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Journal of Women's History 13.2 (2001) 154-157
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Women Who Answered the Call:
World War II as a Turning Point for Women in the Workforce
Nikki Lockhart and Jenna Pergande
For hundreds of years, American women have not been given credit for their wartime contributions. During the American Revolution, Mary Ludwig Hayes, "Molly Pitcher," carried water to the men on the front lines and, when her husband was wounded, she operated his cannon. Deborah Sampson, as Private Robert Shirtliff, served in the Continental Army for almost two years before being wounded. In the Civil War, women provided invaluable services in intelligence gathering and nursing wounded soldiers. This trend continued in twentieth-century conflicts, including World War II. During that epic war, women responded to the needs of the United States in record numbers, thus answering the call.
During last year's National History Day competition, we created a documentary film based on women's lives during the Second World War. Our study of a topic primarily dealing with women helped us understand the importance of individual efforts and the necessity of recording their histories for future generations. The women who worked as Rosie the Riveters, Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs), and in the Women's Army Corps (WAC) helped the United States win World War II. In addition, they helped create the change necessary for women to play the roles that they do today. Women today might not be presidents of companies, Secretary of State, doctors, lawyers, airline pilots, and such if it had not been for their predecessors.
As middle school students conducting research about U.S. women during World War II, we received encouragement at every stage of our project. Our teacher, parents, grandparents, librarians, and other interested parties not only approved of this topic, they also provided us transportation to various libraries and events, proofread our work, bought books on the subject, helped us research the topic, provided technological assistance when needed, and guided us through our first project. One of our grandmothers, Rosemary Evans, was a Rosie the Riveter--it was great for us to interview her and learn more about her life during this time period. She told us why she joined the workforce and how she tried to join the Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES). Due to an irregular heartbeat, she was denied entrance. After this, she decided to work and found a job at the Western Cartridge Company. Not only did she work, she also joined the United Service Organizations (USO). Evans related a [End Page 154] sad story of how she had entertained a group of engineers that later fought in the D-Day invasion and were killed in action. It made us appreciate our family histories even more.
We enjoyed the research process, especially how it brought individual women's experiences to life. We now understand that to comprehend the magnitude and scope of any given topic, you must find primary written sources and interviews. Our favorite trip was when we visited Texas Woman's University. We spent the day with Nancy Durr, a librarian at the Woman's Collection. She was so helpful to us, showing us their archive and guiding us through the research process. When we went back home to Central Texas with all the information that she helped us obtain, we discovered that we enjoyed reading through the interview transcripts, magazine articles, letters, and such. Once again we were fortunate to be treated as serious researchers in all our library and archival visits--of course it helped when we explained our determination as researchers. Our teacher, Dina Williamson, always accompanied us on our research adventures. We utilized the Internet a little bit, but we discovered that it is more reliable to use other sources when possible. We know that there are good Internet sites out there; however, we felt that finding documents, interviews, and other primary sources would add to our research. We did use the Internet to find...