Women At War Women at War Since the creation of human’s, women have never had the opportunity to be that a contributing factor in the starting or stopping of a war. Not even until recently, was it even convincing to hear of women working in a career field in the military that had the slightest chance of going into a combat zone. When you think about an image of war, what do you see? If you are like most, you see a battlefield that is filled with men fighting each other and in the distant background are the women. In centuries past, men and women have had different responsibilities. It was up to the men to get the food and to protect the family while women were in charge of taking care of the household.
Over time this old adage held true, but at the outbreak of World War I, there was a need for more manpower so women were being allowed into the military to serve in certain career fields. During the buildup for the start of America’s involvement in World War I, the military was trying to solve an emerging manpower crisis. In 1917, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels found a small loophole in the Naval recruiting regulations. He brought up the question of Is there any regulation which specifies that a Navy yeoman be a man? In no time at all, the Navy was enlisting women into such fields as clerks, radio electricians, chemists, accountants, telephone operators, and nurses. This move also got the Army to look at their own recruiting openings.
When the Army began to recruit women, they decided to take a more conservative approach by allowing just nurses as well as a small number of occupational therapists and dieticians (Women were vital to military success in war). Many other firsts came about as a result of World War I. This was the first time that both the Army and Navy nurse corps were activated. Physicals were being performed on all soldiers. So before they could be inducted, they had to be cleared as fit for Service.
Because of this, women could no longer disguise themselves as soldiers as many had done in wars in the past. And this was also the first time that women served in the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Army Surgical Corps openly. Laura Frost Smith, a nurse during WW I, is the oldest known American veteran still living. World War I is a war that marked the first time that women were officially allowed to serve in the military. Mrs.
Smith, unlike most of her colleagues, was able to survive and tell her story of her experience through the letters that she had wrote during the war and in a family memoir that she had written while in her 90’s. Many of these stories tell a tale that is fearful to say the least. Do I look bad? the soldier pleads. Half his face is gone. Laura Frost hurriedly dresses the raw shreds that remain.
There are still men moaning on gurneys in the rain outside the operating tent. Her hands shake from the chilling damp that seeps through the canvas walls. Her thin leather boots are coated with mud. Blood is smeared across her nurse’s uniform. She tries to block out the sound of limbs dropping into enamel pails as surgeons saw through mangled flesh and bones.
For a moment she presses her hand against her eyes. Sometimes the men in their misery make her cry (WW I left its enduring mark). Eventhough eighty years went by, she still feels emotional and begins to cry whenever she recalls that sight. Laura Frost Smith was just one of over 25,000 women that had served overseas during World War I. Another 15,000 worked as civilians through individual drive or with numerous volunteer agencies. Many of these were American nurses who went to serve in British, French, Serbian, Russian, and even German organizations during the war. Another 13,000 had joined the Navy with over 300 enlisting in the Marine Corps.
These women did not go overseas, but they supported the cause of the war just as enthusiastically as those who did. These women worked in primarily clerical work. Some however work in other fields. Many of these women also made significant contributions through various home front efforts. Just a couple of these efforts include organizations such as; The Children of the Frontier, which collected and shipped money and clothing to France to help the children displaced by the war. The American Relief Clearing House which collected and distributed hospital supplies and operated the American Ambulance Service in France. Unfortunately, of those who did serve on combat area, 348 women were killed during the war as a result of bombardments or disease (Background on Women in World War 1). Although the women served right along side the men during the war, many of them were victims of discrimination.
Nurses serving in the military had to do so in a paramilitary status. Because they were women, the military had refused to award them rank or benefits that were justified for their positions. This was in contrast to their peers in the British military that were given both rank and benefits. Unfortunately, discrimination was prevalent during that time. While over 200,000 African American men served in World War I, only about a half-dozen women were allowed to serve in the war.
This was because they were mostly barred from all volunteer organizations except for the YMCA. African American women were not allowed into the nursing corps until after the war (Background on Women in World War 1). For nearly twenty-five years after the end of World War I, women began to increase in numbers and in stature within the military as World War II kicked off in 1941. Women were taking on more important rolls both in the military and at the home front to help in every way that they could. One of the big ways that they helped on the home front was by taking jobs in ship and airplane manufacturing plants.
There was a big shortage of men within the country during this time because of the war so many women felt that they could also do their part for the war effort by keeping …