Women In World War I

Women In World War I

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World War I is remembered as a soldier's conflict for the six million men who
were mobilized and for the high military casualties compared to civilian deaths. However, it was also a total war, where the entire nation's population was involved. Everyone contributed to the war efforts from civilians working in factories making uniforms, guns, tanks and ammunition, to families with men at the front. Probably the most prevalent group that contributed a major role in World War I, were women. They took on many responsibilities not only at the home, replacing men in offices and factories but also serving in the arm forces. More that 25,000 women served in Europe in WW I, they helped nurse the wounded, and provide food and other supplies to the military. They served as telephone operators, entertain troops and adhered to the expectations that were pressured on them from society. Their actions in World War I eventually led to the passing of the 19th amendment.
When all the men were across the ocean fighting a war for world peace, the home front soon found itself in a shortage for workers. Before the war, women mostly depended on men for financial support. But with so many gone to battle, women had to go to work to support themselves. With patriotic spirit, women one by one stepped up to do a man's work with little pay, respect or recognition. Labor shortages provided a variety of jobs for women, who became street car conductors, railroad workers, and shipbuilders. Some women took over the farms, monitoring the crops and harvesting and taking care of livestock. Women, who had young children with nobody to help them, did what they could do to help too. They made such things for the soldiers overseas, such as flannel shirts, socks and scarves.
Many factories became short-handed and had to hire women to cover the jobs. The factories were very dangerous and unhealthy, and the women were only getting paid half the wages of men. The women were not unionized because the Labor Union said that they had to hire many women to replace one man and that the skilled tasks were broken in to several less skilled tasks. They had no protection, so their lungs and skin were exposed to dangerous chemicals. Many women worked in munitions factories, where they worked with sulphur.

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The sulphur actually made their skin turn yellow. These women were given the name of ‘canaries', because people recognized them because of the importance of their job, it was not used as a term of abuse. Eventually, women started there own union, The National Women's Trade Union League, still the wages were not raised. Women had a hard time adjusting to a lot of changes, but they persevered.
Girls' as young as 16 were working as nurses. Help wanted ads for nursing increased by the day. Many young women volunteered to join the Voluntary Aid Detachment and First Nursing Yeomanry. They had very basic nursing skills but they could still help the wounded soldiers at the war zone by giving them basic medical treatment. A nurse by the name of Juliet Goodrich said, "I knew nothing about nursing and had to learn on my patients, a painful process for all concerned." The volunteers did not get paid. The First Nursing Yeomanry were in charge of driving the ambulances and running the soup kitchens for the soldiers and getting baths ready for the soldiers that had time off at the front line. Physical and Occupational Therapists were called Reconstruction Aides and saw service in the armed forces by serving in hospitals in the United States and overseas. At least three Army nurses were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, which is the nation's second highest military honor.
Florence Aby Blanchfield was one of the most respected nurse leaders. After High School Blanchfield attended the south side Hospital Training School for Nurses where she received her nursing degree in 1906.(Sheater, 41) In April 1920, she was promoted to chief nurse, later she was promoted to the relative rank of captain. Once WWI broke out, Blanchfield became superintendent of the Nursing Division of the Army Nurse Corps and was promoted lieutenant colonel in 1942.(Sheater,42) Blanchfield established a basic training center for the new inexperienced nurses. She was then given full military rank for Army nurses in 1944. She was responsible for Army nurses to gain full military rank by getting support from key government officials. Many nurses were wounded and several died overseas and are buried in military cemeteries.
Women not only enlisted in the army as nurses, but many were sworn into the U.S. Army Signals Corps as operators. In late 1917, General Pershing put at an emergency appeal in many newspapers for bilingual telephone-switchboard operators. Pershing wanted women to be sworn into the Army as an emergency need, because, he stated, women have the patience and perseverance to do long detailed work. He found that men in the Signal Corps had difficulty operating switchboards. He thought the men would serve better in the front lines stringing wires necessary for communication from the trenches to the General in command. The women operators became known as the "Hello Girls".

Women were not only asked to step up and help in the workforce, enlist as nurses but also to provide entertainment for our troops fighting overseas. Women entertained troops not only with song and dance but with lectures, readings and poetry. A soldier described seeing Sarah Willmer perform, "I shall never forget as long as I live the blessed white dress she had on the night she recited to us. We had not seen a white dress in years. There we were with our gas masks at alert, all ready to go into the line, and there she was talking to us just like a girl from home. It sure was a great sight, you bet."(Eckman,17)
During the war, women were viewed as important and respected for their part in fighting the war. Images of women on posters and postcards were provided to the men in battle for inspiration. The belief was that when a man saw the image of a woman he would be reminded of what he was fighting to protect. It would also give him a sense of comfort thinking about his loved one at home. Society also wanted women to focus on having children because with so many people dying; there would be a population decline. However, the role of women did not remain this way after the war. When the men began to return home, women were expected to return to the kitchens and hearths as before. Because of the service the women provided during World War I, it resulted in a huge push to the passing of the 19th Amendment. President Woodrow Wilson urged the Senate to reflect on the bravery of the women serving on the front and their proven abilities to replace men in offices and factories to pass the 19th Amendment. His dramatic plea asked that the Senators recognize the contributions made by American women in the war. Wilson proclaimed, "Are we alone to ask and take the utmost that our women can give, service and sacrifice of every kind, and still say we do not see what title that gives them to stand by our sides in the guidance of the affairs of their nations and ours? We have made partners of the women in this war; shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege and right?"(Collins,300)
The suffering and deaths of many American soldiers in WW I, will always be remembered and honored for their dedication and sacrifice they made for their country. The unsung heroes of WWI, the women, not only made sacrifices but also contributed to the role and rights that women have today. They must also be remembered and honored.
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