Stern, Eric

When the United States entered World War I, the majority of American men were sent overseas to defend Europe against the Central Powers. Prior to the war, women were found in the home cleaning, cooking, and caring for their children. Once men left, labor unions were adamantly opposed to women working in factories since conditions were dangerous. After all, they were doing “men’s work.” Regardless, advertisers released wartime slogans urging “Everyone… to be a helper” to attract women to these positions. Many women were placed in munitions factories to support the troops. In fact, the large demand for weapons caused these factories to be the leading employer of women. As women began to play a greater role in society, they were recruited for other jobs such as railway guards, bus and tram conductors, postal workers, police, firefighters, and clerks. From 1914 to 1918, the percentage of employed women increased from 23.6% to between 37.7% and 46.7%. As a result, women were critical to America’s success in the war. One factory manager commented on the effectiveness of female workers: “Women were… quick learners and… in some departments more efficient than men.” The Women’s Land Army of America was one organization that played a critical role in keeping the farms intact, collecting the harvests, and providing food to ship to the soldiers. While men protected the home front from danger, the women were the ones who kept the nation stable and intact.

Because a chunk of men left America to fight in World War I, women assumed roles in society that were typically held by men, creating immense social change. Before the war, women possessed little social influence; but in 1918, women proved they were capable of working in positions once dominated by men—their skill set, for the most part, was comparable to that of a male’s. Women were also forced to earn money and provide for their children—a major shift in how society functioned before the war. Consequently, World War I shattered the previous social structures as it changed the role of females and “created a lasting legacy for women.” In the years following the war, women’s rights became increasingly important among government agencies. The Committee for the Study of the Legal Status of Women was one agency that researched about women’s legal status. Organizations like these suggested that women were gradually gaining more of an importance in society. While there was some opposition concerning females in the workplace after the war, women were no longer restricted to their home’s domain, foreshadowing their future success in American society.