The Home Fronts of Iowa, 1939-1945

The Home Fronts of Iowa, 1939-1945

The Home Fronts of Iowa, 1939-1945

The Home Fronts of Iowa, 1939-1945


As Americans geared up for World War II, each state responded according to its economy and circumstances--as well as the disposition of its citizens. This book considers the war years in Iowa by looking at activity on different home fronts and analyzing the resilience of Iowans in answering the call to support the war effort. With its location in the center of the country, far from potentially threatened coasts, Iowa was also the center of American isolationism--historically Republican and resistant to involvement in another European war. Yet Iowans were quick to step up, and Lisa Ossian draws on historical archives as well as on artifacts of popular culture to record the rhetoric and emotion of their support. Ossian shows how Iowans quickly moved from skepticism to overwhelming enthusiasm for the war and answered the call on four fronts: farms, factories, communities, and kitchens. Iowa's farmers faced labor and machinery shortages, yet produced record amounts of crops and animals--even at the expense of valuable topsoil. Ordnance plants turned out bombs and machine gun bullets. Meanwhile, communities supported war bond and scrap drives, while housewives coped with rationing, raised Victory gardens, and turned to home canning. The Home Fronts of Iowa , 1939-1945 depicts real people and their concerns, showing the price paid in physical and mental exhaustion and notes the heavy toll exacted on Iowa's sons who fell in battle. Ossian also considers the relevance of such issues as race, class, and gender--particularly the role of women on the home front and the recruitment of both women and blacks for factory work--taking into account a prevalent suspicion of ethnic groups by the state's largely homogeneous population. The fact that Iowans could become loyal citizen soldiers--forming an Industrial and Defense Commission even before Pearl Harbor--speaks not only to the patriotism of these sturdy midwesterners but also to the overall resilience of Americans. In unraveling how Iowans could so overwhelmingly support the war, Ossian digs deep into history to show us the power of emotion--and to help us better understand why World War II is consistently remembered as "the Good War."


The war changed everything except human needs and desires.

—William O’Neill, A Democracy at War (1993)

How does one begin to write about the complexities surrounding World War II? This war, as John Keegan so succinctly states in the foreword to his extensive study of it, is the largest single event in human history. The war involved six of seven continents and all the oceans; it killed fifty million people and wounded countless others. Historians have examined numerous pieces of the puzzle within this massive event, but not the state of Iowa and its citizens’ reactions and contributions. Iowa, as one small piece of the world, experienced much of the drama and heartache of this war despite the state’s physical distance from the areas of combat and destruction.

Most American World War II histories of domestic involvement have focused on paid industrial work and have been organized chronologically or by topics such as patriotism and discrimination, and an unequal depiction of the home-front activities has often resulted. In my attempt to produce a more broad-ranging account, my research of the Iowa home front branched into an analysis of four separate fronts: farm, production, community, and kitchen. All were historic terms used throughout the war years.

This divided examination of the home front provides a clearer picture of the nonmilitary work as well as the rhetoric surrounding American citizens’ involvement in the war effort as deemed necessary by the . . .

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