it became official, women could join the navy! This was an enormous accomplishment, all because of an overlooked loop hole in the Naval Act. Immediately women began to sign up, they did in fact have to pass the same conditioning as men but that was a small step in comparison to what they would do next. The navy was unprepared for the women, they had no housing or uniforms not even a name. It was decided that women being in the army was only temporary. Women in the navy would be referred to as Yeomen (F). If a woman was recruited she had to find a place to live near base and would also have to assemble her own uniform. The uniforms consisted of; white or blue, a single breast jacket over a skirt that’s hem had to be 4 inches above the ankle and flat brimmed hats.
Having to find their own housing and piece together their own uniform seemed small to the yeomen (F). They were finally given roles in the Navy! The variety of roles that Yeomen (F) played was huge. Some entertained the soldiers, others helped heal them and some were even truck drivers. Not to mention how they were also; radio operators, stenographers, messengers, and munition makers. However, they were still not yet fighting in the war.
Sadly this was not the war that they received this opportunity. In 1919 The Naval Appropriations Act was enacted, the purpose was to start to slowly pull women out of the army. It was not that the Yeomen (F) were not doing what they were supposed to, no, it was because once again men believed women to be a minority and that they did not belong in war. In the span of two years all the Yeomen (F) had been dispatched, the last yeomen (F) on record to be dispatched was somewhere in March of 1921. At the time this might have seemed like two steps forward with one step back. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Women in World War Two
After the yeomen (F) were dispatched some did not go back to being the cookie cutter version of women, women had had a taste of equality and now the fire was finally fully set. When World War Two came around women were ready and finally the army was ready for them. Not only did women serve in the Navy but this time they also had a women’s Army Corps and the Women Auxiliary Air Squadron (a women’s air force). This was huge, this time the army was prepared for them and it was not a loop hole that had let these women in, finally women were in the army and here to stay.
With so many men and women out at war, factory positions were left open, these were filled by more women and helped supply the army with the materials they needed to fight in the war. This brought about a lot of propaganda but also a lot of feminism. Women felt stronger about themselves, they had begun to prove that they could do what men did. One piece of propaganda used to originally get women into the factories but then keep them there once the war ended was of a women flexing her bicep and a caption of “We can do it!” above it, the women wore a determined face and her flexed muscle showed the strength women possessed.
After World War Two ended and the men came home to reclaim their positions in the factories, women were once again expected to just go back to their old lives, give up their job and all the strength they had just worked so hard for. Some, once again, did go back but some didn’t. Women had come too far to just give it all up and the women that saw this fought for what they had already earned. Women began to take on more jobs, jobs of a wider variety. Because of this, the field of science was finally open to women. Finally, women had taken a huge leap forward and no steps back.
Women in the army today
Women are now fully in the army, in every field and not only that but their roles in the US have changed. The result of women finally taking control in World War One and Two not only affect their roles in war but also in everyday life. Women are no longer seen as such a minority, they still are a minority in many ways but definitely not as much as they were in the beginning of the 19th century. Stay at home moms have become much more scarce, single moms are respected and women fill the work field, working side by side with men. This is huge, just one hundred years ago this would have been seen as impossible yet here it is. Women are finally fighting side by side with men. The world took huge leaps toward gender equality and it all truly started in World War One when women took a leap of faith. There is a lot more to be done and we are still far from equal but if women continue to take leaps of faith and fight to prove themselves, like the yeomen (F), the world will surly get there.
(Patch, Nathaniel. “The Story of the Female Yeomen during the First World War”, National Achieves, http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2006/fall/yeoman-f.html, accessed on October tenth, 2014).
(Bryant, Joyce. “How War Changed the Role of Women in the United States”, Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/2002/3/02.03.09.x.html, accessed on October seventeenth, 2014).
(Frank, Lisa. “Women during the Civil War”, NGE, http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/women-during-civil-war, accessed on October seventeenth, 2014).
(“World War I era Yeomen (F) Uniforms – Blue Jacket & Skirt, Shirt Collar closed with a Tie”, Naval History and Heritage, Image: “Chief Yeoman (F) McBride”, U.S. NHHC Photograph, http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/prs-tpic/females/yeof-a.htm, accessed on October twenty-first, 2014)
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(“Should Women Be Allowed To Fight In Combat?”, Sodahead, Image: “Female Soldier”, Nabael, http://www.sodahead.com/united-states/should-women-be-allowed-to-fight-in-combat/question-2690799/?page=3, accessed on October twenty-first, 2014)