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Women in WWI

Learn about the participation of women in the war

Women played vital roles in World War I

By Lara Vogt
National World War I Museum and Memorial

At the time of the First World War, most women were barred from voting or serving in military combat roles. Many saw the war as an opportunity to not only serve their countries but to gain more rights and independence. With millions of men away from home, women filled manufacturing and agricultural positions on the home front. Others provided support on the front lines as nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers, translators and, in rare cases, on the battlefield.

One observer wrote that American women “do anything they were given to do; that their hours are long; that their task is hard; that for them there is small hope of medals and citations and glittering homecoming parades.”

On The Home Front

The nations at war mobilized their entire populations. The side that could produce more weapons and supply more troops would prevail in the end. Women took on new roles in the work force, notably in war production and agriculture.

In 1914, the German armaments producer Krupp employed almost no women. By 1917, women made up nearly 30 percent of its 175,000 workers and a nationwide total of nearly 1.4 million German women were employed in the war labor force. Britain also stepped up its arms production by expanding the employment of women. In July 1914, 3.3 million women worked in paid employment in Britain. By July 1917, 4.7 million did. British women served in uniform as well in the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. In fact, the last known surviving veteran of World War I was Florence Green of the RAF, who died in 2012.

As women took traditional male jobs in the United States, African American women were able to make their first major shift from domestic employment to work in offices and factories. Recent research also shows that a limited number of African American women served overseas as volunteers with the YMCA.

But even women in more traditional roles contributed to the war effort. Every housewife in the U.S. was asked to sign a pledge card stating that she would “carry out the directions and advice of the Food Administrator in the conduct of my household, in so far as my circumstances permit.” This meant canning food for future use, growing vegetables in the backyard and limiting consumption of meat, wheat and fats. Most of all, women were expected to bolster the morale of their families at home and loved ones overseas.

Read the entire article on the National World War I Museum & Memorial web site here:

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