March is Women’s History Month. A month in which we honor the women in our families, communities, and the world. How are you honoring the women in your family who lived during World War II? It doesn’t matter if one of your female ancestors served in the military or Red Cross. All women participated in the war effort at home and overseas. It is imperative we capture their stories. The war was not won by men alone.
Women’s Roles at the Start WWII
Prior to World War II, the primary roles of women were homemakers, mothers, wives, and daughters. Their main job was to stay home and take care of the family, and run the household. The man’s role was to go into the workforce and bring home the paycheck. This isn’t to say women did not hold jobs outside the home as teachers and nurses, but the overall professional arena belonged to men. As the war years approached, women began to have more options. Many attended college and joined the workforce in office jobs.
After Pearl Harbor, thousands of men were called into service. This created a mass job vacancy across the country. Women were now being asked to take jobs they previously would not have been allowed. As men went off to train and fight, women worked together on the home front and in the service, to shorten the war.
Questions: What family stories do you have about the women in your family during World War II? Who told you these stories? Are there any documents, letters, photographs, or diaries to support the stories? Have you written the stories?
Women in the Military
At the beginning of the war, the culture and mindset of the United States was primarily that women stayed home to fulfill their roles as homemakers and daughters. As men vacated jobs to fill combat roles, the culture had to shift.
All military branches recruited women, some in auxiliary (volunteer) positions and others in full-military benefits positions. When recruitment began, thousands of women took up the call to serve. Some felt a patriotic duty to their country, while other women took up the fight for a loved one who had been killed. Some women sought adventure and a release from their “boring” lives. The military provided an opportunity to see the world, even if that meant only new parts of the United States.
Women in all branches trained, often on college campuses, for jobs in the medical and mechanical fields, parachute rigging, clerical jobs, intelligence work, weather forecasting, and flying. The education and experience gained in the military provided women more options than being a housewife after the war ended.
Army and Army Air Forces
Women were recruited by the Army initially as Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs). By 1943, the Auxiliary was dropped, and they were officially inducted as part of the Army and became the Women’s Army Corps (WACs.)
Navy and Coast Guard
The Navy recruited female volunteers for the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES.) The Coast Guard recruited volunteers for the Semper Paratus Always Ready (SPARs.)
The Marine Corps sought recruits for the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve (MCWR) and the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs.)
All service branches recruited women for nursing roles. Women served in both combat areas and the home front in hospitals.
Women who served in the military laid the foundation for women in future generations to have the opportunity to serve in the military. Their service provided the option to work outside the home in jobs that were more technical than clerical. Colleges and universities also saw an increase in the number of women attending. The amazing women of World War II proved marriage was not the only option available. Finally, these women provided the inspiration for all women to dream big, do the impossible, and have a richer life with fewer societal restrictions.
Questions: Did one of your female relatives serve in the military? Which branch? What kind of education did she receive? Where did she serve and what roles did she play? Did she ever consider staying in the military after the war? Did any other women in your family choose to serve because of this woman’s service?
Finding Records for Women
The Official Military Personnel File (OMPF) or service records for women, in any branch of the service, are held at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri. You request women’s records the same way in which you request men’s records. Keep in mind the records that burned in 1973 also included women’s records. They were not separated.
NPRC also has Company Morning Reports which are invaluable if your female relative served in the Army or Army Air Forces. These reports will help you document her service history even if her OMPF burned in 1973. Learn more about researching WWI – Vietnam in my military research & writing books.
Women of World War II Writing Prompts
To help you begin writing the stories of your female ancestors during the war, here are a few prompts to get you started.
- Did any of your female soldiers join the military or Red Cross during WWII?
- Which branch?
- What job did she hold?
- Where did she train?
- Did she serve overseas? Where and when?
- Examine the reasons why a woman joined the Armed Forces in WWII. What did she contribute?
- How did the family react to the woman joining the military or Red Cross? Were any women disowned?
- After the war ended, did she remain in service? If not, what course did her life take and how did it change?
- Did she return home to marry or resume her married life? Did she get a job outside the house and remain single?
- A lot is written about men in World War II but have you considered women were just as powerful as men during WWII? Write a brief piece on how you viewed your female soldiers as powerful during WWII.
Are you ready to write?
Explore my monthly writing group, Healing the Roots. Visit the information page and sign up for the free workshop. If you enjoy this format, join the monthly writing workshop. March 2022’s theme is Wise Female Ancestors.
Can I Help With Your Research & Writing Projects
If you need help with your WWI – Vietnam research projects or writing projects, I am taking new clients. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a phone call to discuss your projects and what’s possible.
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