The Significance of Women in WWI

July marks the 100th anniversary of World War I. All month long, we’ll look at different aspects of this war to end all wars. Today we introduce an article by our newest Crew Member, Betty Boyd.

DCF 1.0In doing research for the writing of this post, there were many notable women cited for their various contributions. What I found most significant was how the role of women changed when the United States got involved with the war in 1917.

Women’s roles prior to WWI were for domestic purposes. In previous wars fought by the United States, women served as nurses. When WWI came along, what was even more striking was the fact that women were still not allowed to vote.

For the first time, women were recruited in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps. They were assigned no rank and were able to serve both domestically and overseas. Additionally, women who were not nurses could enlist in the Navy and the Marine Corps.Women also aligned themselves with volunteer organizations such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and the YMCA.

The shift had begun.

The military side of things opened up new doors for women. Their roles began to expand and also their acceptance in the US Armed Forces. Almost13,000 women enlisted in the Navy and Marine Corps, were given the same status as men, and wore a uniform blouse with an insignia. Over 30,000 women would serve in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps.

As the men went overseas, women occupied various jobs that were once done by men. Employment by women jumped from just over 3 million to over 4 million by January 1918. Women worked as clerical workers in private offices and conductors on trams and buses. They also worked as engineers and toiled in the highly dangerous munitions industry. Women did heavy labor such as unloading coal, stoking furnaces, and building ships.

This was unprecedented in all of modern time.  Women were needed more than at any other period. It became hard for women to go back to just being homemakers and mothers. WWI changed women’s roles forever.

Some women of note are:

Loretta Perfectus Walsh, who became the first active-duty US Navy women. She held a non-nurse occupation while enlisted in the US Naval Reserve. Additionally, she became the first US Navy petty officer.

Frances Gulick was a welfare worker at the YMCA. She was awarded a US Army citation for valor and courage during an aerial bombardment of Varmaise, France in 1918.

Elizabeth S. Friedman worked to document the history of secret communications. She also was a crypto analyst for the Treasury Department, and broke encoded radio messages.

The significance of women in WWI cannot be underestimated. They could no longer sit on the sidelines.

WWI changed forever the landscape of women’s roles both domestically and overseas.

Betty Boyd

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