Looking for a Few Good Women
For dietitians and nurses across America the war offered new and welcome prospects for travel and adventure. From 1941 on, women in these professions who had pacifist convictions discovered that Civilian Public Service work held a similar allure. In the fall of 1944 Naomi Brubaker, a Pennsylvanian and recent college graduate, was waiting for an assignment as CPS dietitian when a Mennonite Central Committee official told her of four camp openings: two in California, one in Montana, and one in Colorado. Brubaker, who had never been west of Indiana, responded: "Well, if I'm getting a free ride, I'll go the furthest. . . . Might as well go to California!"1
Of the approximately two thousand women who lived in and near Civilian Public Service camps, an estimated 15 percent had official duties as paid staff members. 2 Women were present especially at large base camps of a hundred or more men, where dietitians supervised kitchen crews and nurses ran infirmaries. At many of these locations, camp directors' or business managers' wives -- often known as matrons -- assumed hosting responsibilities.
These CPS staff women performed a unique function in wartime, even though the broader patterns of their lives intersected with those of millions of other American women engaged in various forms of voluntarism and paid labor. Nurses and dietitians in CPS were among the growing number of American women who were employed outside the home during the war. By 1944 gainfully employed women constituted one-third of the U.S. work force. 3 Yet while the Roosevelt administration launched promotional campaigns to entice women into military or industrial work,