Baylor College Medical School

At War on the Home Front by Edward F. Dolan- How did the role of women in American society change as a result of World War I?

No mater how divided they had been, once the United States entered the war, people at home quickly got to work providing the materials needed for the fighting. Crowding into factories all across the country, they began to produce everything from munitions to uniforms. Before the war ended, they had turned out, among other equipment, a half-million rifles, 3.5 billion bullets, and 20 million artillery shells.

One of the most important home-front tasks was to grow food, not only for the soldiers overseas and stateside but also for America's families and the people of the beleaguered Allied nations. Thousands of men and women went to work on farms, increasing the nation's agricultural output by 25 percent. To make sure that the growing food supply was not wasted, the government urged the conservation of food. Everyone was asked to save leftovers for future meals. "Meatless Tuesdays" and "Porkless Thursdays" were introduced. Children were reminded to be "patriotic to the core" when eating apples and to waste nothing.

Another major task for those left at home was the contraction of the ships needed to carry soldiers, equipment, and foodstuffs overseas. The government launched a hug he shipbuilding program that eventually employed 350,000 workers in 341 shipyards. These workers produced hundreds of merchant vessels at a blinding rate of speed. On July 4, 1918, alone, ninety-five new ships were launched.

By 1918 the war was costing $44 million a day. To raise the needed money, the government increased tax and embarked on a program of Liberty Loans. Under the loan program, Americans could purchase government bonds for a few dollars or, when children bought them, a few cents. The government promised to repay the loans at a later date and to add a profit in the form of interest. Liberty Loan campaigns brought in a total of more than $21 billion in sales.

Unfortunately, despite all the fine work and spirit going into the war effort, thee was an ugly side to life on the home front. The nation's German Americans became the victims of a hate-inspired hysteria that gripped the United States immediately before the war and that lasted throughout it. This hysteria led to a variety of injustices. The teaching of the German language was banned in many thigh schools and universities. Eggs and garbage were thrown at some German American homes. Worst of all, a number (thankfully small) of innocent Germans were physically beaten, and one man was lynched by a drunken mob.

Some German Americans changed their names for safety's sake. Also changed were the names of things that hd their origins in the German language. Hamburger steak and the German measles were rechristens "Liberty steak" and "Liberty measles." The dachshund dog was given the new name "Liberty pup."

Congress passed the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, both aimed against possible spying and sabotage activities. Both were triggered in part by the anger of the times and in part by the valid worry that some German Americans (and others opposed to the war) might attempt to harm or slow the nation's home-front effort. About 1,900 cases were tried under the acts, although most of them came to nothing.

The hysteria was a waste of time and energy. The vast majority of German Americans were loyal citizens, and thousands of young German American men joined the armed forces and fought overseas.


America's women were at work everywhere during World War I. They labored on the home front and overseas. They took jobs on the nation's farms, in factories, and shipyards, and served in its military forces.

Approximately a million women filled the vacancies left by the men who were now in uniform. Many were young girls who previously worked in local shops and department stores or who had never worked before. Many were wives who had once worked, but had left their jobs to raise families.

Women on the farms were nicknamed "farmerettes" by the press. In the factories and shipyards, they served mainly as clerks, secretaries, typists, and bookkeepers.

World War I also marked an important "first" for American women. For the first time in the nation's history, women were permitted to join the armed forces. Some 13,000, known as "Yeomanettes," enlisted in the navy to do clerical work stateside. Nearly 300 entered the marine corps as clerks and won the name "Marinettes." More than 230 women traveled to France as part of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. There, they served as telephone operators for the American Expeditionary Force (AEF).

But they were not the only ones to travel overseas. Some 11,000 women, although not actual members of the armed forces, served abroad (as well as at home) as nurses; others became ambulance drivers. Women were also among the 6,000 Red Cross workers who sailed to France.

About 3,500 women served in the cafeterias and recreation facilities that the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) operated in England, France, and Russia. Members of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) also provided services for women overseas and at home. More than fifty women of the Society of Friends (the Quakers) tended wounded soldiers on the western front and helped to feed and clothe civilians who lost their homes in the fighting.

Two group of American women also served on the western front before the United States entered the war. One group was made up of the wives and daughters of American diplomats who we're stationed in Europe at the time the fighting erupted in 1914. They tended to the needs of families left homeless by the fighting. The other was a unit of ambulance drivers---the American Ambulance in Paris---formed by women living in France.

Like the men of the AEF, the 25,000 American women who served overseas risked death, disease, and injury. An estimated 348 lost their lives. Some were killed in air raids and artillery bombardments. Others died or were left debilitated by the diseases and disorders bred by the filthy and worse-than-primitive conditions along the western front.

The exact number of women who were injured is unknown. There are individual stories, however, that leave no doubt as to the seriousness of some of the injuries. When a hand grenade accidentally exploded near her, a writer and Red Cross worker sustained wounds that kept her hospitalized for two years. A woman doctor caught in a gas attack suffered burned lungs. A study conducted in the 1920s revealed that, among the women injured in the war, at least 200 were permanently disabled.


4. How did the role of women in American society change as a result of World War I?

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Basically women took over roles that men previously occupied. THey worked on the nation's farms, in factories, and shipyards, and served in its military forces.

Approximately a million women filled the vacancies left by the men who were now in uniform. Women were not only caregivers for children but worked in munitions factories, farms...They also tended to the needs of families left homeless by the fighting.