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A Look Back: The Ladies at Home during Wartime

Look-Back-Ladies

Looking back to the ladies who were on the home front during the conflicts we have had, what did they do to help the soldiers?

As far back as the Civil War, we see where ladies helped to raise money for the war effort. They organized raffles and fairs and used the money to help pay for war supplies. They managed the home and farms while the husbands and brothers went off to fight.

In the camps, they washed clothes, mended uniforms, provided blankets and cooked for them. Some help to write letters home for the soldiers.

We can not forget women such as Dorothea Dix and Clara Barton who tended to the sick and wounded men and assisted the doctors where they could.

Mary Walker was the only woman who officially worked as a Union doctor during the Civil War. She was once captured by the South, but was later freed and earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.

During World War I a push to join the Red Cross was in the paper, and each little town had its own unit.

In 1918, it cost one dollar to become a member and you were doing your part by identifying yourself with the most tremendous voluntary “Service for Humanity” the world has ever known.

The members were knitting away creating scarfs, socks, sweaters and wristlets. Asking the Red Cross officials could provide yarn for you to use.

In 1918, the local unit of the Red Cross had an average of 22 people that attended each time the Red Cross room was open — over 300 members in all. In December, 204 articles were knitted, along with 112 hospital shirts, 154 comforts and 21 pieces of relief work.

Additionally, 6,446 surgical dressings were made and cards were sent. Gun wipes were created from old stockings, old underwear or anything soft. Uncle Sam was sending dogs to France to receive proper training to be able to assist in the war.

But the ladies did much more than just knit.

There was a high demand for weapons that resulted in ammunition plants becoming the largest single employer of women during WWI.

The women also worked as railway guards, ticket collectors, bus and tram conductors, postal workers and bank tellers while others worked the heavy precision machinery in engineering and led cart horses on farms.

Alas, they did all this work outside the home, receiving lower wages for doing the same job as the men. It was during this time that there were demands for equal pay for equal work.

DURING WORLD War II, as men fought abroad, women worked in defense plants and volunteered for war-related organizations.

Some women served in the WAAC (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps), WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or the Navy Women’s Reserve) or WASPS (the Women Airforce Service Pilots) as nurses.

They rigged parachutes, served as radio operators and more. General Eisenhower felt that he could not win the war without the aid of women in uniform.

“The contribution of the women of America, whether on the farm or in the factory or in uniform, to D-Day, was a sine qua non of the invasion effort,” he said.

Here at the home front, they watched for airplanes and made sure the blackout time and efforts were kept. 

We also had various drives during the WWII. Drives for items such as rubber and clothing would be collected and used toward the war effort.

Scrap metal drives were conducted everywhere to gather material to build tanks, ships, planes and weapons — an early form of recycling.

During this time, my mother and grandmother made sleeping bags and parachutes to send over to the men. My mother also volunteered at a hospitality hut, which was later a USO, and wrote letters for the men, visited them in the hospitals, had meals with the “boys” and dances.

It was at one of these events where she met my father, and they courted, even while he was overseas, got engaged and married upon his return.

I am sure all of you have little stories you could tell us, and we would love to hear them.

Stop by the Lucy Bensley Center, located at 23 North Buffalo St., in Springville, on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., email us at lucybensleycenter@gmail.com or call us at 592-0094.

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