Riveting and Rationing in Dixie: Alabama Women and the Second World War

Riveting and Rationing in Dixie: Alabama Women and the Second World War

Riveting and Rationing in Dixie: Alabama Women and the Second World War

Riveting and Rationing in Dixie: Alabama Women and the Second World War

Excerpt

World War II profoundly changed the old order of American society and economy and presented women with opportunities for new and expanded roles in the life of the nation. As the selective service drafted men into the armed forces, a tremendous labor shortage developed, both in the rapidly expanding defense industries and in the private sector. The government then turned to "womanpower" and encouraged women to take paid wartime jobs, enlist in the military, become nurses, or perform volunteer work. Thousands of Alabama women responded by taking jobs in the airplane plants, the shipyards, and the munition depots of the state. A few women contributed to the war effort by joining the newly created WACS or WAVES. Other women volunteered their services to roll bandages, spot airplanes, issue ration books, or act as nurses' aides. Instead of the usual wife, mother, and homemaker role, Alabama women were asked to undertake a wide variety of unusual tasks. The most important change for women was their employment in jobs normally occupied by men, positions that paid higher wages than those in traditionally female fields and were thought to require "masculine" abilities and attitudes. The ability of women to step into men's shoes and wear them rather comfortably posed an implicit challenge to traditional notions about femininity and female limitations. The war, then, had the potential of drastically changing society and the posi-

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