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Good Girls, Good Food, Good Fun

The Story of USO Hostesses during World War II

Meghan K. Winchell

Publication Year: 2008

Throughout World War II, when Saturday nights came around, servicemen and hostesses happily forgot the war for a little while as they danced together in USO clubs, which served as havens of stability in a time of social, moral, and geographic upheaval. Meghan Winchell demonstrates that in addition to boosting soldier morale, the USO acted as an architect of the gender roles and sexual codes that shaped the "greatest generation." Combining archival research with extensive firsthand accounts from among the hundreds of thousands of female USO volunteers, Winchell shows how the organization both reflected and shaped 1940s American society at large. The USO had hoped that respectable feminine companionship would limit venereal disease rates in the military. To that end, Winchell explains, USO recruitment practices characterized white middle-class women as sexually respectable, thus implying that the sexual behavior of working-class women and women of color was suspicious. In response, women of color sought to redefine the USO's definition of beauty and respectability, challenging the USO's vision of a home front that was free of racial, gender, and sexual conflict. Despite clashes over class and racial ideologies of sex and respectability, Winchell finds that most hostesses benefited from the USO's chaste image. In exploring the USO's treatment of female volunteers, Winchell not only brings the hostesses' stories to light but also supplies a crucial missing piece for understanding the complex ways in which the war both destabilized and restored certain versions of social order. One of the principal goals of the USO (United Service Organizations, Inc.), the quasi-governmental organization that offered wholesome recreation to off-duty soldiers and sailors during World War II, was to provide stability in a time of social, moral, and geographic upheaval. In this book, Meghan Winchell examines the experience of American women who volunteered with the USO as hostesses during the war to shed light on the ways the organization both reflected and challenged American society at large during that period. Winchell argues that the organization emerged, in part, as a way to reinforce dominant cultural norms governing sexual codes and gender ways. It built morale for the Army and Navy, who also hoped that respectable feminine companionship would limit venereal disease rates, which had been a major problem during World War I. While the organization tried to embody a self-conscious model of racial harmony and stability on the home front, the clubs in actuality promoted a stereotypical white middle class model of sexual respectability, implying that the sexual behaviour of white working class women and women of color was suspicious. Race is attended to as appropriate throughout the book. Throughout World War II, when Saturday nights came around, servicemen and hostesses happily forgot the war for a little while as they danced together in USO clubs, which served as havens of stability in a time of social, moral, and geographic upheaval. Meghan Winchell demonstrates that in addition to boosting soldier morale, the USO acted as an architect of the gender roles and sexual codes that shaped the "greatest generation." Combining archival research with extensive firsthand accounts from among the hundreds of thousands of female USO volunteers, Winchell shows how the organization both reflected and shaped 1940s American society at large. Throughout World War II, when Saturday nights came around, servicemen and hostesses happily forgot the war for a little while as they danced together in USO clubs, which served as havens of stability in a time of social, moral, and geographic upheaval. Meghan Winchell demonstrates that in addition to boosting soldier morale, the USO acted as an architect of the gender roles and sexual codes that shaped the "greatest generation." Combining archival research with extensive firsthand accounts from among the hundreds of thousands of female USO volunteers, Winchell shows how the organization both reflected and shaped 1940s American society at large. The USO had hoped that respectable feminine companionship would limit venereal disease rates in the military. To that end, Winchell explains, USO recruitment practices characterized white middle-class women as sexually respectable, thus implying that the sexual behavior of working-class women and women of color was suspicious. In response, women of color sought to redefine the USO's definition of beauty and respectability, challenging the USO's vision of a home front that was free of racial, gender, and sexual conflict. Despite clashes over class and racial ideologies of sex and respectability, Winchell finds that most hostesses benefited from the USO's chaste image. In exploring the USO's treatment of female volunteers, Winchell not only brings the hostesses' stories to light but also supplies a crucial missing piece for understanding the complex ways in which the war both destabilized and restored certain versions of social order.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7

Contents

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pp. vii-xii

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Introduction

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pp. 1-11

Rosie the Riveter remains the ubiquitous symbol of World War II’s female patriot. In the popular imagery of the ‘‘Good War,’’ Rosie arguably stands second only to the courageous soldiers raising the American flag at Iwo Jima. Today, the War Department’s depiction of Rosie peddling a ‘‘We Can Do It!’’ attitude, with her pouty lips, enviably long eyelashes, ...

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One: To Make the Boys Feel at Home: Senior Hostesses and Gendered Citizenship

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pp. 12-43

In 1943, Helen Scheidel and her sister Marge attended uso dances at Mayor Kelly’s Servicemen’s Center in Chicago, once a month on Saturday nights. As a single eighteen-year-old, Helen represented the typical junior hostess, famous for jitterbugging across the dance floor with fresh-faced soldiers and sailors. ...

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Two: The Loveliest Girls in the Nation

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pp. 44-75

Seventeen-year-old Doretta Cloyed graduated from Moravia High School in Iowa in 1942. Her parents, who owned and operated a farm, permitted her to join her three brothers in Washington, D.C., as long as she lived with one of them. All three of Doretta’s brothers worked in the Identification Division of the FBI. ...

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Three: Wartime Socializing

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pp. 76-105

Geraldine Stansbery wrote to the mayor of Philadelphia in May 1943 to ask him if she could be a hostess at the new USO Labor Plaza. She had applied to volunteer at several USO clubs earlier in the war, but they quickly filled their hostess positions before receiving her application. Stansbery’s description of herself could have been that of any typical junior hostess: ...

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Four: Nice Girls Didn’t, Period: Junior Hostesses and Sexual Service

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pp. 106-134

One evening early in her career as a junior hostess, Audrey Armstrong sneaked out of the USO with a sergeant and accompanied him to the Hollywood Palladium. When her mother, Mildred Armstrong, found out, she was upset and chastised Audrey: ‘‘How does it look to have the daughter of the director and a senior hostess sneaking out with a soldier?’’ ...

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Five: Courtship and Competition in the uso Dance Hall

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pp. 135-170

Hundreds of male soldiers and sailors sporting snappy uniforms and dozens of well-coiffed junior hostesses decorated in bright-colored dresses and lipstick packed uso dance halls on Saturday nights throughout the war. Cigarette smoke and the smell of hot coffee permeated the air while couples jitterbugged across the dance floor.1 ...

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Conclusion

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pp. 171-176

Six weeks after eighteen-year-old junior hostess Phyllis Mayfield married Larry Baldridge, whom she had met at a uso dance, he received orders that the army was sending him overseas. Phyllis accompanied him to New York City, his departure point, where she anxiously said goodbye to her new husband. ...

Appendix: Interview/Questionnaire Template

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pp. 177-178

Notes

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pp. 179-220

Bibliography

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pp. 221-238

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 239-240

I am grateful for the support of numerous colleagues and institutions in assisting me with the completion of this book. The Academic Affairs Office at Nebraska Wesleyan University and the Ameritas Foundation provided vital financial assistance in the final stages of publication. ...

Index

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pp. 241-255


E-ISBN-13: 9781469606194
E-ISBN-10: 1469606194
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807832370
Print-ISBN-10: 0807832375

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 26 illus., 1 table
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Gender and American Culture