Daddy's Gone to War: The Second World War in the Lives of America's Children

By William M. Tuttle Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5 Working Mothers and Latchkey Children

GAIL HAGAR was not yet two in 1942 when her father entered the United States Army and then her mother left her "with a lady" and "got a job at the camp so she could be near daddy." For most of her life, Gail recalled, she was unaware that this had had "any effect on me at all...." But she became a grandmother, and one day her daughter was "phoning around... looking for a babysitter so she could go to work. I became very angry with her & told her she should be ashamed [for] just trying to unload Amy on anyone and going off & leaving her that way." Gail's anger surprised and concerned her, for she realized that "my feelings were not about my daughter and Amy... [but] about my mother leaving me." She was astonished that she harbored such "great resentments from even that early age." Yet there was another reason for her upset. Like her childhood feelings of abandonment, this too was a life-course change related to her mother, who was eighty and ill. Gail, at fifty, was now struggling "with the fear all over again that she is going to leave me & what's going to happen to me when she's gone, and who will take care of me?" 1

The American latchkey child was one of the most pitied homefront figures of the Second World War, and his or her working mother was not only criticized but even reviled. Such pity was usually misplaced, however, and such calumny was undeserved. Critics viewed the working mother as a homefront culprit who indulged her own selfish desires while neglecting her children and housework. But in denouncing mothers for abandoning the home in favor of the war plant, these critics failed to comprehend not only that the nation's factories were crying out for workers, but also that millions of American working mothers were their families' breadwinners.

"Rosie the Riveter" was a wartime reality--her muscles bulging, her hair in a kerchief, holding a large pneumatic gun in her hands. Clearly too, as one writer observed: "The hand that holds the pneumatic riveter cannot rock the cradle--at the same time." Still, it is worth emphasizing that many of the forlorn stories about neglected infants and toddlers were exaggerations, the ulterior purpose of

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