WWI and WWII were unlike any war fought by western powers before the 20th century. States no longer fought battles with small, long standing professional armies, but instead with their entire productive capabilities. This style of “total war” required countries to fine tune their production to military needs, enforce strict discipline on their larger armies, and manage their population more directly than ever before. France’s revolution started this method of war by using enormous armies conscripted from the population, when before, states had traditionally relied on volunteers from the upper classes to become soldiers. Due to the jump in average army size from less than a hundred thousand to near a million, states could now afford to spend tens of thousands of lives in single battles, rather than in entire wars. These larger armies consumed copious amounts of supplies though. General taxes could not fufil the armies needs anymore, their simply weren’t enough people and material to skim what was needed off the top of a free economy. Accordingly, during the World Wars, the involved countries made sweeping changes socially, politically, and economically in order to keep up with their armies enormous consumption. This is where the term “Home Front” comes from, relating to how the home factories were now intimately correlated with the war effort.
One of the changes made was the wide spread employment of women in factories, especially those involved directly with the war effort. With such large armies in the field, countries had difficulty maintaining adequate work forces in their factories. Traditionally women had been seen as homemakers, not wage earners. Total war changed this ideology. Women’s pay in munitions factories jumped 10% during the second world war. Interestingly, their pay in jobs women had traditionally held however, did not experience this pay raise. This shows that the war was responsible for the change in pay women received.
Changes in the workforce demographics during the second world war are enormous. In 1941, before the war, American airplane factories employed 99 men for every woman. In 1943, under two years later, women comprised 65% of the work force. 16,000,000 women in america were employed in some form of industry in 1943. This change in how women’s role was interpreted by society was entirely caused by total war straining the economies of industrialized nations.
In summary, the 20th century and popular, conscripted armies brought with it the concept of total war and the home front. Larger military supply demands and the shift in view of the home as a second front in the war caused states to utilize more of the population in production capacities, especially including women. Views of women in the workforce changed from a novelty to heroic, something to be admired. This social change then lasted past the war and became an accepted social structure.