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★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 3 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Wartime Socializing 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: ‘‘I am nineteen years of age, 5%3&, and weigh 102 lbs. I am a stenographer at the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society. I neither smoke nor indulge in intoxicating drinks.’’ Stansbery promised to give the uso her ‘‘character references’’ and told the mayor, ‘‘Don’t think me a ‘prig,’ I like to jitterbug and straight dance, or make merry chatter with lonely people.’’ She implored the mayor not to ‘‘consider me too forward or over anxious, but my only brother is in the service and so are all my boy friend acquaintances. I want to do my bit to keep up the morale of other fellows, as I hope other girls are doing for friends in the Service who I know.’’∞ Her letter captured some of the contradictions inherent in the uso’s expectations of thousands of hostesses. Stansbery was both fun-loving and a good girl. She would entertain men with smiles and dancing, not with overt sexuality. Still, she made a point to mention her height and weight. She recognized that a feminine appearance was important to the uso’s image and mission. She also acknowledged her role as a morale-builder for servicemen. In hindsight, many women described their hostessing experiences as both pleasurable and patriotic. Analysis of their actions shows that their desire for entertainment and socializing often was the motivating force behind their volunteerism. The war presented women with myriad volunteer options, from rolling bandages to leading air raid drills to collecting scrap metal.≤ uso service was unique among these options because it put young civilian women into direct physical and emotional contact with servicemen in a social setting. War, fear, and the possibility of dying set the backdrop for their conversations and elevated them from casual interactions to intimacy. The federal government and the military depended on junior hostesses to lift men’s morale ★ 77 ★ WARTIME SOCIALIZING through activities and conversation that both distracted them from the tedium of military life and shored up their masculinity. The government did not allocate much financial support to accomplish this immense task because it expected a civilian core of volunteer hostesses to lift servicemen’s morale out of a sense of patriotism. Junior hostesses, as the beneficiaries of men’s military service, concurrently owed temporary attention to men and symbolized the stakes of war. Yet these young women resisted the uso’s constant demands on their time, chose to socialize with one another sometimes to the annoyance of senior hostesses, and cultivated a women’s culture through organizations such as the ymca’s Girls Service Organization (gso). UPON REFLECTION, former hostesses assessed their desire to volunteer for the uso in patriotic terms, but a yearning to socialize with other young people induced them to enter clubs and canteens in the first place. Junior hostesses who grew into teenagers during the Great Depression understood that hard financial times limited the number of ‘‘marriageable men’’ available to them. When the war began, a new kind of deprivation occurred as young neighborhood men left their communities to complete military service.≥ Marjorie Hawkins, who attended college in Manhattan, Kansas, recalled that volunteering for the uso ‘‘seemed a way to help the war effort. Later, when the college men went into the service, it was recreation for us females too!’’∂ Marjorie enjoyed hostessing because it was patriotic and fulfilled her desire to spend time with young men who would otherwise have been unavailable to her during the war. Irene Szuhay expressed a similar desire to spend time with male soldiers and sailors, as she asked rhetorically, ‘‘What young girl didn’t enjoy meeting servicemen?’’∑ Barbara Byko supported her mother financially and was responsible for housecleaning and cooking. Her mother did not want her to volunteer at the uso, but Barbara’s aunt convinced her sister that Barbara needed a social outlet. Eighteen-year-old Barbara relished attending uso dances in Linden, New Jersey, because she could socialize with men there and forget about her responsibilities.∏ uso service had the ability to nurture skills in young women that would be useful to them outside the club...


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