Wednesday, April 13, 2011

13 April 1957 “Working Women of the War Years”

 vicotryjobposter Continuing on with my week of 1940’s life, I thought we could discuss the working women of the war. I have an interesting article from a 1943 American magazine to share with you. But, before we read that I thought I would share some history on Women working in the war and how conscription for women had begun to happen in England and Europe by this time.

warwomenThough, as of the writing of this article (1943) American women had no conscription (that is were not legally inducted into war work) their English sisters had been.

In December 1941, the National Service Act (no 2) made the conscription of women legal. At first, only single women aged 20-30 were called up, but by mid-1943, almost 90 per cent of single women and 80 per cent of married women were employed in essential work for the war effort.

Women in England during WWI were not conscripted but many volunteered. When WWII arrived, the country was seen to need the women and so, rather than rely on volunteer alone, began the conscription in 1941. Women worked in everything from munitions factories (very dangerous as these were targets for German bombers) to the Land Girls who took the place of farmers and farm hands. Many Land Girls were city gals that had never milked a cow or planted a seed in their life.

I have put a BBC modern drama called Land Girls on Apron TV. I have not watched it, but it is based on these women. Let me know if you liked it and if I should break my ‘modern tv’ rule to watch it. It can be found HERE on my channel. 

Here is an excerpt from the U.S. war film about work for the war. We were still only expected to work in a voluntary manner and with that knowledge we can now move onto the article.


I found this article interesting because many women and mothers today are working women. In fact it is more expected for a woman to return to work after having a child than she is expected to stay home. With modern TV and computer and other entertainment and media devices, we find we have less ‘time’ to do many things women had to do. Many women today say they were able to do it because they were home all day, yet the women of the war had to keep the family going, make meals, raise children and do work. They, however, knew it was for the period of the war and many happily returned home when the war ended. Of course many continued to work and began the movement towards more women in the work force.

What I find interesting here, is the division of labor of the working woman. Here we see a lady who has her teenage daughter in charge of menu planning and marketing. I wonder of today’s working mothers how much they are simply put upon without help from their children. And honestly it isn’t the children’s fault, for if they were never taught or expected to help, then why should they? Are there scores of teens and tweens texting and playing on the computer in a messy room while mother runs frazzled from work to try and get a meal on for the family? I suppose this might be true. And these untaught children and teens, how will they cope when they, in their turn, will be expected to be working mothers, many of them single mothers?  Why is it we are less organized about our lives when we have been two working parent households since the 1980’s?

I am sure many of the ladies who read my blog, however, are probably the exception to this rule. But, do you think, on the whole, that many working mother’s today are simply run ragged partly due to not even conceiving of the idea that their children can and should be part of the household work force? That in so doing they are preparing to be adults who would benefit from knowing how to cook and clean, organize a home and work, balance a checkbook, the importance of saving and thrift?

Why, do you suppose, we have moved away from organization and learned and shared home labor when we need it all the more in the modern working world?

Here is the article enjoy and share your thoughts. (simply click on each image to read it.)


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  1. I think that if a working mother is sometimes pressed for time, and it can be easier and quicker to do it herself rather than train and supervise a child to do a task, I don't know.

    I was never expected to do anything at home when I was young, but my grandmother who raised me was the impatient sort and said it was quicker if she did it herself (she did not work outside the home, that's just the way she was).

    I think kids eventually find their own level. When I married, I took right to housework on my own and like to do it.

    I know some women who had to do lots of housework at home and now that they have their own homes, they are tired of doing it and don't do it or make their kids do it.

    So, I guess it depends.

    VERY interesting article. Keep more of these coming. A fascinating subject.

  2. As you know, I'm a working mother (working home keeper) that reads and enjoys your blog! Even though I work full-time, I still see the home as primarily as my responsiblity. So there's not really that 50/50 division of labor you might expect. While our children are expected to pick up their rooms and after themselves (dirty clothes in the proper place, shoes put away) they don't really share in the larger homecaring tasks. My husband does help in some areas, but to me we each have our own gifts and talents. And mine or more geared towards keeping the home, while my husband's are not.

    Additionally, I grew up in a home where my mother (who was a 50s wife), worked outside of the home at times and still came home and cooked dinners every evening, did all the cleaning, sewing, ironed, hung clothes out to dry, gardened, etc. My mother by her own admissions, was not a patient teacher. And found it much easier to just do things herself. And usually it was better for you if you stayed out of her way :)

    As my daughter gets older, I do want to incorporate her more into my homemaking world. I don't want her to be quite as lost as I was when I married. But, even without the earlier guidance, I still found my way!

    Mary Ellen
    The Working Home Keeper

  3. Such interesting responses. It seems, so far, that the consensus it is better to get it done than include the children. I find it all very interesting because I don't know, I might be the same and think, "Oh, just let me do it" to get it done.
    I wonder how many other 1950's mothers (as you two have told so far of 2 1950's mothers) did it more themselves than bothering to have the kids involved. And I wonder if this was the same for their childhood in the 30's? Would children then have been more involved in the day to day running of the house? Anyone can chime in on this as well. It really is interesting just to see how domestic history runs.

