Women of the Homefront

Monday, March 23, 2009

March is Women's History Month, and it just occurred to me this morning that I hadn't yet read a book in honor of that. So I searched through my to-read stack to see if I could find anything on the subject.

Today's book; "Lois A. Ferguson was a training teacher for college graduates at a Japanese relocation center in California. Her husband set up a junior college and night school program. Their efforts were to help relieve the injustices done to fellow citizens. Kay Watson’s husband fought in Europe while Kay worked at one of the sites of a secret government project known as the Manhattan Project; she later learned that she might have played a small part in the plan to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Mary L. Appling was a librarian in a California high school when she met Hugh Appling, a serviceman just returned from the war; together, they worked in Foreign Service for the United States for nearly thirty years, a direction affected by their actions during World War II. The recollections of these three women and 52 others are edited and presented by Pauline Parker, who also endured the war. Many women had life changing experiences during this turbulent time—Parker has gathered the personal stories of such women as marines and government workers as well as single mothers whose husbands had gone off to fight."

I'm really glad I read this book, not only because it was very interesting, but because I have another subject to add to my "Things to discuss with my grandparents" list for the next time I see them. World War II is a subject we haven't discussed all that much, other than that time when I asked my Grandma if she remembered where she was in on VJ Day. She told me that she was shopping for her wedding dress.

Fun (and not so fun) facts about life on the home front during World War II:

  • People were strongly encouraged to pick up hitchhikers if they were in uniform. In fact, it was considered unpatriotic not to. Posters were hung that said, "When you ride alone, you ride with Hitler." (So let that be a lesson to you dear readers, if you want to do your patriotic duty, pick up lots of hitch hikers).

  • Shoes were rationed. People were allowed two pairs per year - with sneakers and some sandals not made from leather being exempt. (I'm not a big shoe person, so that doesn't alarm me all that much. Now if they had rationed books, cookbooks, or aprons then I would be horrified right now.)

  • Used cooking grease was collected to help in the war effort. (I always knew that things like rubber and tinfoil were collected, but used cooking grease? Eeeeewww. I pity the poor people whose job it was to collect the grease. And what exactly does that look like on a resume? Prior employment: Grease collector.)

My favorite part of the book was the story of Betty Wright, a young woman who moved to Washington D.C. during the war to work for the government. Back then, women who worked for the government were referred to as "government girls." I love that expression, it makes me want to get a job working for the government just so I can call myself that. In her essay, Betty describes all of the exciting things she saw when she moved to the big city; milk that came in cartons, kale, butter brickle ice cream, streetcars. I don't know how Betty kept her wits about her while seeing such exotic things as milk in a carton. I swear I'm not making fun of Betty dear readers, I found her very endearing, I'm just endlessly amused by someone considering milk found in a carton exotic.