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From Progressivism to Prosperity: World War I and American Society

By Neil A. Wynn | Go to book overview

6
War, Women, and
the Family

In 1914-18, and until recently, war was generally thought to be a particularly male preserve of little concern to women. However, the social and economic consequences of total war know no discrimination, and American women were affected by wartime social change just as much as men were. At the same time, regardless of their class, race, or ethnic origin, whether in the workplace or the home, women often felt the impact of war in different ways from men precisely because of gender. Thus women were involved indirectly as mothers, wives, and sisters, for instance, but also directly as independent individuals—yet in a society that placed them in a subordinate and secondary position. In fact, so great was the force of the war that it challenged the sexist assumptions of the day and brought a combination of economic, social, and political change culminating in heightened expectations and political recognition for women.

The subject of the First World War and women has suffered from easy periodization and oversimplification. Traditionally, 1920 was seen as marking a clear divide in the chronology of women's affairs: the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the vote ended years of struggle, and with the "liberation" of the war, which destroyed old stereotypes, led on to the "New Woman" of the 1920s. However, subsequent writers questioned the idea of the "New Woman" and the extent of "liberation,"

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