  4. I should have added that my children are 8 years old, 6 years old and 4 years old. So, their responsiblities around the house are geared towards their age.

    For me, I just feel very heavily influenced by my mother, who did it all - worked and cared for her home. She didn't seem to need or expect help from me or my father. The only expectations of me as a child were to do well in school. And maybe too since I am the youngest of the family by many years (my siblings are much older) I had less responsiblities than maybe they did when they were younger.

    Mary Ellen
    The Working Home Keeper

  5. My mother was a soda jerk during the war - which meant she was like what we call a Pharm Tech today, she helped dispense meds and make Sundaes and she lived 80 miles away from home, which her Dad hated.
    She became a housewife until my Dad retired from the Air Force and she worked for a few years in their business and he died and she sold their business. So I had a stay at home, a Mr. Mom, a single worker mom and an early retiree mom (I was the baby of the family). She did tons with my older sister in the 50s but we were pretty much thrown outside to play in the 60s and then in the 70s when she worked, our house was the place everyone came over to - with my Dad home no one pulled anything so the other Moms, most working by then liked that. I did more housework under my Dad's housekeeping rules than my moms, but then he wanted to keep her from having to come home to work.

    I just think people have always adapted and found a way to make their home life work. They do the best they can and probably never have been as conventional as TV and Magazines made us think.

  6. Working home keeper-How funny, I too am the youngest and my older siblings are MUCH older. My three sisters were all born in the 1950's and lived a very different life with my mother then than I ever did. They had to learn basics, sewing, cooking and certainly entertaining and being the hostess. Helping at Bridge parties and so on. I on the other hand was taught nothing in that way and really was expected to do, as you say, well in school and to go to university, which I did do. Though I think it was unspoken that university was for either getting a career or a husband.
    I didn't mean that your children weren't helping, only that it is interesting that so far people have said the children were not a major part of the running of the house. I guess it really depends on many factors.
    I am not sure what I would do, as I say, probably want to just do it myself. Yet, now after this project, I would probably think, "hmm, why not have johnny or susie have a major hand in the house? Makes my life easier and they learn early"
    But, I don't think there is ONE RIGHT WAY. You seem very well organized to work outside the home, be a mother/homemaker is a great and heavy burden and Brava to you! And to all working mothers everywhere (and to SAHM too, of course.)
    Helen-How funny another 'baby' of the family. I wonder what similarities we 'babies' have?

  7. I'm a SAHM and enjoy it, even though it means cash can be tight. I see friends and neighbors children coming home to a empty home with a list of chores to do. I'm torn because my son's biggest chore are his grades. He has to earn tv, electronics and play time privileges with ALL A's. But he comes home to a clean room and healthy snack waiting. Am I doing him a disservice or service? For now, I'm going to enjoy him riding his bike outside and not worry about whether he should be doing more chores.

  8. Main blog and all the comments so good, as usual!

    I'm also the "baby" of the family, with my older siblings much older - they were already in school when I was born. We had chores at home but Mom did most of the housework (1960's). We also grew up in the country, so we had a lot of outside chores as well. I was doing a lot of mowing on a riding tractor by the time I was 13, etc. My kitchen help revolved mostly around baking rather than meal prep. Currently I feel much more confident baking something than putting together meals - maybe that's why? Or maybe it's just more fun to bake. :)

    ** As for now, my kids do have chores around the house but the majority falls to me to complete. Most days that's OK - depending on my mood Ha Ha!! One thing is my kids are all very handy in the kitchen, even my preteens can mix up a batch of cookies from scratch and my older kids can grill, make complete meals, etc. I do feel that a lot of kids aren't able to cook meals; not so much the fault of not being taught but there's so many easy options today. I think with the economy right now more families are making dinners at home rather than carry out/prepackaged meals as much. I think that might be so, but maybe not?

    **"DearHelenHartman" - great comment about how people have always adapted and probably never as conventional as media portrays them. Good point!

  9. 50s gal - Yes, how funny we're all babies with much older siblings! My oldest sister had just graduated college when I was born.

    Mary Ellen
    The Working Home Keeper

  10. Jennifer - Likewise, my childrens' main job is to focus on their studies and make sure their readings are done. Afterwards they play hard outside in our backyard.

    Mary Ellen
    The Working Home Keeper

  11. I just finished watching the "Land Girls" and as a TV drama I loved it. The clothes and time period was displayed beautifuly. However there was not much about the working part of the girls.It was more of a love drama. It has not displayed the "Yanks" in a very good way. Too much generalization, and trying to make justifiable unfaithfulness in relationships. I will not spoil it for you, but documentary drama it was not, yet seems period correct. would i watch it again? Yes, I am sure the situations are real and I loved the settings etc.


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